The weeks leading up to the Thunder season-opener, I knew there was a pretty good chance I’d go to the game. It’s hard to resist when you have nothing to do on a Sunday.
When my Woj tweet text alert went off saying that Russell Westbrook would be back in the lineup, I had no choice but to jump on StubHub, buy the best ticket I could afford and rush to the game.
I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. If you’re only going to go to a handful of Thunder games in person, Russell’s return would definitely be on that short list.
Russ was introduced last, the crowd was as loud as ever and just seeing him back in the lineup was a treat in itself.
Now, on to the game, and his play. He played 33 minutes, scored 21 points and had seven assists while shooting 5-of-16 from the field and 11-of-14 from the free throw line. That’s a statline you could see him putting up when he’s at 100 percent, which he appeared to be aside from a little rust on a few instances.
Westbrook had no problem blowing by defenders just like he always has. He finished better at the rim than I expected. If he could have gotten a few more jumpers to fall, it would have been a monster game for him. He made some great passes, too. He’s the best passer on the Thunder roster, which isn’t saying too much, but it’s just another way that exemplifies just how valuable he is to this team.
Overall, it couldn’t have gone much better for Russ last night. I went home and watched the game on TV after, and I felt a like Russ may have been favoring that right knee a tiny bit. Maybe I was just looking at it too closely and he always runs like that. I hope I’m wrong and there’s no chance of him reinjuring that knee on a natural play, but I won’t lie I think I saw something.
The game was pretty close throughout. Really, the biggest difference was Phoenix making threes and OKC once again shooting very coldly from beyond the arc. The Thunder went just 2-of-18 from three while Phoenix went 14-of-37. The Suns jacked up a bunch of threes and it paid off. Some were mistakes by the Thunder but a lot of the shots they made just felt like tough ones you kind of have to live with on a nightly basis in this league.
Another unfortunate trend that continued for the Thunder despite Westbrook’s return, was Serge Ibaka shooting poorly. He went 4-for-12 from the field, continued to struggle with those little one-handed bunnies inside. He made a few outside jumpers and had four offensive rebounds in just 25 minutes.
Kevin Durant has also been struggling with his shot, but he ended up very efficient last night. Durant led OKC with 33 on 10-of-19 shooting and made 11-of-13 free throws (Russ and KD combined o go 22-of-27 from the line). The other crazy stat is that Durant has just three assists in three games so far this season. I am never really upset with any of his decisions. It’s not like he’s forcing his shot instead of passing to open shooters. Shooters just aren’t knocking down shots and a lot of his skip passes are resulting in hockey assist chances rather than direct assists. The assists will come for KD.
Reggie Jackson coming off the bench is another huge aspect to Westbrook’s return. When Derek Fisher was the backup point guard, it was really hard for that second unit to generate much offense with the drive. Jackson still kills me with some of his decisions, but you can’t deny his talent and ability. Ten points and five assists is a nice line for Jackson off the pine.
Fisher played 20 minutes and Jeremy Lamb played just 16. Brooks went with Fish over Lamb late. In fact, he went with Fish over Thabo, too. Fisher did come through with some big shots in the fourth. I’ll never love Fisher, but there is some sense of confidence I get seeing him shoot a big shot that I don’t have when other guys do. He can bring some value to this team.
Lamb made a few nice floaters in the fourth. His other field goal was a fast break layup on a pass from Jackson. Quick sidenote: there were a lot more fast break opportunities for the Thunder, all of which seemed to result because of Russ. Lamb is still hurrying his jumpers. This will likely be a theme for him for awhile. He gets lost on defense but I think he’s trying hard on that end. He even showed the tiniest bit of emotion after one of his buckets in the fourth, which I don’t think anyone ever thought we’d see. He’s coming around, just very slowly.
There was some more solid play from Perry Jones and Steven Adams. I think they are solid ninth and tenth rotation guys for now. Adams had four offensive boards and continues to contribute in that way. Jones is starting to look more comfortable within the offense and I’m getting the sense that Brooks really likes his defense. Jones’ defense is where he can be the most valuable to the Thunder. He’s so athletic he should be able to defend all kinds of different players and may even be an option to use on LeBron.
The Thunder are back to 2-1 and let’s hope they stay above .500 for the rest of the season. Next up will be the Mavericks Wednesday night at home. The game will be on ESPN at 8:30 CST.