Commentary: It’s early, but Thunder shows signs of swagger

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Kevin Durant dribbles past Nikola Kalinic during Friday's pre-season matchup.
First year Thunder coach Billy Donovan looks on during Friday's matchup.
Russell Westbrook looks for an open teammate while guarded during the first half. Westbrook finished with 16 points and five assists.
Thunder center Mitch McGary scores on a layup while surrounded by three defenders during OKC's 111-81 win.
Serge Ibaka, right, and Andre Roberson defend a shot during first half action.
Serge Ibaka, right, and Andre Roberson defend a shot during first half action.
Rookie Cameron Payne passes the ball to a waiting teammate.
Josh Huestis shoots over the outstretched hands of a defender. Huestis finished with three points.

By Tim Farley

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook looked like the dynamic duo of olden days, Andre Robertson improved his defensive prowess and Dion Waiters proved he’s worth a new contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Yes, Friday’s 111-81 win over Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Sports Club won’t be talked about as one of the greatest classics in NBA history, but it gave first-year head coach Billy Donovan more to think about as a healthy Thunder team marches forward.

Durant and Westbrook displayed their extraordinary scoring ability and their unselfish play by setting up teammates for easy buckets and wide open threes. Both players contributed five assists apiece. It was like the good old days when a healthy Thunder team marched into the playoffs with swagger. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what fans will see this season. It certainly looked that way Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but it’s too early to say how good OKC can be.

Still, their performance was fun to watch, and yes, it was impressive.

Durant was 4-for-4 at halftime and finished 6-for-10 with 13 points during slightly more than 21 minutes on the court. Westbrook, playing the same amount of time, had 16 points and was 6-for-14 from the field.

Some of the biggest highlights came via the dunk with Westbrook showing off his infamous tomahawk dunk and Durant finishing with a massive slam of his own. Mitch McGary, one of the big dawgs in the middle, had a few highlights of his own with a huge slam and a steal and dunk that looked like a point guard made it.

As he did last season after a trade from Cleveland, Dion Waiters quietly contributed 19 points to lead OKC in scoring. He was 6-for-9 from the field, including three treys and four free throws. Enes Kanter and McGary also scored in double figures.

By game’s end, Donovan saw plenty of positives in the Thunder’s play. During his post-game press conference, Donovan gushed over the play of Durant and Westbrook. He was happy with the defensive play, especially by defensive ace Roberson, who notched four steals.

“A lot of our offense in the second quarter had to do with his steals and motion,” Donovan said of Roberson’s hustle. “He was using his length to get out there and get those steals.”

The Thunder’s second pre-season matchup also was a good time to see how different combinations of players worked on the court.

“We wanted to see what works best,” he said. “We had a lot of different looks.”

Although Friday’s game was just a pre-season tilt, Donovan was complimentary about the less-than-capacity crowd that showed up to cheer the home team.

“It’s a great environment and the amount of fans at a pre-season game was awesome,” he said. “It’s a terrific home court advantage.

Just wait until the regular season opener, Billy. The arena will rock so hard you’ll think it’s an earthquake.

Although OKC is 2-0 in the pre-season, only time will tell how good this team can be. A lot depends on staying healthy. After last season, the injury bug needs to bite another team and leave the Thunder alone. But if the Thunder can stay injury free, just as Golden State did last season, Oklahoma City has a legitimate shot at an NBA title.

The pieces are there so let’s have some fun and see if they fit together.

 

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