Well, it’s 1-0.
But it could very easily be 0-1.
That’s called science.
The Thunder got more than they wanted from a scrappy Jazz team, 101-98, and basically held them off entirely at the free throw line. An even slightly better team beats Oklahoma City tonight, because as futile as the Thunder’s halfcourt offense became in the fourth quarter, Utah’s was just as sloppy. But that’s kind of expected from them, you know, since John Lucas III was their starting point guard and all.
Essentially, the Thunder game plan was this: Give it to Kevin Durant and hope he got to the free throw line. Good plan, too, because KD went 22-24 from the line to finish with 42 despite shooting 9-24. The play-by-play is ugly for OKC in the fourth quarter. Durant scored 15 of the Thunder’s 20 in the fourth, and the team only combined for four baskets. The last bucket the Thunder had was with 4:01, a pret-tay 17-foot one-legged rainbow from KD. Two players scored in the fourth — Durant and Reggie Jackson — with Jackson’s only bucket being a semi-heaved 3-pointer.
Ugly. Gross. Disgusting.
What’s so hard to figure about this is what got lost in the transition from preseason to regular season. During the preseason, the Thunder’s ball movement and spacing was crisp and effective, like they clearly understood and recognized the problems from the postseason and were intent on correcting it. They averaged better than 22 assists a game in the preseason with Durant playing point forward often and while there wasn’t a whole lot of work at halfcourt offense in a tight game, the execution was far better.
Tonight, it was pretty much exactly what we saw for nine games in the postseason without Russell Westbrook, except against a worse team. The Thunder tried to rely on the old stuff, going to the old down-screen play where Jackson (playing the part of Westbrook) hands the ball off to Thabo then sets a free throw line pick to try and free KD. That set is a Thunder staple and while getting the ball to Durant is never a bad idea, it’s one of those things where you minimize the importance of the four other players on the floor and might as well have them all sit down as soon as Durant gets it.
The shame is that mid-way through the third quarter, the Thunder appeared to be close to putting things on cruise control en route to a solid opening victory. With 3:13 left in the third, a Sefolosha 3 put the Thunder up 79-64, but the bench let it slip to 81-73 to start the fourth. Instead of putting their foot down and pushing the lead to 20, the Jazz cut it to eight and made it a ballgame. That’s where you need the boost from a scoring-minded bench, or you’ve got to re-think the rotation to have better players on the floor to close quarters. You can’t miss those kinds of opportunities.
It was a grind and I wouldn’t even call this one fun. It was the equivalent of a football team just deciding to run the ball every down and kick field goals to make sure they escape with a win. You can look at this one as something that revealed issues, or just a good, veteran team doing what was necessary to start 1-0.
- Serge Ibaka had some kind of nasty game. He went 4-15 from the floor, forcing way too many shots as he clearly was doing his best to assert himself, but played quality defense and pulled in 10 rebounds. He just never got in a good rhythm and for whatever reason, the pick-and-pop was limited. Was that Reggie Jackson not making it happen enough, or was it just the Thunder putting their heads down and hoping Durant carried them at the free throw line? Whatever it was, miserable offensive game from Ibaka. He’s got to be better than that.
- Remember how I predicted Ibaka would shoot 60 percent from the field this season? Brb, gonna edit that post real quick to pretend that never happened.
- Durant told Lesley McCaslin after the game, “I knew if I drove it, I’d get the call.” Yep, pretty much.
- Jackson’s game was extremely up and down. On one hand, 14 points on 5-10, three assists, five steals. On the other, three turnovers (two in the fourth quarter) and some iffy decision-making late. A sequence in the fourth: Missed Durant on a wide open backdoor lob (but made a contested 3), then took a horrible 3 that airballed, then turned the ball off that led to a Hayward dunk. Jackson has the ability to be an offensive playmaker late in games and why you’re not running consistent pick-and-roll with him and Durant or him and Ibaka really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
- One thing about Jackson: He just doesn’t miss clutch free throws.
- The Thunder took 33 free throws. Durant had 24 of those. That’s kind of crazy.
- KD didn’t create at all tonight. He finished with only one assist, and really I can’t think of too many situations where he set someone up and they didn’t knock down the shot. The offense was just a complete mess, especially in the second half. Durant’s scoring ability can save OKC against mediocre teams, but they’re capable of better.
- Overlooked positive: Thabo was excellent. His defense on Gordon Hayward was terrific and he scored 14 points on 6-11 shooting. Probably the best player on the floor tonight for the Thunder other than the Durant guy.
- Jeremy Lamb only got 17 minutes, and wasn’t very effective. In fact, he was a big part of Utah’s comeback, mainly because he got abused by Alec Burks. From what I could tell, a big reason for it was that Lamb was overplaying. I don’t know if that was in the scouting report to push out and force him baseline, but it didn’t work. Lamb was pressuring hard and it seemed like he thought he was getting help from a big, but Burks’ first step was opening up easy driving lanes.
- Lamb finished with four points on 2-6 shooting, three rebounds and a steal. He was barely involved in the offense, especially in the second half. He knocked down a couple smooth mid-range jumpers in the second quarter and it seemed like he was going to get cooking a bit, but he didn’t see much of the ball after that.
- The bench was really solid in the first half, turning a 24-21 deficit to 34-31 lead spanning the first and second quarters. This was probably a perfect opening game, because Utah’s bench might be the worst in the league this season. Especially once Burks becomes a starter, because he should be.
- Here’s something I realized late in the fourth quarter: Remove Durant from the Thunder, and they’re pretty much the Jazz. That terrifies me.
- Scott Brooks was clearly trying to see what he’s got with his rotation in the first half. Nick Collison was the first off the bench and he ended up playing 10 guys in the first quarter, including Perry Jones III.
- Steven Adams was OK. Nothing great, nothing bad. He played 18 minutes, had three boards, an assist and three points. He played deep into the fourth with the starters and I thought for a minute Brooks was going to trust him to finish the game. But after a rebound glanced off his fingers, Brooks went immediately to Perk to finish the game.
- Perk was solid. He had eight rebounds (all in the first half), finished a couple good looks at the rim, and played quality defense. But he did take a head-scratcher hook shot with about a minute left that had the entire 46th state screaming “no no no no no no” without any hope there would be a “yes” at the end of it.
- The only thing dumber than the new delay of game rule is going to the baseline camera on a breakway dunk. The Thunder were called four times for delay of game for touching the ball after it went through the rim, which resulted in three technical fouls. One of them happened after a Jones dunk in which the ball was about to bounce into the first row, but Jones tapped it to the official. This. Rule. Is. Stupid.
- A note on the delay of game tech: It’s not a player tech. So it doesn’t result in any ejections or count towards the 16. It’s just like a defensive three-second call.
- Was it just me or was the quality of the HD way improved on FS Oklahoma?
- I really would like to hear some about Kings of Leon’s new album. Maybe next game…
- Gordon Hayward will never make a deep desperation 3 to win a game.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Excuuuuuuuuuuse me!”
Next up: At the Wolves on Friday