It was one of those nights on the NBA schedule. Part of a three-games-in-four nights stretch, on the road in Salt Lake City, against a physical Jazz team. And the Thunder’s offense didn’t make the road trip, as the team fell 96-87.
Growing pains were evident everywhere. It’s clear that the rotation is yet to be figured out, as the Thunder played 11 players on the night, and the substitution patterns of the three stars has yet to be solidified. The loss moves the team to 1-1, with a chance for some redemption Sunday night against the T-Wolves. Until then, here’s some instant reactions.
Another slow start
The slow start in Thursday night’s season opener against the Knicks could be attributed to any number of things: nerves, anticipation, new players, first game jitters, or a wild crowd. This was a bit more concerning. The Thunder only managed 14 points in the first quarter, followed by just 20 in the second. Ultimately, it doomed them.
Cold shooting stretches are obviously going to happen, and 13 of 43 from the field and 2 of 14 from three in the half certainly qualifies as that. Combine it with 10 turnovers and it’s a recipe for a first half deficit.
But it wasn’t just the result that was worrisome, it was the way the offense looked. To the right is the shot chart from the first half, which shows just three made baskets inside the paint. Not only that, but only 13 total shots came from the paint, as opposed to 30 shots outside of it.
The offense became stagnant for long stretches, especially when Russell Westbrook was off the floor. Far too many possessions slowed to a crawl, ending in extended isolations from Anthony or George. For most of the first half, those didn’t convert into points.
The flip side of this, of course, is what happened at the end of the first half. In the final 2:35 the Thunder scored 11 points, all of which came from that duo of stars. Turns out you can’t stop bucket-getters from getting buckets for long.
Russell Westbrook’s quiet night
It’s going to take a while for the Thunder’s three stars to find out how to play together, that’s what everyones been saying. Well, it was Westbrook who sacrificed tonight. His six total points were the fewest since April 12th against the Nuggets, when Donovan decided to rest him for the second half. The last time Westbrook played 30+ minutes and scored in single digits was November 27th, 2013.
Westbrook still filled up the stat sheet, recording 13 rebounds and 11 assists, but he didn’t appear to be in his customary attack mode on the offensive end. Two for 11 shooting from the field is obviously part of that, and this season he’s not required to shoulder the entire offensive load as he was last year, but on a night in which the team struggled to score it would’ve been nice to see him getting to the rim for layups.
Since this seems to be the the storyline everyone wants to talk about, here you go:
Westbrook: 11 shots
Anthony and George: 45 shots
Everybody else: 22 shots
Patterson working back in
Patterson continues his recovery from knee scope surgery in August, and saw a few more minutes against the Jazz. He logged 12 minutes after seven in the opener and obviously wasn’t at full power, but Thunder fans should be excited but the glimpses they saw. Patterson is both quicker and stronger than I remember him being when I watched Raptors games in past seasons. He only took two shot missed them both, but whatever.
His replacement so far has been Jerami Grant, who received 13 minutes after 21 minutes against the Knicks. He’s looked decent in those stretches, displaying his insane athleticism and performing some signature full-swing block attempts for good measure. There seems to be about a 25 minute block set aside for back up forwards, and it will be interesting to see if Patterson goes ahead and claims all of those when he gets fully healthy.
Notes and Highlights
- The Thunder’s 87 total points were its fewest since December 29th of last season. It’s worth noting that the Utah Jazz might be the best defensive team in the NBA.
- Carmelo Anthony fired up 26 shots. He spent quite a bit of time as the only “star” on the court with the second unit, so it’s explainable, but it still felt like a bit much considering it was a low possession game. It isn’t really the number as much as the way the offense grinds to a halt when he’s jab stepping on an isolation on the wing.
- Speaking of which, I’m going to start a “Melo pulling up on the fast break for three” counter. Two more tonight, three on the season. I realize this makes me sound about 85 years old, but I’m not a fan. This ain’t 2K.
- Raymond Felton pitched in eight points and a pair of steals off the bench in 18 minutes. If he can hit open spot-up threes like he did twice all season, that’s going to be really helpful.
- Terrance Ferguson found himself on the court with the starters during stretches again, in both the first and second halves. He finished with 10 minutes but didn’t account for much of any production.
- Huestis watch! It looked like he was headed for a DNPCD, but eventually checked in with about 90 seconds left once the game was out of reach. Immediately hits a three. Hmmm, makes you wonder.
Back in action on Sunday at home versus Minnesota. 6 PM CT tip on Fox Sports Oklahoma.