The OKC Thunder won their scrimmage versus the Celtics with Billy Donovan, Chris Paul, and Andre Roberson speaking post-game.
The return of competitive play for the OKC Thunder occurred on Friday as the squad played and won their first scrimmage game versus the Boston Celtics.
Although the coronavirus pandemic rages on the NBA constructed a bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. So far things have flowed smoothly with the second full week confirming the thought process as not one positive case of COVID-19 resulted in the 346 players who receive daily testing.
On Friday, three games completed the first round of scrimmages, with the OKC Thunder among those teams in action. That alone was something to celebrate as it appears the season will be saved. In all, each team will play three scrimmages and the season restart will tip-off on July 30th. The OKC Thunder first game of eight seeded games occurs on August 1st when they play the Utah Jazz match that started the shutdown.
These scrimmage games are similar to preseason games and in this shortened revamp every minute on the court is essential to prepare for games that will matter.
OKC Thunder post-scrimmage media:
As is typical in this setting the OKC Thunder coach speaks to the media following practice sessions and will do so after scrimmages as well. He offered his take on what the team can glean from this first competitive action in over four months.
On Roberson return:
Like everyone with an affinity for the team there was happiness all around. When Roberson entered the game his teammates and coaches gave him a standing ovation to recognize and celebrate his long journey back to the court. Donovan was asked how he felt watching it play out in front of him.
“It was great, the guys couldn’t have been any more excited for him. Certainly, the staff was very excited for him, I know I was. You know just seeing what he’s gone through for the last two years.”
“And then I think you were able to see glimpses of what’s made him such a great defensive player. The things that he does do, just how smart he is, and his ability with his feet and his length. He actually played really, really well and I give him a lot of credit for a guy that’s had off for as long as he has to get out there in the first competitive situation and to do a great job, I couldn’t be any happier for him.”
Though there won’t be any restrictions or limitations on Roberson the team will exercise caution given the circumstances.
On Abdel Nader condition:
Donovan hadn’t got a report yet but it appeared Nader might’ve got a concussion. He tripped over Robert Williams’ feet and his head snapped back banging on the floor. If you’ve witnessed someone get a concussion before it sure looked like Nader would be a candidate for it because that was a brutal snap of his head.
On play of Steven Adams:
Donovan extolled ample praise for how Adams stayed in shape during the hiatus in New Zealand. He noticed it immediately when the team returned to practice stating Adams was ahead of the curve with his conditioning. The coach felt that factor was big in this scrimmage in terms of the Big Kiwi dominating the Celtics.
On what he saw:
The coach lauded the team’s spirit and togetherness touching on it several times and stating a winning team has to have that especially because they rely on team play rather than a superstar.
On the negative side or rather where he believes they still need work is the timing, execution, and pace of play, He noted OKC wasn’t as good with execution particularly in the first quarter but it got better as the game went on. Donovan said the players were likely dealing with nerves from finally being back on the court.
Donovan was happy overall noting the priority is to continue to grow and make sure everyone gets minutes to stay conditioned. To that end, there are expectations some things won’t look right simply because they are playing so many different combinations.
On Roberson return:
Paul recalled when he first got to OKC and was working out with the team and Andre suffered a setback. Although he’s faced him many times as an opponent, now that he’s a teammate he’s witnessed Roberson going through the process (and no doubt heard more of his long journey back) and was very complimentary of his perseverance.
“I got a chance to see him through this whole process and the hard work that he’s put in. So, it was an unbelievable feeling for us, to see one of our brothers, who know what he’s been through mentally. I don’t know man, it’s crazy to see it. The circumstances that took place I think gave him this opportunity, so, to see him out there playing this game that we know he loves was special for everybody on our team,”
On return to play:
Paul noted it was cool to get out there and he was happy that all the hard work has equated to what is happening. Of course, with his efforts as NBPA president, this situation likely resonates on a deeper level as he’s been involved throughout the return process so he’s getting to see the benefit of the work he personally put into this venture.
He also drove home how the players will continue to push the message of social justice.
On how he believes things have changed regarding acceptance:
People are a lot more comfortable talking about injustices than the past. He reiterated his message from last weekend about educating his kids after the passing of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis who set the bar for working toward racial equity and social justice.
Biggest difference without fans:
Paul stated the weirdest part of no fans was running out of the tunnel to play and not hearing cheers (or boos). He’s happy just to be playing though and says the players will adjust.
First, even though Roberson was wearing a mask it was obvious that trademark grin was on display under it. Dre probably wondered if this day was ever coming so this was clearly something he’s relishing.
On entering the game:
“It was a lot of emotions, a lot of emotions, anxious, happy, overly ecstatic just to get back out there on that floor and hear coach call my name to get out there in the game.”
On the team’s standing ovation:
“It just felt great to be out there with the support of my team. It was a blessing.”
On how he felt in first game action:
Again, he noted how good he felt but because he was wearing new shoes he experienced issues with them slipping between the new shoes and the new court.
On playing at a different position:
Roberson said he’s played two through four in practice and was a little surprised to play at the five on Friday. He said the game has become so versatile so he is dealing with the new reality and his additional size might indicate he was expecting these moves.
Ultimately, he didn’t care what position he was playing — he was just happy to be playing.
“It was just great to be back out there no matter what position it was, just be out there fighting with my guys. It was just a great journey.”
On his new teammates:
Roberson said the Thunder has great character guys and gave Sam Presti a shoutout for the job he does adding talent. He was particularly effusive in his praise of the youngsters calling them humble (and young grasshoppers) and highlighted how eager they are to learn and take the next step.
On fan messages:
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Andre was asked if he’d been seeing all the messages from fans back in Oklahoma City.
“I’ve been feeling love from all the way back in Oklahoma. I’ve been on my social media and my twitter lately and I’ve been getting a lot of support. I just want to thank everybody in Oklahoma City and fans all around the world for sticking with me ad supporting me through this whole journey. I couldn’t be more thankful and appreciative of the support from everybody”
For all of us that witnessed his return and were home beaming that he wasn’t just back but looking great, it’s highly doubtful anyone was as happy as Andre Roberson on this day. And that is as it should be.
The OKC Thunder are back to practice today and return for their next scrimmage game tomorrow. Remember it’s a really early tip at 11:00 am CT versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Let’s hope Steven Adams gets a good rest since he’ll take on Joel Embiid in this one.