Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans Game Recap – Oct. 6, 2017

Wait, this was a preseason game? The stands were packed to the brim and the fans on their feet. As the names were announced in starting lineups, the roars were nearly at playoff levels.

For the first time, Chesapeake Energy Arena had a chance to shower the team with their adoration – for Russell Westbrook who committed long-term to the team, to the newcomers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to crucial glue guys Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, and Nick Collison, Mr. Thunder.

The Thunder’s 102-91 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night was as much of a celebration of the continuation of contending basketball in Oklahoma City as it was an early October showing of what the team will be like in 2017-18.

Melo scores 9, grabs 6 in 17 minutes in his Peake debut. Thunder wins 102-91 over Pelicans.

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Oct 6, 2017 at 7:21pm PDT

Still, there was plenty to glean from the 48 minutes, particularly the Thunder’s defense. After facing a Houston squad that launched 55 three-point attempts but didn’t make much headway in the paint, the Thunder had to deal with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Early on, the Pelicans got into the lane and took 27 first half shots in the paint. After halftime, the Thunder walled off the middle, holding New Orleans to just 11 attempts in the lane.

When it was all said and done, the Thunder held the Pelicans to 39.0 percent shooting while forcing 15 turnovers.

“Our defense continues to be a focus for us,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “Coming out of this second game I saw improvements in a lot of different areas and still areas where we have to get better.”

“Defensively we picked it up and played at a better pace, a better tempo,” George said. “It allowed us to get out offensively and explore the fast break a little bit. Overall I thought we looked good.”

Part of the reason for the joyous atmosphere and the defensive intensity was the return of Westbrook to the lineup. He played just 10 minutes, all in the first quarter, but he was electric as ever, dishing out four assists to go with nine points. He’ll continue to get more minutes as the preseason rolls along, but the Thunder wants to ease him back into action slowly so he can build conditioning.

“(Russ) has speed that you can’t scout for and can’t plan for,” George said. “It’s definitely a luxury to have a guy like that on the floor with you.”

“It felt good to see it in spurts, what it can be, how it’s going to mesh and how it’s going to workout between all of us,” Anthony added. “Having Russ back makes the game a little easier for myself, for Paul and for everybody out there on the court.”

Watch: Thunder Highlights

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George Scores on Every Level

Outside of one three-pointer that banked in from the deep right wing, Paul George scored the way Paul George always scores tonight. It was a perfect exhibition of what Thunder fans will see all season long. The smooth pin-down jumpers, the quick finishes in the lane and the ability to shake-and-bake defenders to create space for a rise and fire bucket.

“It was great to see him generate some shots on his own,” Donovan noted. “Offensively, some of the screening actions and giving him multiple ways to go, he did a great job of finding open areas to get some catch and shoot shots.”

“He does well at scoring without the ball, coming off picks, coming off of pindowns,” Anthony said. “We know to go get him. There are going to be nights like tonight where he has it going and we want to go to him.”

All told, George scored a game-high 25 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-7 from three in 27 minutes of play. He also manufactured points in the most efficient way possible, by getting to the free throw line where he knocked down 8-of-10 attempts. Most of George’s offense came on flex cuts where he starts on the baseline and uses a screen from either the Thunder’s point guard near the block or center near the elbow in order to get a cutting layup or a catch-and-shoot jumper.

“It’s just reading guys,” George said. “I’m going to cut and try to put pressure on the defense at all times, which a lot of times opens up other stuff for guys. It’s always keeping them on their toes.”

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Ferguson Proving to be a Pest on Defense

Eyebrows are raising throughout Oklahoma early in training camp because of a player who most fans probably hadn’t heard of before June’s NBA Draft. Terrance Ferguson, the springy rookie guard, has been a pest defensively for the Thunder thus far and earned both the attention and the praise of his coach and teammates.

On Friday his highlight plays were draining a three and soaring for an acrobatic layup in transition and a monster dunk in the half court. There were two very different plays that signified why he’ll have a chance to get on the court this season for the Thunder. To end the third quarter, Ferguson’s quick feet tiptoed in front of E’Twuan Moore, forcing him to twist and turn and shoot after the quarter buzzer sounded. On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Ferguson hustled to get around a screen and drew an offensive foul. Two possessions, two stops. His veteran teammates are loving it.

“I love him. He’s a guy who comes in and works hard,” Anthony said of Ferguson. “He does the things that we ask him to do on both ends. He wants to get better. You can’t ask for a better rookie than that.”

“(Ferguson) is going to be special. The greatest thing about Terrance is that you tell him one thing, one time and he just gets it,” George added. He’s out there. He’s dialed into the gameplan. You don’t have to tell him anything. It’s a luxury to have a rookie that is that advanced at this level. He’s only going to get better.”

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By the Numbers

9-0 – Thunder run mid-way through the third quarter, aided by buckets from Paul George, Raymond Felton, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams. The Thunder never trailed after that

22 – Assists for the Thunder on the night, including five from Andre Roberson

48.6 – Shooting percentage for the Thunder on the night, as 13 different players scored

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The Last Word

“We’ve been gelling pretty good off the court and on the court too. These first two games really put a lot of things into perspective for us as far as personnel, who we want to be and what we want to accomplish. It’ll get better and better.” – forward Carmelo Anthony

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