The Thunder concluded their preseason campaign on Tuesday night in Denver and defeated the Nuggets by a score of 96-86. We saw Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony play 26 and 22 minutes, respectively, while Paul George got 34 minutes of action. They combined for 55 points on the night. It was an all around effort from the newly formed big three, but once again, defense seemed to be the mantra early on for the trio and their fellow rotational players.
Nowadays, when you hear the phrase “Big Three” you automatically think of offense. That’s just the way it goes. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Chances are when you first heard of these combos, you thought about how many points they were going to score, not how little they were going to give up. Russ, Melo and PG are no different. They’re going to score a ton of points, create a lot of scoring opportunities for themselves and others, and work well in transition. But what if this team relied on its defense to create everything else? I know, crazy; a team with Carmelo Anthony focusing on defense. Unheard of.
This preseason, Billy Donovan has clearly preached defense. Last night’s finale against the Nuggets once again showed his players buying into that motto. Steven Adams has been extremely solid on defense and was again on Tuesday night. From the opening tip, he was extremely disruptive underneath, which allowed OKC to control Denver’s penetration as well as their talented center Nikola Jokic, who finished with only 12 points on 5-16 shooting. If you can control penetration and be successful on the glass, a transitional game will naturally follow. Playing in transition sounds pretty awesome when you have Russ, Melo, and Paul George running the show.
Of course this team will find ways to score the basketball one way or another. But what I’m saying is that if this defensive mindset continues into the regular season, the offense will come much easier and much faster. We saw glimpses of the effective transition offense tonight. If Daniel Hamilton can open up Paul George on a 2-on-3 fast break, just think about replacing him with Melo or Russ. The possibilities are endless. But again, a lot of those possibilities spur from quality defense.
Nothing groundbreaking here, but an interesting way of looking at OKC’s big three.
- Russ was in midseason form last night. Yeah, he had 20 points and 7 assists in 26 minutes, but I’m referring to this:
We’re under review. Russell Westbrook has that mid-season nasty going already. pic.twitter.com/DgsdPv4Zr6— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) October 11, 2017
- Steven Adams took a mid-range jump shot. It was funny, odd, and actually not that bad.
- Alex Abrines played his first preseason minutes. He knocked down his only three point attempt and finished with 5 points (2-2 FG) in 15 minutes.
- With Raymond Felton missing, who found minutes? Terrance Ferguson (22 minutes), Daniel Hamilton (17 minutes), Isaiah Canaan (3 minutes, down from 28 in game one).
- With all of the defensive talk about, controlling the glass becomes relevant. OKC did so tonight by a count of 56 to 46. Paul George led the way with 11 boards, offsetting a poor shooting night.
- Melo received a technical foul tonight. As we said following last game, preseason techs are the best techs.
- Josh Huestis was effective again, posting 15 points and 9 rebounds in 22 minutes. He’s making a good case for himself over the last week or so.
A Look Ahead
The Thunder can now look towards next Thursday as they’ll welcome in the New York Knicks for their much anticipated 2017-2018 opener. Tuesday night included plenty of unorthodox lineups, which isn’t unusual for the preseason. With the regular season will come more normality and continuity.
Carmelo Anthony gets to face his former team in the first regular season game in his new threads. The Knicks don’t bring much to the table, but that’s a fun storyline that I’m sure TNT will have plenty of fun with. Furthermore, it will be the reunion of the Stache Bros, which will be a special moment.
The team hopes to get Patrick Patterson back sooner rather than later to serve as a vital backup at power forward. His status for next Thursday’s opener is unclear, but here’s a clip of him working out yesterday.
Patrick Patterson working in the post with Thunder assistant Drew Jones: pic.twitter.com/3esZITXdyd— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) October 10, 2017
Regular season basketball is almost here! Look out for the first regular season edition of Thunder Views next Friday.