There was no shortage of storylines on Sunday night in Oklahoma City. It was the first game for the Thunder without Andre Roberson, and a follow up on the dramatic (and testy) triple overtime thriller from earlier this season in Philadelphia.
We had over 50 fouls, a plethora of SportsCenter-worthy dunks, and some terrific staredowns in between. It’s a real shame that these two teams don’t meet again this season.
This game was another example of what makes the NBA so great. You had established superstars like Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony battling it out with the league’s future stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There was trash talking, posterizing, and a ton of emotion. It was perfect from the start, led off by Russ’ pre-game outfit:
From OKC’s point of view, there were a lot of negatives coming into Sunday. It was a 5 o’clock start and the second game of a back-to-back (3rd game in 4 nights). There was no Andre Roberson, and a team with young legs prepping to make a statement on national television just one game after whipping the Spurs in San Antonio.
Instead of laying flat, the Thunder came out motivated, energized, and looked as if they were the team with something to prove. And to a point, they were. Many people are immediately questioning their legitimacy without Andre Roberson. This is just the first game of the remainder of their season, but it was a terrific first response. To put an exclamation point on the night, here is Russ with an epic staredown of Embiid and company as he dribbled out the clock.
Russ hitting Joel Embiid with the deathstare while dribbling out the clock & walking off the court without acknowledging the Sixers is #PeakPetty, during the pettiest of NBA seasons #CantOutPettyRuss pic.twitter.com/G5SPXKkMCO— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 29, 2018
Leading the charge last night was the three-headed monster of Russ, PG, and Steven Adams. The Thunder received huge performances from this trio, which propelled them to their eighth straight win.
Russ was one rebound shy of a triple double, as he finished with 37 points, 14 assists, and 9 rebounds. He had 14 points in the first half, but naturally came out and went 8/13 FG in the final 24 minutes.
Paul George continued to be the defensive authority that he’s become over the last few months. According to Billy Donovan, his responsibilities won’t change without Roberson, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s now the sole anchor in terms of perimeter defense. Defending has become the PG theme with Thunder fans, so it’s nice when one of your stoppers comes through with a quiet 31 points on 9/17 shooting, while helping to guard the NBA’s newest multi-tool dynamo, Ben Simmons. Let’s not forget PG’s 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and (of course) 4 steals.
Adams grabbed his 17th double-double of the season, while snagging 13 rebounds, 10 of which were of the offensive nature. He was 10/11 from the field and wore down Joel Embiid on both sides of the floor. Sure Philly’s big man had a nice game, but dealing with Adams for a full four quarters is tiresome to say the least. It was clear that Adams had gotten the best of Embiid down the stretch. If you still don’t think Steven Adams is one of the NBA’s best centers, you’re living under a rock. You know who else thinks so? The 76ers’ head coach, Brett Brown:
Find someone who talks about you the way 76ers coach Brett Brown talks about Steven Adams: "Steven is one of the elite players in the NBA. He’s one of my personal favorites." pic.twitter.com/9dxxxUqvAS— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) January 28, 2018
Carmelo Anthony is vitally important to this team, but Sunday’s win was another example of how these three really make the Thunder go. Russ’ offensive presence and energy, George’s perimeter defense, and Adams’ interior dominance are three things that OKC cannot successfully operate without. All of their impacts are now amplified with the absence of Roberson.
There were some great postgame quotes from Sunday night, so I’m going to leave plenty of those clips below after a few short thoughts. This was one of the Thunder’s biggest wins of the season considering the circumstances, so I think it’s important to hear the players’ thoughts.
- When Roberson went down, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, Alex Abrines, and Patrick Patterson all come to mind when filling the void. The four of them combined for just two field goal attempts yesterday. Granted Roberson wasn’t an offense-centric player, but it’s still worth a note.
- I left Jerami Grant out of that group due to his 11 points on 3/7 shooting. He played 22 minutes on Sunday.
- The Thunder’s eight game winning streak is the fourth longest in franchise history.
- Since December 17th, OKC has averaged 114.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s the best rating in the league in that span. To say the offense is clicking would be an understatement.
Adams asked “how it felt out there without Andre” and his answer was simple. “Sh—.” pic.twitter.com/uZ32KDr0FZ— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 29, 2018
Steven Adams, in the middle of his postgame media availability, has Melo yell at him “You can’t wear the same thing every game, Steven!” Melo is standing off to the side in a towel wearing Adams’ big furry hat. pic.twitter.com/fqhEmNQy3L— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 29, 2018
Paul George was “absolutely” trying to get Embiid back for Russ: “I was trying to finish that one” pic.twitter.com/MMtLGOo5ym— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) January 29, 2018
Russell Westbrook asked why the games against Philly have been so intense, finishes his answer by saying, “Oklahoma City, 2-0.” pic.twitter.com/wWdBwHk0se— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 29, 2018
Russell Westbrook when asked about Steven Adams settling in against Joel Embiid just says Adams’ stat line (*20 and 13): pic.twitter.com/OigwVhDWuR— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) January 29, 2018
A Look Ahead
The Thunder head to DC to face the Wizards on Tuesday night less than a week after defeating them at the ‘Peake. Bradley Beal kept the Washington in that one, so it’ll be interesting to see how OKC deals with the talented Wizards backcourt without Roberson.