The Oklahoma City Thunder kicked off the 2017-18 preseason tonight in Tulsa, squaring off against James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets. Carmelo Anthony poured in 19 points in 20 minutes, Paul George shrugged off a slow start to pitch in 15 points, but it was Houston’s standard barrage of three-pointers that ultimately sank the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder by a final score of 104-97.
With a brand new cast of characters, and without the reigning MVP, early growing pains were long expected for this Thunder squad. The offense was stagnant at times, with Anthony and George reverting to isolation situations too frequently in the early going. The Rockets were able to push the action behind Chris Paul, and went absolutely unconscious from beyond the arc — hitting 24/55 from long range (43.6%) in the contest.
Even still, the night was not a complete loss. Carmelo Anthony looked like the scorer he’s known to be, the defense appeared long and athletic, and several young players flashed glimpses of what they may ultimately be able to contribute down the line. It wasn’t a perfect start for the Thunder, but it shouldn’t have been expected to be. Without Westbrook, Patrick Patterson, and Alex Abrines, the all around effort was acceptable for preseason game number one. Billy Donovan & Co. will now look to adjust ahead of Friday night’s tilt with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Below are some thoughts/notes.
Carmelo Anthony Can Score the Basketball
Anthony finished with 19 points on 7/13 shooting, logging just 20 minutes in the process. He didn’t play a bit after halftime, but did score the Thunder’s first 10 points of the game and chipped in another scoring spurt before the half.
He finished at -14 for the contest — not exactly setting the world on fire — but showed the ability to hit shots that will be expected of him all season long. He appeared most comfortable when isolating his man on the right wing/block, but iso-ball was a problem for both he and George all night.
This figures to take time to figure out, but Melo looked very comfortable during his first night in a Thunder uniform. Interested to see how this looks with Westbrook running the show.
Raymond Felton & The Point Guards
Raymond Felton started in place of the injured Westbrook, and showed exactly why last season’s issues should be a thing of the past. He logged 18 minutes, scored 9 points on 4/6 shooting, and finished at +9 overall. He looked confident and stable with the ball in his hands — basically everything the Thunder lacked from the backup point guard position last season.
Interestingly enough, Semaj Christon failed to see any action despite Billy Donovan using a 12-man rotation. Isaiah Canaan scored 11 points, and Daniel Hamilton pitched in 11 points of his own while spending some time at point guard. Don’t expect Semaj to go down without a fight, though. He looked good enough in summer league play to grab some minutes before the preseason is done.
The Steven Adams Injury
Midway through the third quarter, James Harden was called for a Flagrant 1 after executing a horse-collar tackle on Steven Adams. Adams spent some time favoring his back before heading to the locker room, and did not return.
Adams said after the game that it was no reason for concern, and stressed the injury was more of a “glute-ish” issue than anything else. However, with a history of lower back issues, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Adams miss some time as a precaution, potentially even Friday’s contest.
- Paul George wasn’t extremely effective, but looked much better after halftime. He logged just 5 minutes before checking out for good, but shot 3/4 in the 3rd Quarter and pulled OKC within 8 after falling behind by double digits early in the frame.
- There were several instances where the ball was fed to Steven Adams at the high-post or block, and he spent time reading the defense and jump starting the offense from there. I wouldn’t expect things to flow through him very often, but he’s an underrated passer and can open up off-ball opportunities for Westbrook, George, and Anthony.
- It’s been assumed Terrance Ferguson will spend his season with the OKC Blue, but he’s put together back-to-back strong performances in the Blue & White Scrimmage and again tonight. He’s an active, long defender and unafraid of bodying up on players like James Harden. He’s rail thin and needs to add size, but his 8 points and energetic defense were encouraging to see.
- Twice tonight James Harden appeared frustrated with the officials when getting busted on plays he routinely got away with last season. It’s early, but the new “Harden Rules” may be an issue for him for quite some time.
- Speaking of Harden, he finished the night with 16 points and 10 assists, but turned the ball over 7 times and shot just 5/16 from the field. He also picked up the Flagrant 1 when fouling Adams, and later added a Technical for arguing with the refs. Strange night for The Beard.
- Eric Gordon scored 21 points in 24 minutes for the Rockets, hitting 6/8 from downtown. While the Thunder defense did have an effective night slowing down Harden, Gordon had no issue lighting them up.
- It’s been said before and it will be said again, but Josh Huestis just looks like an NBA-caliber player. He finished at +8 in his 14 minutes, scoring 5 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and adding a great chase down block late in the game.
- It took roughly 2.5 quarters for the first “Chicken Salad” reference from Thunder broadcaster, Brian Davis. He and Michael Cage are clearly in mid-season form.
All-in-all it was an entertaining, if not successful, night in Tulsa. There is plenty to work on, but the Thunder will need to get healthy before any judgments can be made. The team returns to action on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Tip-off is at 7 PM CT and tickets are available here.