By Daniel Wojciechowski
Special to Daily Thunder
Tonight’s 85-83 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers marks the fourth straight win to start off the regular season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s insane nightly stat line continues with thirty-five points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. This was a very low scoring, tightly contested game that contained twenty lead changes. Russell Westbrook willed the Thunder to a victory sealing the game with a clutch jumper over DeAndre Jordan to give the Thunder a two possession lead over the Clippers with less than twenty seconds left.
Neither team consistently shot the ball well tonight, the Thunder shot only forty percent from the field and twenty-five percent from three. Russell Westbrook was the only Thunder player with double digit points, but twelve Thunder players helped by committee in the scoring category. The biggest factors for tonight’s win was the collective defensive effort of the team, the Thunder being plus eleven in the rebounding category and Russell Westbrook being Russell Westbrook.
“It don’t matter who we play back to back, we can play the globetrotters [for] all I care. It don’t matter” Westbrook said on Saturday after beating the Lakers.
Tonight was the first game for the Post-Durant Thunder to play a team projected to not only make the playoffs, but to be a possible title contender. Notably over the past year, Russell Westbrook has made it clear multiple times that he’s going to play the same way no matter who his opponent is—tonight was no exception Narratives might not matter much to Westbrook, which obviously is working well for him, but there are actual narratives and implications generating organically as the Thunder begin to play teams that they will have to face if they plan to make a run this post-season.
We’re still in the sample size part of the season, but tonight was an encouraging look at what the Thunder are capable of. With a team full of athleticism, length, and a defense-first mindset, the future for this team is very intriguing.
Observations from tonight’s game:
- Jerami Grant’s debut was tonight for the Thunder after being traded barely twenty-four hours ago. Grant adds depth to the Small Forward position and fits the mold of an athletic, versatile defensive wing that lacks consistent range. Grant tallied seventeen impressive minutes with six points, two rebounds and two blocks. Keep an eye out for Grant’s playing time over the course of the next few games, it’ll be interesting to see where he lands in the rotation.
- Chris Paul messed around and almost ended with a triple double with fifteen points, eleven rebounds and nine assists. CP3 was the best player tonight for the Clippers. The nine time all star has been insanely reliable through his career, but the athleticism of the Thunder doesn’t mix well with a backcourt he shares with J.J. Reddick. Westbrook, Oladipo and Roberson have a clear athletic advantage in that regard over the Clippers in their wing and guard depth—the Thunder have to prioritize pushing the ball and making teams like the Clippers work hard every possession.
- Raymond Felton, Maurreese Speights and Brandon Bass all looked impressive tonight. The Clippers added the three proven NBA veterans this summer to add to their bench depth and it shows. Speights almost comically never passes the ball, but the new additions to the team will be something that is a big factor for them throughout the season. Speights finished the game with fourteen points, four rebounds and two assists tonight in sixteen minutes. He’s a total net negative on defense, but can be a offensive weapon when his shot is falling. Bass most notably hit a buzzer beating deep three pointer to end the third quarter. And Raymond Felton looks too much like Chris Paul from a distance, someone needs to fix this. Seriously.
- Abrines and Morrow not only played, but briefly played together. The Thunder organization clearly values defense and has been reluctant to give playing time to anyone consistently that can’t play defense, aside from Enes Kanter. With Ersan Ilyasova being traded, Morrow and Abrines will be an asset to the Thunder. Abrines shot a perfect two for two tonight from three and should make every thunder fan excited for what’s in store for this guy.
- Adams and Sabonis foul a lot and tonight was no exception to this. Sabonis and Adams ended the night with five fouls a piece.
- Joffrey Lauvergne looked comfortable tonight. His effort level so far has been impressive and his matching with Kanter in the reserve backcourt makes a lot of sense at the moment.
- Andre Roberson’s stat line continues to not reflect his true value. Collecting only two points, four rebounds, a steal and a block in twenty-three minutes, he helped establish a defensive tone that continued throughout the game. Andre Roberson’s defense on Chris Paul late in the game won’t show up in the box score, but is invaluable and helped get the Thunder a win tonight.
- Russell Westbrook is amazing, just wanted to reiterate that point.
Next up: At the Warriors on Thursday