Look, I understand that it’s only Summer League. I understand it’s about evaluating young talent, and allowing said talent to carve out a spot for themselves on the roster. There are no Larry O’Brien trophies up for grabs in Orlando.
The thing is, there’s a competitive part of me that’s not even trying to hear that. When you play a game, you play to win. I don’t care if it’s the NBA regular season, the NBA Summer League, or the NBA Little League, I want to see my team play like it’s a matter of life and death. Anything less than 100% effort is just not good enough if you ask me.
As the Summer League progressed, Thunder Head Coach, Darko Rajakovic started experimenting with shorter rotations, giving certain players more floor time. It eventually translated to a win in the Thunder’s 3rd Summer League match-up. This gave them a bit of momentum heading into Wednesday afternoon’s match-up with the Pacers. The problem Rajakovic was running into using shorter rotations was that it didn’t allow him or the Thunder brass to evaluate certain players, as said players simply weren’t seeing enough floor time to properly demonstrate the skill sets they may or may not possess. Therefore Rajakovic opened up the rotation a bit for Wednesday’s game against the Pacers.
After some early back and forth put the score at 7-4 in favor of the Pacers, the Thunder hit a 10-0 run to establish a 7-point lead (14-7) with 4:39 to play in the opening period. The lead would not hold long, as the Pacers immediately answered with an 8-1 run of their own to tie the game (15-15) with 2:19 left in the quarter. The rest of the 1st was a struggle for both sides, with the Thunder clinging to a 1-point lead (23-22) at its end.
The 2nd quarter’s first 3 minutes and change were no different, with both teams struggling to pull away. The Thunder had actually pulled within 2 (34-32) with 6:15 to play until halftime, so there was no need to worry at the time. That’s when the Pacers sparked the run that sealed the deal, as their run actually went well into the 3rd quarter. At halftime the run was at 22-4, which gave the Pacers a 56-36 halftime lead.
The Pacers run finally ended at 29-4, giving them a 63-36 lead with just under 8 minutes remaining in the 3rd. Down 27, I’m sure the Thunder were already well aware that it was over. At this point, it was merely about saving face.
With 5:31 remaining, despite staring at the same 27-point deficit (84-57), the Thunder were able to spark a 9-0 run that pulled them within 18 (84-66). Too bad there was only 2:18 left on the game clock at that point, because when all was said and done, the Thunder found themselves on the wrong side of a 94-71 final.
The Pacers had several bright spots Wednesday, with 5 players hitting double figures in scoring, and one of those five also doubling in rebounds as well. 5th-year pro, Donald Sloan’s 19 points led all scorers off of 7-for-10 (70%) shooting, including an eye-popping 4-of-5 (80%) from beyond the arc. Basically, that man had flames coming off of his fingertips Wednesday afternoon. 2nd-year prospect, Frank Gaines finished with 17 points off of 7-for-13 (53.8%) shooting, including an impressive 2-for-4 (50%) from downtown. 3rd-year pro, Kevin Jones was the double-double man for the Pacers, logging 15 points and 12 rebounds. And to round off the major contributors for the Pacers and move this story along: 3rd-year pro, James Nunnally finished with 12 points, and 5th-year pro, Arinze Onuaku finished with 10 points off of the Pacers bench.
Although not as impressed with this Thunder squad as I’d like to be, there are still good things to take away from Wednesday. Mitch McGary’s 15-points led all Thunder scorers, and he actually came off of the bench to make that happen. His 5-for-7 (71.4%) shooting performance is pretty impressive in and of itself, and it happens to be coming off the heels of a double-double performance. This leads me to believe that we can expect good things from this kid down the road. Steven Adams scored 10 points off of 3-for-6 (50%) shooting, which is about what you’d expect from him at this stage of his development. However, at 4-for-10 (40%) on free throws, we may have to accept the fact that this kid may end up being another Shaquille O’Neal at the charity stripe. I’m not sure if there is anything that can be done about that either. And despite the fact that Andre Roberson has been quiet for pretty much the entirety of the Summer League, only scoring 9 points total in this game, he does deserve a bit of credit for hauling in 10 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb scored 12 points, but it was off of horrendous 4-for-17 (23.5%) shooting, including a dismal 1-for-9 (11.1%) from 3-point range. While Lamb shows flashes of pure scoring ability on numerous occasions, he also displays a consistent lack of consistency with it. To put it another way, the only thing consistent about Jeremy Lamb at this stage of his development is his inconsistency. Just look at his Summer League performances at this stage. In one game, he’ll give you 20+ points, while in the next game, he’ll barely cross the double-digit threshold. He’s still young though. At this stage, he just needs to devote more time to his game. Consistency is only developed through repetition. His inconsistency leads me to believe that he simply doesn’t put enough time towards it.
It looks as though the Thunder will draw the Heat for the final game of the Summer League. The game tips off at 2pm/1pm CST on NBA-TV. Grab some popcorn, and let’s see if the Thunder can end the Summer League on a good note.