Carmelo, Westbrook have George’s back in win over Pacers

By Michel Kinney

Coach Billy Donovan said it was going to be a process. Even before his Oklahoma City Thunder lost two of their first three games, the third year coach knew his squad was going to having growing pains as they learned to play together.

Yet, a two game losing streak is still a two game losing streak. So when they took on the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, they were facing their first hurdle of the Big 3 Era.

All it took to end the losing streak was a Russell Westbrook triple double a strong shooting night from Carmelo Anthony as Thunder (2-2) prevailed 114-96.

“It’s coming. It’s coming,” Carmelo Anthony said. “It’s going to take time. We all knew it was going to take time. But everyday we’re getting closer and closer to where we want to be at.”

RUSS IN CONTROL

Westbrook posted 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and 16 assists. It was his second triple double of the season.

“The floor general,” Paul George described Westbrook. “He pushed the tempo, made the easy for everybody. Got himself going. He made the plays. He was the engine tonight.”

Anthony carried the Thunder early and ended the night with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Steven Adams added 17 points and 11 rebounds.

For the Pacers, it was Victor Oladipo who seemed to be the only player ready to play. In his first game in Oklahoma City since being traded over the off season, he led all scores with 35 points.

“I thought we did a good job of setting the tone defensively,” Westbrook said.

PG13 STRUGGLES

The only member of the Thunder Big 3 not get his game going was George as the former Pacer continues his early season struggles. He scored 10 points before fouling out after only 19 minutes of action.

But unlike his time in Indiana, George was playing along side players who can also carries teams

“I think that’s why we all committed to this journey, committed to this team, because of nights like this” Anthony said. “Even though one of our big pieces didn’t have a great game tonight, we had other guys step up, so we didn’t have to rely on him as much as in maybe other games. That’s the beauty of us coming together as we have on a team like this where on any given night we’re all going to have bad nights, off nights, but other guys can step up.”

BOARD WORK

One of the biggest differences from the last two contests was the work the Thunder put in on the backboards. They won the rebounding battle 49-41. That was something they were unable to do in the two defeats.

“It was really important,” George said. “It’s something we’ve been trying to do here while playing so small. It translated. It carried over from what we’ve been preaching.”

WESTBROOK’S ROUTINE

Maybe the only part of the game Westbrook struggled in was his free throw shooing. He shot 6 of 10 from the line.

Westbrook has already missed 12 shots from the charity stripe this season. It’s something he admits he needs to work on.

“I have to concentrate, I have to change my routine up,” Westbrook said. “I usually shoot it and walk back behind the three(point line), and I’m not allowed to do that because of this new rule. I’ve been doing that since high school. So, just got to figure it out, find a different routine where I can take some time, take a deep breath. Just figure it out.”

Next game: Oct. 27 at Minnesota.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer at Eyeamtruth.com. Photo by Torrey Purvey.

Sooners continue to survive & advance

By Michael Kinney

It’s hard to make sense of this year’s Oklahoma Sooners. One week they are beating the brakes off Ohio State, a few weeks later they are losing to former Big 12 doormat Iowa State.

The past two outings OU has struggled to hold off Texas and Kansas State, a pair of teams that can be labeled average at best.

I think that’s just the team we are right now. We’re getting better,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’re learning more about ourselves and what it takes to play at a high level. And when we don’t do it, what some of the causes are. I don’t think it has been the same thing each week. The only way to put it is we’ve sprung different leaks. It’s not always been the same leak.”

Despite up and down play, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield’s faith in his team doesn’t seem to waver. Fresh off a comeback victory over the Wildcats, the Heisman trophy candidate says the Sooners haven’t come closing to reaching their potential yet.

You don’t wanna peak too early as a team,” Mayfield said. “We’re building right now.”

For those that have an optimistic point of view, that is a great statement to hear. But for those who ride the pessimistic train, it doesn’t mean too much.

Since Oklahoma beat Ohio State in early September, they have looked like anything but a national title contender.

We know we are a good team,” Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. “We know we just have to put it all together. We do a lot of good things. I just feel like our team just needs to find a rhythm and stick with it.”

One of the things Okoronkwo said the team does do well is fight back when they do get down. When they trailed 21-7 on the road against Kansas State, he believes that was the best football the Sooners have played this season.

Oklahoma made the comeback with Mayfield not being 100 percent healthy. He missed practice all of last week due to a right shoulder injury. But Mayfield said it didn’t bother him on game day, which was exemplified in Mayfield running over defenders instead of sliding. He said he chose to return to that style because he sense his team needed a little jump.

I went through some pain last week. But I said it was an injury that you fight through,” Mayfield said. “Football is a violent game. You’re gonna have bumps and bruises. You have to suck it up and go play.”

Yet, Riley says it’s not just Mayfield who has shown the same willingness to fight through adversity.

We have a lot of guys playing through a lot of stuff right now that is not out,” Riley said. “But a lot of guys are persevering and fighting through some things.. You see that fight in our team all the way around. That’s why we are able to come back and win in a place like that when you don’t start off well.”

Oklahoma returns home this week to take on Texas Tech. The same squad that rang up 59 points and 700 yards in a loss in Lubbock last year.

I’m very excited about this week. Great chance to get back home,” Riley said. “First true night game at home this year. We’re looking forward to it. Hopefully our fans, our crowd are excited about it. Big game against Texas Tech. One of the best offenses year in and year out. This year is no different.

This is going to be our biggest recruiting weekend of the year. We will expect to play well and have a great atmosphere behind us at 7 p.m. Saturday.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder open in defensive state of mind

By Michael Kinney

Before Oklahoma city took the court in the home opener Thursday, Russell Westbrook was asked a probing question during morning shoot-around.

The veteran was asked what do the Thunder have to do to become the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA? Westbrook answered matter of factually “defend.” When he was asked if he could expound, the sometimes moody point guard said no.

While Westbrook’s answers may have come off as petulant, in actuality, he was correct in what he said and how he said it.

For a number of years Oklahoma City has preached about being a defensive team. Doing the dirty work needed to shut down the high scoring offenses in the league today.

For the most part, that has been exactly that – all talk. Except for a few stretches during the postseason, it’s a concept that hasn’t fully been embraced by the entire team.

The Thunder seem to know that can’t be the case this year. This version of the Thunder has to be dedicated to being a solid defensive squad if they are to compete with Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and the rest of the Western Conference hierarchy.

For at least one game, the Thunder showed defense is not just something they talk about doing. In their season opener Thursday night, they defeated the New York Knicks 105-84 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. I thought we played better offensively in terms of just more fluid in the second half, but the biggest thing for us was just our defense,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I’ve been really pleased with that, you know, since the start of training camp they have done a really good job defensively.”

On their way to the 21 point victory, the Thunder held the Knicks to 40 percent shooting from the field and 29 percent (7-of-24) from 3-point range. They also forced 25 turnovers and held a 35-8 fastbreak advantage.

Even Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 31 points and 12 boards, missed 14 of his 25 shots.

“Schematically trying to do the things that we are asking to do and I think by playing great defense, especially this early in the season, where probably most teams are trying to find their way, gives you at least a little bit of room where if you don’t have a great offensive night or you are trying to figure it out offensively you can really fall back to your defense,” Donovan said. “For a first game, there will be a lot of things we can take from this I think and grow from and learn from and try to make improvements.”

Throughout the preseason, a number of Oklahoma City players talked about what they wanted to see from their team on the defensive end.

That’s because offensively, the Thunder were exactly what we thought they were. With the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George on the roster, scoring is not going to be a problem. Against New York, Oklahoma City shot 39 of 90 from the field for 43 percent. That will improve.

However, on a side note, there was one offensive statistic that did stand out. After averaging just 26 three-pointers per game last season, the Thunder seemed to have joined the rest of the NBA in believing chicks dig the long ball.

Oklahoma City attempted 38 three pointers against New York. They made only 11 of them.

But all that was secondary to what the Thunder put forth on the defensive side. The question remains, is that the same level of effort fans can expect to see for the rest of the season.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on, our defense leading to our offense and holding teams to under 100 points,” OKC guard Andre Robertson said. “Like we talked about all preseason long, trying to be the number one defensive team. These are all things that go into it and we are taking it day by day to get better on it.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

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