Coming into today with a 1-3 record, there was no possible way the Thunder were going to repeat as Orlando Summer League Champions. This year’s honor was bestowed upon the 76ers following an impressive 91-75 drubbing of the Grizzlies. Seeing both of those teams in the championship game made me feel a bit better about the Thunder losing to those squads earlier in the week.
Also coming into today with a 1-3 record, the Heat were fresh off of yesterday’s 84-74 loss to the same Pacer team that had claimed a victory over the Thunder the day before. With both teams coming off of losses to the exact same squad, and both teams clearly out of contention for the league championship, each squad was simply looking to end the Summer League on a high note, so that they could leave Orlando with something to hang their collective hat on.
Thunder Head Coach, Darko Rajakovic, with nothing to lose, decided to go back to a full 12-man rotation. With a 14-man roster, however, that meant two players were going to be forced to sit out today’s game. Those two ended up being Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb. While the decision to sit Adams made sense to me, seeing as he’s been nursing a deep shin bruise all week long, the decision to sit Lamb was perplexing to me. He looked to me like he could use the minutes, seeing as he was coming off of a 23.5% (11.1% from 3-point range) shooting performance. Then again, maybe the decision to sit him was the Thunder brass’ way of sending Lamb a message. Honestly, we may never know.
The Thunder’s pull-away was subtle at first. 4-point chunks here and there eventually had the Thunder up 9 (28-19) with 2:32 to play in the 1st quarter. Then the Thunder decided to spark a 7-1 run that put them ahead by 15 (35-20) with 1:11 remaining in the 1st. Seeing the game start to slip away from them, the Heat ended the quarter on a 9-0 run to pull within 6 (35-29) after 1.
The Heat run finally ended at 12-0, putting the Heat within 3 (35-32) at the 9:26 mark of the 2nd quarter. Struggle pretty much defined the remainder of the 2nd, as the Thunder went into halftime clutching a mere 2-point lead (60-58).
The 3rd was nothing but a back-and-forth battle for the entire 10 minutes, as the largest lead for either team was 4 points. It even ended all knotted up at 80-80.
If this game taught me anything about OKC’s Summer League squad, it’s that if the game isn’t completely out of reach by the time the 4th quarter begins, you’ll see them play the final 10 minutes with a much higher level of intensity and heart. If they were looking to end the Summer League on a high note, saving their best 10 minutes of play for last was definitely one way to get it done.
It could have gone badly for the Thunder after Andre Dawkins drilled a 3-ball through an Andre Roberson foul and buried the freebie to complete the 4-point play. But with the Heat up 84-82 with 9:13 to play, the Thunder sparked a 13-4 run that increased their lead to 7 (95-88) with an even 5 minutes remaining. After trading quick buckets, the Heat hit on a quick 6-0 run to pull within a single point, 97-96. The quickness of the Heat’s run had left 3:23 on the game clock, so the game was shaping up to be a true grinder. Victory was still in the crosshairs of both teams. This time, however, the Thunder would not be denied, as they outscored the Heat 6-2 the rest of the way to claim a 103-98 victory. This puts the Thunder’s final Summer League record at 2-3, as they can officially leave Orlando with their heads held high.
This just wasn’t the Heat’s day today, as less than two hours prior to tip-off, LeBron James officially announced his decision to return to the Cavaliers. But today wasn’t a total loss for the Heat, as there were a few performances on their Summer League squad that were quite impressive.
Undrafted rookie Andre Dawkins out of Duke outscored every player to take the court. His 27 points not only came off of the Heat bench, they also came off of 8-for 17 (47.1%) shooting, including a rather slick 7-for-12 (58.3%) from beyond the arc. 3rd-year pro Justin Hamilton ended his day with 20 points off of 5-for-10 (50%) shooting, and an incredible 10-for-10 (100%) on his freebies. You have to be impressed any time a 7-footer has that kind of day at the charity stripe. Another undrafted rookie, Tyler Johnson out of Fresno State, put up 17 points off of 4-for-7 (57.1%) shooting, and off of the Heat bench as well. Finally, 4th-year pro Tyler Honeycutt finished with 16 points off of 7-for-12 (58.3%) shooting.
The Thunder leave Orlando with a few players showing significant promise themselves. Perry Jones III led the Thunder in scoring for the second time this week with 20 points off of red-hot 7-for-11 (63.6%) shooting, including an out-of-your-mind 4-of-6 (66.7%) from downtown. 21st pick, Mitch McGary continued his streak of solid efforts with an 18-point outing off of 8-for-16 (50%) shooting, but the other draft picks came to play in this one as well. 29th pick, Josh Huestis scored 17 points off of 6-for-8 (75%) shooting, and 55th pick, Semaj Christon scored 17 off of 7-for-8 (87.5%) shooting, including 2-for-2 (100%) from 3-point range. Roberson even decided to build on his 10-rebound outing against the Pacers by putting up 12 points off of 4-for-5 (80%) shooting in today’s game.
Yes, today’s game was definitely what the hardcore Thunder fan needed after coming to the realization that an NBA Orlando Summer League Championship repeat was not in the cards. Unfortunately, now the hardcore Thunder fan has to accept the fact that they have no longer have live Thunder basketball to satiate their appetites until the preseason.
Thankfully, as a hardcore Thunder fan myself, I plan on giving you a full rundown of the current Thunder players, as well as the draft picks. This analysis will include the entirety of said players’ Summer League performances, what to expect from them in the future, and how they may or may not fit into the Thunder’s plan as a whole. If you’re a hardcore fanatic who can’t get enough Thunder, Thunderous Intentions has you covered.