The 2017-18 campaign got off to a roaring start on Thursday night in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder defeated the New York Knicks in the season opener by a score of 105-84. Paul George dropped 28 points, Carmelo Anthony put up 22 of his own against his former team, and Russell Westbrook picked up right where he left off with a 22 point, 16 assist, 10 rebound triple-double.
Oklahoma City moves to 1-0, and although it wasn’t a perfect effort, there were strong glimpses of what this squad may eventually be capable of on a nightly basis. Let’s get right into some instant reaction.
It was a slow start
Despite the healthy final margin of victory, the Thunder struggled to find rhythm in the early going. Westbrook was far too passive, George lacked offensive aggression, and Melo was a bit too trigger happy in the opening minutes, starting just 2/10.
OKC led by just three points after the first quarter, due in large part to an eight minute stretch in the quarter without a field goal. There wasn’t much separation throughout the second, but the team used a 13-2 run to close the half to blow the game wide open. The final play of the half was a perfect cap to that run, and served as a launch pad for the avalanche that followed.
The Third Quarter
The Thunder took an 11 point lead into the third quarter, but Russell Westbrook was able to set the tone in the frame with aggressive drives and pin-point passing. He collected six assists in the third, and his ability to spread a defense opened up plenty of looks for his teammates. A particularly great find was some vintage oop-action to Steven Adams that set the crowd on fire.
On the other end, the Thunder defense held the Knicks to just 17 points in the quarter, en route to outscoring New York by 9 points in the frame. A Jerami Grant buzzer-beater pushed the Thunder lead to 20 heading into the fourth, and the doors were blown off any chance for a Knick comeback. Westbrook was the catalyst for much of what happened here after halftime.
Steven Adams was a monster
Steven Adams finished with a stat line of 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks — good for a +26 on the evening. He played incredibly physical defense all night, showed active hands, communicated well defensively with his teammates, and really fortified the Thunder from the inside out.
There was a point in the second quarter where Enes Kanter posted-up Adams on the left block and began to go to work. Adams baited Kanter into turning the ball over, then laughed at the Turkish big man as they made their way back down the floor. As good as Kanter is down low, Adams was simply better all night.
There was a glimpse
I mentioned in the preview that there would be hyperbolic reaction no matter how the game turned out — thankfully for Thunder fans, it’s all positive for now. As great as the “OK3” looked after halftime, there was enough dysfunction in the first half to temper expectations. This is and will be a whole lot of fun, but at the end of the day — it was the Knicks.
That being said, Westbrook leading the charge in the third quarter is a wonderful blue print for how this team should operate. If he’s aggressive and pushing the action, the floor opens up in a multitude of ways. When the defense sagged off, he attacked the paint. When defenders left their men to help out on him, he found lobs or shooters beyond the arc. What this team can do when firing on all cylinders is devastating, and it’s up to the point guard to make it work. He flipped the switch and did just that in game 1-of-82.
There was a glimpse of all that good stuff tonight, but it was a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde performance as a whole. The first half was sluggish, the team shot far too many threes, and the Knicks hung around until the Thunder didn’t want them to anymore. Perhaps that will be most of the battle this season, particularly in the early stages. OKC will have to decide to play the right way even when it doesn’t feel natural to do so just yet.
Post Game Interview
After the game, Kristen Ledlow caught up with the “OK3” to discuss their first regular season run, and I have to admit… this is all very cool.
Notes & Highlights
- Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott had a “Welcome Back” message on the jumbotron before the game. They received a warm reception, as they deserved.
- This Thunder defense will be absolutely elite. 14 steals, 7 blocks, very physical. Sign me up.
- Paul George finished with 28 points on 9/23 shooting and 6/13 from deep. He has had his stretches of ineffectiveness so far in preseason and again tonight, but when he gets going? Woooh boy.
- Carmelo Anthony had 22 on 8/20 shooting. Was 3/10 from downtown and it’s probably best he didn’t make more because he’ll get a headache poking himself in the temples with three fingers that hard.
- Alex Abrines was the first man off the bench for OKC, checking-in for Andre Roberson about five minutes into the first quarter.
- Abrines ended up logging more minutes (24) than Roberson (21) which is fine, I guess, but I’m not totally comfortable with it. I presume this is more situational than anything set in stone, as each man carries polar opposite skill sets.
- Terrance Ferguson logged first quarter minutes and ran with a Westbrook – Ferguson – George – Grant – Adams lineup. The 19-year-old wasn’t effective tonight, but he did see 11 minutes of action.
- Patrick Patterson made his Thunder debut after missing all of the preseason. He played 7 minutes, had 2 rebounds and nothing else. Jerami Grant saw the majority of action at backup center, but some of those minutes will belong to Patterson as he gets up to speed.
- Josh Huestis got into the game very late in the fourth quarter. He hit a beautiful three-pointer from the left wing, which was awesome outside of the fact he took about six steps before launching it. The next one counts, I bet.
- Tonight’s triple-double was the 80th of Russell Westbrook’s career. He has the fourth most all-time.
Full Westbrook highlights, via NBA:
Melo & PG highlights:
Back in action on Saturday in Utah. 8 PM CT tip on Fox Sports Oklahoma.