PHILADELPHIA — Led by Russell Westbrook, the Thunder outscored the 76ers 34-22 in the fourth quarter on opening night to kick off the post-Durant era with a much-needed win.
Because it’s all anyone really cares about, let’s get to the things with bullet points. (Here’s a postgame column, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
- Westbrook was just simply spectacular. He used the word “managed” a lot postgame, and that’s quite apt. He controlled the game, picking spots to score and distribute. My worry was how he would approach crunchtime in a close game, but Westbrook made (mostly) good decisions and took what the defense gave him. It was smart of Billy Donovan to run less pick-and-roll late, and go more to Westbrook in the post and facing up from midrange. That gave OKC an immediate option (Westbrook score), but also didn’t allow the 76ers to just clog passing lanes and the paint.
- Westbrook’s line: 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists to two turnovers. He should’ve picked up a triple-double late if Victor Oladipo didn’t bobble a layup. And really, there were about six or seven other assists Westbrook probably should’ve had.
- Speaking of Oladipo, woof, tough debut. There was a clear awkwardness between him and Westbrook, mostly just coming from Oladipo’s side. He tried to be aggressive early in the game, but he was mostly searching for jumpers and 3s. He missed some open ones, but he also had some really bad plays and struggled with some simple stuff, like dribbling. His defense was spotty. He finished with 10 points on 4-16 shooting, and played so bad I wondered if Donovan would just sit him in the fourth quarter. Donovan came back to him with about six minutes left and Oladipo immediately paid it off with a smooth step-back jumper and a driving layup through contact. It’s gonna get better for Oladipo, because he’s a good player, but it appears he’s in for some growing pains.
- Steven Adams was beastly. He had a great first half, and finished with 16 points on 7-16 shooting, plus five rebounds. And as Donovan pointed out, he took 16 shots, which is very encouraging. Adams himself was pretty disappointed with missing as many as he did, but Adams flashed some seriously improved skills, including a sky hook in the first half. His defense on Joel Embiid was quite good, with Adams staying completely disciplined on Embiid’s array of fakes and moves. Adams is going to turn into a star this season. Get ready.
- Enes Kanter, quietly going about his business, putting up 17 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes. Machine-like.
- Kyle Singler walked onto the floor and instantly knocked down a 3. And then he proceeded to miss his next four, all in fairly rapid succession. I guess it was good while it lasted.
- Domantas Sabonis definitely looked like a rookie playing his first game. Not that he played poorly — quite the opposite — but he was hesitant and nervous. He only took a couple shots, but one was a smooth corner 3 that he splashed in the first half. The big thing Sabonis did was stay solid throughout. It’s probably a good thing he didn’t try and do too much. He was sound defensively, worked on the boards and picked his spots. He’s only going to get better.
- By the way, the starting five: Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson, Sabonis and Adams. The same group from the preseason. But Donovan noted pregame he’s likely to switch things around. He said more than anything, he wants Sabonis to get settled into a role and starting him might help that. Then again, he just seems to fit well.
- The Stache Brothers closed the game and dominated the 76ers. They were a +16 together and just inhaled every rebound. The Sixers tried smallball against them, and it failed miserably. I was secretly hoping Brett Brown would get nuts and throw Okafor and Embiid out there together against them, but it never happened.
- Okafor and Embiid are impressive ball palmers. They definitely like to show off they can do it.
- So, about that fan that flipped off Westbrook. That was weird. It took a few minutes, but security escorted him out. He went peacefully, obviously knowing he did something dumb. Westbrook for his part handled it wonderfully, flashing a great reaction and then blistering the 76ers right away. The Westbrook from four years ago might’ve proceeded to take 10 straight shots, but he was unfazed after it.
- Semaj Christon did fine. A few rough spots, but in 15 minutes he had four points and four assists. That’ll do.
- Ersan Ilyasova was solid off the bench. Hit two 3s and scored 10 points.
- Really the entire OKC bench was good. Granted, they were going against TJ McConnell and Richaun Holmes, but still. A total of 39 points, with Alex Abrines hitting a big fourth quarter 3, Kanter producing at a crazy per minute rate and Ilyasova spacing the floor. Not bad.
- Just 10 turnovers. That’s surprising. I figured it would be over 20, and thought Westbrook would have at least six.
- Embiid is going to be super good. But I would advise it might help his career if he’d pass. Maybe like just once or something.
- The crowd was so fantastic (outside of one dummy). From tipoff they were charged up, and got especially excited any time Embiid (or Saric) touched it. It was playoff-like. I’m serious. It was a better crowd than I saw in Oakland for Game 1 or 2 of the West Finals. Shouts to Philly fans.
- The Thunder were good on the defensive end. No big blowups (27 was the most they allowed in a quarter) and did a good job with the 3-point line. Against, competition and such, but it was still a good performance.
- The offense had its problems. As Donovan said pregame, it’s going to be different this season. It’s more about attrition and finding the way to score, rather than producing seemingly effortless points at times. There was a clear lack of space for drivers, and the perimeter shooting lacked (6-22 from 3). But it was good enough, mainly because Westbrook is amazing.
- The DNPs: Joffrey Lauvergne, Nick Collison and Anthony Morrow. Josh Huestis was inactive.
Next up: Home against the Suns