It wasn’t the best gift under the tree, but it was practical as the Thunder took care of the Magic 97-89 to start out the season 1-0.
It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been the complete series of Gossip Girl or something. But this game was like that plain button-up from Old Navy you got from your grandma today. Nothing special, but useful.
There were flashes in the first half of brilliant transition offense, quality halfcourt possession basketball and stingy defense. The Thunder went on a couple of different runs to break away from Orlando, which was helped by a stretch in the first half where the Magic went just 5-30 from the field.
But for the most part, it felt like a meh opening night win, something you’d see Nov. 1 as a team still figures out a few things and settles into their normal rhythm.
The game came down to an essential, simple matchup: Perk got the better of Dwight Howard. Howard was just 4-12 for 11 points and only shot eight free throws. When Howard can’t roll inside, it completely limits the Magic’s inside-out game, which is what they’re basically designed to do.
“I thought Perk was really good staying between Dwight and the basket,” Scott Brooks said. “That’s what you want to do.”
Perk basically played Howard by always keep a body pressed against him, staying home and giving him a 12-foot jumper if he wanted it. Howard tried it three times, hitting one. After that, Howard never went near the paint without Perk’s barrel chest right up against him. That’s how Perk is going to play everyone and that’s why he can change the Thunder defensively almost all on his own.
At one point after Perkins was a little hot after getting tangled with Howard. Ref Bill Kennedy told Perk to chill and then even went over and told Brooks to calm Perkins down. Brooks didn’t look at all interested in that.
“We like him a little angry,” Brooks said. “We like him mad at his opponent.”
Perk did pick up his first technical of the season though by scuffling with Howard later. That’s No. 1 for Perk, and because of the shortened season, he’s got 12 more until he faces a suspension.
“He told me he’d slow it down when he got to nine,” Brooks said. “I’m trying to talk him into six.”
Nobody especially stood out for OKC, at least in terms of the box score. KD had 30, but missed five free throws. Harden was nice off the bench with 19, but was just 4-11 from the floor. Westbrook finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists but was just 6-17 and turned it over seven times. It was kind of a business-as-usual game, which sort of speaks to how good the Thunder can be.
Outside of Perk, it was OKC’s bench that won this game. It really kind of felt like OKC played like crap in the third, and yet the Thunder extended the lead to 18, outscoring Orlando 26-22 in the quarter. It mainly happened because the Thunder’s second unit was far superior to the Magic’s. Combined, the Thunder’s bench was a +47. The starting five had only one guy in the positives (KD with a +2).
Really, the second half didn’t have a lot of great basketball or anything, but the Thunder just sort of outclassed Orlando because of a surplus of talent. Where the Magic were trying to get everything they could out of J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson, OKC had reserves and reinforcements to call on to pile up the points.
It pretty much came down to Howard not being able to carry the Magic. Which is precisely what the Thunder gameplan was.
- KD showed off his postgame often, and the best thing I saw from it was how well he passed the ball. Orlando tried to double him, but he finished with six assists, which led the team. He was smooth, decisive and though he turned it over four times, he didn’t make a lot of straight dumb, forced passes. He made plays.
- First open 3 Orlando gave Westbrook, he stroked with absolutely no hesitation. I fully support this development. He has to knock it down if they’re going to give it to him. Mainly because it makes him one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league when he does.
- One major improvement from Perk because of his new body: He doesn’t foul. He can move his feet much better and doesn’t have to use his hands to keep someone in front of him. It’s a big reason Howard only took eight free throws. Perk was quick enough to stop Howard off the dribble.
- Nick Collison, +18. Next question.
- Serge Ibaka was a bit of a non-factor. It wasn’t foul trouble, but mainly matchup. Ryan Anderson is a perimeter 4, which makes it tough for Ibaka to really capitalize on his talents. Ibaka played only 23 minutes, didn’t score and had just six rebounds. It wasn’t his type of game, but I wouldn’t read anything into it.
- I kinda dug Westbrook’s little capri underpants.
- Westbrook worked a little out of the post as well. It appears his preferred move is spinning baseline to go glass. He tried it twice, knocking one down for an and-1.
- Westbrook got way sloppy with the ball in the third. He turned it over three times in four possessions and lost control a bit. Not close to his best performance, but it’s nice to know OKC can handle a solid team when Westbrook’s off.
- Quality night from Thabo. Made the open shots he was given, played solid defense and in his 20 minutes, did his job. That’s what OKC needs from him.
- Nazr Mohammed entered in front of Cole Aldrich and Aldrich didn’t play. So no rotation switch there for now.
- Here’s how the minutes lined up: KD 37, Westbrook 34, Harden 32, Perk 30, Ibaka 23, Collison 22, Thabo 21, Mohammed 16, Maynor 14, Cook 11. A 10-man rotation with Harden getting substantially more minutes than Thabo despite not starting.
- On that topic, Scott Brooks said, “Let’s face it: James is like our sixth starter.” That really makes no sense at all, but whatever.
- KD missed an unusual five free throws. He said after the game, “No disrespect to a legend, but I felt like Shaq tonight.”
- David Stern talked to the media before the game and said OKC could host an All-Star Game one day if there were 6,000 hotel rooms in the metro area. Which I think was a nice way to say no way. He said of OKC, the actual city: “This city was the little engine that could.” He also talked about OKC’s potential issue with keeping its core intact. He said that isn’t a small market problem, but a good problem that comes with being a contender.
- Every time Hedo Turkoglu shot, I got excited. It felt like the first pass of a fast break.
- The Thunder’s halftime show was a surprise soldier reunion for two different families. Everyone spent most of the third quarter trying to pretend they weren’t crying.
Next up: At Minnesota Monday night.