In a grind-it-out thriller, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to hold on for the win against Barcelona, 92-89. With the win, the Thunder leave their two game Spain road trip with a 1-1 record.
Barcelona completely controlled the pace and flow of the game, especially in the second and fourth quarters. It goes without saying that the trio of Westbrook, Oladipo, and Roberson can force the pace. When Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson were on the floor during the first and third quarters, the Thunder were able to get several fast break scores. It’s not only Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson’s speed in transition that helped, but their physicality on defense. When Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson were able to use their physicality to keep Barcelona’s guards far away from the basket, particularly in the third quarter, the Thunder were in control of the game. But the Thunder’s backups were only so effective at forcing turnovers and pushing the pace. Semaj Christon, a training camp signee, had a couple of moments. But other than the odd steal by Christon, Barcelona by and large controlled the pace of the second and fourth quarters.
Controlling the pace allowed Barcelona to utilize their quick pass, almost soccer-style offense. I know that the image of Barcelona as a popular soccer club is clouding my judgement, and I’m sure others have made the comparison before. But put in another way, Barcelona is a team that uses space very effectively. Everybody on Barcelona was a killer shooter from deep, aside from the centers Tomic and Dorsey. Moreover, Barca’s shooters are all very lean. And the Thunder don’t really have the size to punish Barcelona for going small at power forward. The Thunder did try to play some twin towers, but Kanter was quickly exploited. And Ilyasova and Sabonis are good for maybe a couple of back to the basket possessions. But nothing consistently reliable.
So Barcelona was able to stay within striking distance of the Thunder. Barca even amounted a 8 point lead in the second quarter, and went up by 6 about halfway through the fourth quarter. At the end of the day though, Barcelona didn’t have a go-to scorer in the final moments. The Thunder were able to keep Barcelona contained around screens, and Barcelona just couldn’t hit the one or two more threes they needed. Meanwhile, the Thunder had Enes Kanter. Kanter had that size and touch around the basket that no Barcelona player could provide. Also, the fact that the 7’2” Ante Tomic fouled out in the final moments helped. With the smaller 6’8” Joey Dorsey in the game, it was easy for Kanter to score near the basket.
But ultimately, the Thunder weren’t trying to win this game. The aforementioned trio of Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson didn’t see the floor during the late fourth quarter. Westbrook and Roberson didn’t see the fourth at all. Kanter was in the game all the way, and getting him the ball in proper position became the main challenge of the offense. There simply were no creators off the dribble. Sabonis was in all the way, but he came more in handy in terms of defense and rebounding. Sabonis will always be more of a conduit than an option on offense.
Anyway, let’s get to the grades. As always, players are graded relative to their expectations.
Abrines, Alex: B+. 6 Pts, 2 of 3 FG, 3 Reb. Abrines played between the first and third quarters, as well as the fourth. Abrines’ defense was mildly impressive. Generally, Abrines stayed on his man. There was even a point where Abrines was able to hide behind Joey Dorsey in the post and get a sneak block. But Abrines still doesn’t have the physical presence to be a Roberson or Oladipo on defense. Offensively, Abrines is pretty much a shooter. But nice headiness displayed when collecting himself for an And 1. Need more threes!
Christon, Semaj: B-. 6 Pts, 3 of 4 FG, 2 Reb, 3 Stl, 5 PF. Okay, so five fouls doesn’t really warrant three steals. In a normal situation, it would be considered detrimental to the team. Especially if we were playing the free-throw hogging Clippers. But the steals still generated instant points, as they were all back-court. And on offense, Christon was able to find his groove scoring around screens. It might be just because the Barca defense didn’t expect Christon to shoot, after the shakiness of Price. But if Christon can somehow reign in his fouls, I could see him feasibly supplanting Price as backup PG. But it’s 2 games in, so who knows.
Huestis, Josh: B-. 2 Pts, 1 of 3 FG, 1 Blk. Even though Huestis might not be very fast on defense, he’s extremely heady. Slotted at shooting guard, Huestis played as a post-centric forward in his college days. So when Huestis got mismatched onto a point guard, the speed disadvantage gave up a couple of points. But Huestis stopped a couple of one on one possessions by the same token, and is great at providing help defense in the post. The only problem is that Huestis’ offense is limited to open dunks. This open dunk came courtesy of Sabonis’ wizardry. Otherwise....no one is going respect Huestis’ shot, at least not this season. Even against Barcelona, offensive spacing gave the Thunder some serious problems
Ilyasova, Ersan: C-. 6 Pts, 2 of 5 FG, 6 Reb. The two threes were cool to witness. But watching Ilyasova waste three offensive possessions in the third quarter with missed difficult layups off the dribble....was not cool to witness. Moreover, Ilyasova’s defense leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, there’s the occasional charge. But Ilyasova was frequently proven slow on the perimeter, or weak in the post. At least Ilyasova’s rebounding is decent.
Kanter, Enes: C+. 24 Pts, 9 of 12 FG, 8 Reb. In the latter half of the fourth quarter, Kanter used his bulk to stop Tomic twice on post-ups. But prior to that point, Tomic had been eating Kanter’s dinner all game. Furthermore, Kanter was just awful defending around the pick and roll. This is nothing new. But Barcelona is a team that sets a lot of technically sound screens. Furthermore, Barcelona has a lot of good decision-makers that knew exactly where to put the ball. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Kanter sink low to contain a PG that was no threat to drive, then watch as the ball arced across the court for an open Barcelona three. So I’m honestly gonna say that things are a wash, because Kanter definitely gave up at least as many points as he scored. But Kanter was reliable in the final moments, so C+.
Lauvergne, Joffrey: B+. 8 Pts, 3 of 6 FG, 4 TO. It was our first look at the surprise late off-season acquisition. And Lauvergne is an excellent option as far as third string centers go. As far as I saw, Lauvergne’s decision making was poor and he wasn’t the quickest on offense. But when given time in a post up situation, Lauvergne can score. And Lauvergne’s rebounding and screen setting ability are up there. He should be great at filling in 15-20 minutes when Kanter and Adams are dinged up, and getting spot minutes otherwise.
Morrow, Anthony: D. 0 Pts, 0 of 2 FG. Morrow is a chucker, and his complaining about a no foul call on one of his attempts led to a technical. Bad look in a couple of short moments, but Morrow’s card is marked. We know what he brings to the table.
Oladipo, Victor: B. 10 Pts, 3 of 8 FG, 2 Ast, 3 TO. After these two games alone, I’m having a hard time seeing Oladipo as a consistent third offensive option. Barcelona should be a team where Oladipo’s large size for a guard gives him the advantage. But the reality is that Oladipo seems to get a ton of his advantage from speed. And Oladipo is much more successful when he can turn the corner on his defender and get going downhill. Sure, a jumper will go in now and then. Oladipo even hit a three tonight. But Oladipo’s decision making around screens needs to improve. On defense, Oladipo was above average. Oladipo forced steals and smothered his man a few times, but would cheat on the weak side.
Price, Ronnie: C-. 2 Pts, 1 of 6 FG, 1 Ast, 2 TO. Ronnie Price hit a really nice floater during the fourth quarter. And Price played some experienced, above-average defense. Namely, Price knows how to be physical while avoiding calls, and goes for steals. But aside from pinging the ball between players on offense, Price really isn’t an offensive threat. And Price is by no means a long term solution at PG.
Roberson, Andre: B+. 8 Pts, 4 TO, 2 Ast. There are times when Dre just fades into the background, like during the first quarter of this game. But it seemed as if Dre was a focal point during the third quarter. Dre’s ferocious defense forced a couple of backcourt turnovers that led to easy points. Dre was also relentless in attacking the basket. A few basket-attack related turnovers were frustrating to watch, but it’s nice to see Dre get 8 points in any game.
Sabonis, Domatas: A. 8 Pts, 8 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 TO. The worst I can say about Sabonis was that he sometimes loses control off the roll. Once Sabonis got the ball poked away standing mid-range, and another time Sabonis charged into his defender. But aside from those couple hiccups, Sabonis has a very keen sense of team basketball. Sabonis’ 3 of 4 shooting from the field is proof that he knows where to take his shots. Also, Sabonis hit another three!
Westbrook, Russell: B+. 12 Pts, 2 of 7 FG, 5 Ast, 6 TO. First half Westbrook wasn’t very aggressive, as he seemed to be focused on getting a rapport with teammates. It’s obvious that it will take time for Westbrook to get a rapport going with Joffrey Lauvergne and Domatas Sabonis. But in the third quarter, we saw score-first Westbrook use his physicality to consistently get to the rim. A shame that Westbrook’s shooting wasn’t better, but it happens. Defense was eh. It’s pre-season.
- Abrines and Navarro addressed the crowd prior to the game, and exchanged pleasantries. They have been teammates for the past four years, and Abrines has used Navarro as a mentor to some extent.
- Barcelona has a player named Olesson, from Anchorage, Alaska. He literally went to North Pole High School.
- Arvydas Sabonis saw his son play tonight. Jason Richardson, Shawn Marion, and Ron Harper all returned from Madrid as well.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, because he was able to score whenever he wanted.
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, because I’ve got to give credit for crunch time play.
Thunder Blunder: Enes Kanter, because I can’t ignore an entire game of defensive bumbling and indecision.
Thunder Plunderer: Victor Claver, 25 Pts on 9 of 12 FG and 4 of 6 3PT. Claver scored a ton, but was mostly just left open too much.
Next Game: At the Dallas Mavericks, Tuesday, October 11th, 7:30 PM Central Daylight Time.
What did you think of today’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!