The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Denver Nuggets 97-87 in what was the final dress rehearsal for OKC before the regular season begins on the road in Philadelphia.
A high priority for Thunder head coach Billy Donovan heading into the Thunder's final preseason battle was distributing minutes in the front court evenly, toying with different big man combinations, and getting rookie Domantas Sabonis as much experience as possible.
Sabonis already has a nice understanding of the OKC offense and moves well within it, both on and off ball. He is an interesting pick and pop player, as his ability to knock down fifteen-to-twenty footers demonstrated on Tuesday night. However, Sabonis has to be smarter in the post on defense. He chalked up three fouls in the first quarter alone.
Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson-Sabonis-Adams lineup has potential to be deadly on both ends of the floor. A lot of versatility from each of these players could result in the Thunder going on runs that put teams away quickly if the offense is executed well.
Enes Kanter checked in around the four minute mark of the first quarter and the Westbrook-Kanter pick and roll was immediately a disaster for the Nuggets defense. This is not much of a surprise, and it should continue to terrorize defenses around the country during the regular season.
As well as the Thunder played in the first quarter, they only held a four point lead over the Nuggets. The Thunder shoting a hot 55.5% , while the Nuggets shot below 40%. The Thunder defense created several opportunities in the first quarter, but fouling was a huge issue as the Nuggets got to the charity stripe early and often. Denver was in the bonus three minutes into the ballgame.
The Nuggets did not score in the second quarter until almost the eight minute mark, on a pair of Gallinari free throws after getting Huestis to bite on a pump fake. Denver's first field goal of the second quarter did not come until the five minute mark.
Westbrook was given a technical in the second quarter after jawing with official Bennie Adams. Russ was pleading with Adams about contact he absorbed on a play and the two had words before the whistle blew and the boos rained down from Thunder fans.
The Thunder played a very tight defensive game against the Nuggets, but it didn't hurt that Denver's offense was stale all night. The ball movement was not there and the shots did not fall for most of the game. It would have been interesting to see how the Thunder would have responded to seeing Gallinari's triples sink. The Thunder led the Nuggets by 18 at the half, 59-41.
The Thunder pressured the Nuggets transition defense seemingly on every possession. It is clear that the Thunder offense will be most effective in transition this year.
Denver's big men did a good job of collectively slowing down the tempo of the game and defending the Thunder transition offense at the start of the third quarter much better than the first half, but OKC eventually pulled away again once the offense started to move organically and cuts were being made as well as improved ball movement took place.
Steven Adams took a spill in the third quarter when he collided with Jokic on a fast break, and remained down for a few seconds before returning to his feet and finding his way to the bench. It looked like it was just a shot to his groin as Westbrook actually laughed with Adams, though Adams did not enjoy it quite as much. Maybe he was having flashbacks of Draymond Green?
Steven Adams was a monster in every facet of this game.
A few samples of Steven Adams' passing in the first half. https://t.co/CGPL1Vt49C— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) October 19, 2016
Adams was +10 +/- with 17 points on 8-12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals.
⚡️⬆️— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) October 19, 2016
Steven Adams' 1st qtr: 11 points.
Russell Westbrook: 6 assists.
Thunder UP on Nuggets after one 32-28. https://t.co/nMlIc1ipJj
Again: Steven Adams was a monster.
Oladipo and Westbrook are so fun to watch play together. Even Billy Donovan admitted that the Thunder are asking Oladipo to a lot of things that he has never been asked to do before. The dynamic duo will be even more of a treat to see once Oladipo really finds his comfort in the Thunder offense. When that happens, it will tough to stop as Westbrook and Oladipo will feed off of each other night in and night out.
Huestis showed flashes of offensive ability, cutting to the basket for a basket and a Westbrook assist, as well as a putback tip-in right before the half. If Josh Huestis can continue to find ways to make himself productive on the floor, it will take a lot of pressure off of Westbrook's shoulders, and make it easier for others to score as well.
Consistent shooters will likely eat Josh Huestis alive this season if his on-ball defense does not improve. He doesn't have trouble sticking to his man, but when switching or attempting to run shooters off the line, he is either not quick enough to decide what he wants to do, or he looks confused and undecided as to where he is supposed to be.
The Thunder enter the fourth quarter up by 20, 82-62. Denver was shooting 32% and 2-of-16 from 3. OKC shot 48% through three quarters, with a 21 assist to 8 turnover ratio and were +20 in the paint. Both teams went deep into their personnel in the fourth quarter, where things got sloppy and very preseason-y.
Westbrook was Westbrook, finishing with 12 points, on 40% shooting and added 9 assists in 18 minutes. Oladipo continued to struggle against the interior defense, ending his night 3-for-8 shooting with 8 points in 20 minutes. Singler started out with nice shooting night, aside from a few in-and-out threes that did not fall for him. He moved well without the ball and found space. Singler might be finding his rhythm in the Thunder offense. Fingers crossed.
For the Nuggets, Jamal Murray had a disastrous shooting performance, 4-of-16 (0-6 from 3) with 9 points. Emmanuel Mudiay did not play for Denver. Gallinari was the offense for the Nuggets, scoring 18 on 4-13 shooting which does not say much about the way Denver executed.
OKC owned Denver through much of the game, and it was not much of a contest until both teams cleared their benches in the fourth quarter. The Thunder will breakdown film from the preseason and practice for a week before they tip-off the regular season next Wednesday, October 26th (ESPN) in Philadelphia. The Thunder finish the preseason with a 3-3 record.