- Tip-off: 8:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Time and again on Thursday night’s season opener, the Thunder got through screens, hustled back in front of their defensive assignment, switched out, rotated and scrambled their way through possessions.
The result was a large number of offensive possessions for the overwhelmed New York Knicks that ended with a tough shot taken up against the shot clock. As the Thunder turns around to face the Utah Jazz in game number two of the 2017-18 season, it will have to be ready to do it all over again.
“If you want to be a good defensive team, you’re going to have to be prepared to go late into the clock,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “Those are the really dangerous parts of those kinds of possessions because a shot is going to go up, there are second chance opportunities and fouls. If you’re getting teams deep into the clock, that means your transition defense, your first part of the shot clock and middle part of the shot clock is really good.”
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan
While the Thunder mostly focused on staying locked in on its defensive rotations and working on its offensive concepts on Friday, the team did prepare some for Utah’s personnel and plays and will do so more at shootaround on Saturday morning.
Donovan’s review of the Jazz is that they’ve done a really good job offensively scoring the ball in the preseason, aided by their first round pick, Donovan Mitchell. If there’s one major difference from last year to this year, the Jazz are playing at a little bit of a faster tempo with the addition of Ricky Rubio. It’s always a difficult game when the Thunder plays its division rival in Salt Lake City, and it’s been even more of a challenge with Rudy Gobert in the Jazz lineup.
The French center is a stifling rim presence that can deter shot attempts in the lane at a high level. The Thunder’s half-court offense will be tested as it tries to move the ball from one side of the floor to the other at a quick enough pace to get Gobert out of the lane. Being prudent about attacks to the rim will also be important.
“You have to pick your spots. Any good offense is going to run at the rim and play in the paint,” Donovan noted. “That’s why they’ve been such a great defensive team because they have him back there, so you have to be selective and make good decisions when you do get there.”
On the other end, Gobert presents problems with his length and size, giving him an incredible ability to finish easily near the rim. The job will involve Steven Adams working in congruence with his teammates to hold Gobert down and prevent him from getting easy opportunities.
“Gobert, he’s a tough pickle isn’t he?” Adams asked without missing a beat somehow. “He’s long, athletic and tall. The main ones when it’s tough is when the rotations come into play… Those are where he’s most dangerous.”
Thunder Talk: Steven Adams
It’s just one game, but Adams looked sharp on the defensive end in the Thunder’s victory over the Knicks. He snagged five of the team’s 14 steals on the night, and was there to disrupt plenty of actions. Over the years, Adams has truly developed into the team’s defensive anchor because of his inquisitive nature. He claims he was “dumb as a pile of bricks” before he came to the Thunder, but through work with the coaches, Nick Collison and former Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, he’s steadily improved his knowledge of the game and communication skills.
“When you have a new team like we do, the most valuable thing you have is communication,” Donovan noted. “When you have communication, you can resolve and fix things.”
– Thursday was the first opportunity newcomer Patrick Patterson had to play with Adams, and the veteran forward came away extremely impressed. Patterson was able to assess from a distance that Adams has a great personality but has learned that he’s a person that can be relied upon. He’s also dependable on the court, where Patterson explained Adams can do a trio of things in pick and roll defense when most players can only do one: block the path of the ballhandler, get back to the opposing center and still manage to deflect a pass or dribble attempt.
- “I didn’t know (Adams) had such great hands. I don’t know how many deflections and steals he had last night off the top of my head but it seemed like anytime the offense was trying to make a pass his hands were right there deflecting the ball and getting steals,” Patterson revealed. “It’s very unique and very special to have a guy who can do that.”
Thunder Talk: Patrick Patterson
– As for Patterson himself, Donovan and the staff are hoping to get him more opportunities on the floor in Utah after he played just seven minutes in his return to action on Thursday. He’s still working closely with the training staff and has constant communication and mutual understanding with that group, so it stands to reason that the Thunder wanted to ease him back into action as he regains form.
- “It felt good to be back out there and to get some actual real game time played other than five on five and controlled stuff on the court,” Patterson said.
- “It’s going to take time. It’s going to take quite a few games for me to get back to my old self but you have to start somewhere,” Patterson added.
– On Friday at practice, Adams delivered a nice breakdown of how exactly the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have impacted the Thunder’s entire offense. When pushed to break down the x’s and o’s, Adams has become one of the Thunder’s very best.
- “When you have people like that, it puts the defense in a tough bind where they have to make risky decisions,” Adams said. “They’re going to have to sacrifice something, give something up. Once you get to that point, it’s really good.”
- “Kudos to them for being such high caliber players who attract a lot of attention, but they’re disciplined to still run the play and keep them moving and keep the defense moving,” Adams continued. “That makes it even tougher on them, which allows more space.
Thunder Minute: Oct. 20