Start time - 6:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder’s game last night was a hard fought affair and felt like a throwback to the mid 2000s. The Thunder and Sixers played a lot of hard-nosed, physical basketball and were determined to attack the basket. The style of the game meant that the contest was competitive for two quarters before Philadelphia started to control the game in the second half.
I was pretty happy with how the Thunder played on the defensive end of the floor. Whenever Embiid caught the ball in the post, he was quickly doubled and the Thunder got the ball out of his hands. They did not allow the Cameroonian star to really get rolling.
Embiid is an excellent passer and is capable of finding wonderful, sharp reads whenever he is on the low block. HIs passing was great on the night but the Thunder’s defense was stout. The rotations out to corner shooters were timely and Philly rarely found easy open looks.
Doubling Embiid with the weak-side corner defender frequently created 2v1 situations on the weak-side but the Thunder managed those situations well. The help defense would X-Out quickly and occupy the vacated space.
The defense played on Tyrese Maxey was not good enough from Josh Giddey but we have to think about context. Maxey is an athletic, twitchy guard who has a fantastic first step. Giddey is a good athlete but he simply lacks the pace to keep up with Maxey. In that sort of match-up, managing distance is crucial to winning that mini game.
For Giddey, he would position himself too close to Maxey which meant that Tyrese was able to knife his way past Josh for looks at the rim. Giddey’s positioning could have been better judged; I would have liked to see him take a step back and give himself more room to contain the drive. Getting tight to Tyrese meant that he was always chasing the play.
On the whole, the team’s defense was very solid and has been across the whole season. The Thunder are ranked 9th in the league in Defensive Rating which is quite an achievement for the youngest team in the league.
The Chicago Bulls are a team who have overachieved and have found themselves catapulted into the contender conversation. It is a huge turnaround from the franchise who have been mired in mediocrity. All of their moves over the last year have been derided but the front office’s decision making has been excellent.
Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were all astute additions to a roster that required depth. Adding DeMar DeRozan appears to be a masterstroke. DeRozan has long been one of the best scorers in the NBA but the Bulls decision to add him in free agency was widely criticised.
The advanced stats do not tend to love DeRozan and there were concerns about how he would fit next to Zach LaVine. Billy Donovan has largely played DeRozan at the 4, a position where he is lethal as a shot creator. There are few forwards out there who can keep with DeRozan’s silky scoring and effortless playmaking.
His time in San Antonio has led to DeMar growing into being an excellent passer and rounding out his game. It is one of the reasons why DeMar is in the MVP conversation this season; his all around impact on the Chicago Bulls has been impressive.
For the Thunder, DeRozan is incredibly difficult to guard. DeMar is a virtuoso in the mid-range and uses that scoring threat to unlock the rest of his game. His footwork is perfect on almost every single possession and his feel for space in the non-painted area is quite scary. DeMar just has an innate ability to find a slither of space and get off a jumper.
Coach Mark Daigneault can instruct his defense to be disciplined and not allow DeMar space in the mid-range but that will only open up his scoring game at the rim. The Thunder could try to double DeMar but he is too good of a passer for that to be a viable option.
The only strategy that I think makes sense would be stashing a help defender in the lane at all times when DeRozan has the ball in his hands at the top of the key. Once Demar dances his way below the arc, it is difficult to stop him. The Thunder have to take away space and the driving lanes that DeRozan needs.
Normally, this strategy would not work. DeRozan could kick the ball to Zach LaVine and the Thunder would be toast but LaVine is unlikely to feature tonight. Oklahoma City can load up on DeRozan and put him under pressure whenever he catches the ball.