OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — In the first 11 days of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Oklahoma City Thunder (1-4) could not put it together for an entire game. The 12th day saw the Thunder’s efforts bear fruit. The Thunder prevailed over the Phoenix Suns (1-5) 117-110.
Oklahoma City continued their habit of generating great, open shots on offense. Unlike the first four games, tonight however saw the ball go through the hoop. To go along with an impressive shooting night, the defense was sensational.
“I thought we did a lot of great things tonight,” Billy Donovan said afterwards. “We played with great defensive intensity.”
Nerlens Noel got the start tonight as Steven Adams was scratched from the lineup just prior to tip-off with calf soreness — Donovan said he found out around 42 minutes prior to the game that Adams would be a no-go. The former lottery pick provided the defensive foundation that Oklahoma City fed off of the entire evening.
“Honestly, it was one of the funnest games I’ve ever played in,” Noel said in the locker room. “We just have to keep up the momentum, not miss many beats and get back to work.”
In 279 games of play, Noel registered his first 20 point, 15 rebound (finished with 20 and 15 in 25 minutes) game of his career. It was the athleticism and energy that allowed Noel to make such a positive impact on both sides of the floor.
“He did a lot of good things,” Donovan said of Noel. “Very active. I was really impressed with his defensive intensity tonight.”
Russell Westbrook had a slow start. After starting 0-for-4 from the field, Westbrook looked like the same player who finished off the Boston game on Thursday. Despite his struggles from the floor, the All-Star played under control and looked for teammates frequently.
“It was a great team win, bro,” Westbrook said when asked about how he was able to play through early struggles.
The Thunder led by 10 after the first quarter and extended that lead to 14 at the half. Oklahoma City hovered around shooting 50 percent from the floor all game and were hitting shots left and right for long stretches of the first half. Most notably from Jerami Grant — who again got the start — and Patrick Patterson.
The two combined for 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting — 3-of-9 from three, as well as knock down eight of their 12 free throws. It was by far Patterson’s most complete game of the season.
The third quarter continued the theme of the first half. Noel dominance — who held last June’s first overall pick DeAndre Ayton to 16 points in 32 minutes of play — and shot making. It was the fourth quarter that Donovan described as “disturbing” in terms of the ending.
“I just didn’t think we played the fourth quarter well,” Donovan said. “The game ended up a seven-point win, which for me as a coach is disturbing. Momentum can shift so quickly in an NBA game and they went on a nice run for a two-minute span.”
The Thunder now have their sights set on a revenge game with the LA Clippers on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.