The joy has been there all of training camp, there’s been laughter and a clear enjoyment of the process of putting the pieces together. But in the final days of U.S. Cellular Thunder Training Camp, the Thunder has continued to steel its mental approach to the game.
With supreme focus, the Thunder prepared for the New York Knicks over the past two days, locking in strategically on what they must do. The game plan will be one that gives them the best chance to beat New York, but the effort, energy and intensity will be a reflection of how the Thunder wants to compete every night.
“We had a total lock down from a mental standpoint today, really tightening up what we want to do, what we want to accomplish and how we want to come out of the gate for the first game,” forward Carmelo Anthony said.
Both Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton competed in contact portions of practice again on Wednesday, making it two days in a row for the pair of veterans. Their status for the game itself will be determined after shootaround on Thursday morning.
Regardless of who is able to suit up for the Thunder, Head Coach Billy Donovan knows that his club will have their hands full with a Knicks team with a completely different style and vibe than they’ve had in the past. The first priorities for the Thunder will be getting back in transition and matching up with New York’s size and length at the forward and center spots.
“They’re doing a terrific job in transition,” Donovan said. “They’re really pushing the ball and taking advantage of the three-point line. They have a lot of versatility and flexibility across their front line in how they want to play.”
“They’re a run and gun team. They want to get out in transition, play fast, look for early opportunities,” George added. “We’ve prepped for them, but a lot of it is going to be us too though. We want to establish how we’re going to play through this season, and it starts with Game One.”
The regular season opener of 2017-18 has been a moment that Thunder fans have been anxiously waited for since April, so it should be no surprise that the atmosphere inside the building will be on a level only Oklahomans can reach.
For newcomers like George and Anthony, it will be a full embrace by the fan base, something they both experienced upon their arrival in the city, but will now get to soak in completely. Having a highly talented team with a loyal and energetic fan base makes all the difference in the NBA in terms of player experience, and both George and Anthony know that this home opener is the start of a thrilling ride.
“The fun part is knowing what our goals are. That’s what makes the game fun. That’s what gets us excited and gets us motivated,” Anthony said.
“This is the moment right here. This is the glimpse I’ve been waiting for since the day I stepped off that airplane and got a piece of that,” George grinned. “Tomorrow night is going to be what it’s all about.”
– The NBA world was stunned by the injury that Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward sustained on Tuesday’s opening night of the 2017-18 season. Perhaps more than anyone else in the league, it hit home hardest for George. He himself sustained a terrible leg injury when competing for Team USA in 2014. Because of the experience and his knowledge of the hard road back from injury, George immediately reached out to Hayward, and even had the chance to speak to him over the phone.
- “Immediately I felt devastated,” George said. “I just tried to give him words of encouragement and tried to be there for him.”
- “We do a great job as players to kind of pick one another up,” George added. “At the end of the day this is a brotherhood and we genuinely care for everybody’s health. I’ve been there. I know what that outreach did for me so I wanted to be there for Gordon in his time of need and help pick him up. Hopefully I can be one of the best influences going through that.”
- “Your heart just goes out for him. Those things are very difficult and you feel bad,” Donovan said. “I’ve always admired and respected the way he’s played the game. To have the season end for him so soon, I hope he has a speedy recovery and can get back playing.”
– It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a month for Anthony in a Thunder jersey, and it’s quite poetic that his first regular season game with his new club will come against his old one. With the Thunder’s game against the Knicks tonight, it affords Anthony the opportunity to make a clean transition.
- “It’s an opportunity for me to go out there and close that chapter,” Anthony said. “I’m not out to prove anything. I’m out to win.”
– While on the subject of Anthony’s roots in New York, he also talked about how his love for the game was cultivated as a child. Though he was born in the Big Apple, Anthony was raised in Baltimore, and disclosed that he learned his dynamic scoring ability from playing long hours after school and in the summertime at the Cloverdale Park basketball court near Druid Hill Park in northwest Baltimore.
- “My knack was scoring the basketball and it was something I tried to perfect as I played the game. There wasn’t no age limit outside in the streets,” Anthony said. “If you get picked, you get picked and you had to hold your own to earn your stripes.”