After an underwhelming opening week to the season that included a pair of losses to division foes as well as a couple of former players making their return to Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Thunder are clearly still working out the kinks in their newly acquired weapons.
Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves held off a furious fourth quarter comeback effort from Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and the Thunder on Sunday evening when Wiggins banked in a deep three pointer as time expired to win 1115-113. This was the second night of the first back-to-back of the season for the Thunder after a poor showing against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, so a Wiggins dunk that gave the Wolves a 14-point lead near the end of the third quarter could have been the beginning of the end to the Thunder’s new experiment. However, the Thunder spent the fourth quarter clawing their way back into the game against a talented Wolves team and showed flashes of defensive prowess and offensive firepower that they will need more of if they have aspirations to play into April and May.
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Growing pains that come from slow starts are not unexpected when two former All Stars are added to a lineup that features the reigning Most Valuable Player of the league. Even LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat started slowly when they teamed up, opening their first season with a 9-8 record in their first 17 games. However, that Heat team would go on to win the 2011 NBA Finals, showing that just because a team starts slow that doesn’t mean they don’t have the talent to be successful.
George and Anthony are finding ways within their own games to contribute to the team outside of their scoring. George has been a bulldog on the defensive end, swiping 10 steals over the first three games. Anthony brings toughness and physicality along with his well-established offensive game, which is useful when head coach Billy Donovan plugs him in at the 5 spot in smaller lineups.
For the Thunder to have success this season, however, they will have to get plenty of help from role players such as Steven Adams, Alex Abrines, Andre Roberson, and Jerami Grant. Adams had his first double double and best game of the young season Sunday against the Wolves, finishing with 17 points and grabbing 13 boards. Grant and fellow bench mate Raymond Felton are known to bring energy to the floor when Westbrook and Anthony exit the game.
The early-season Thunder reunion tour continues this week at the ‘Peake when the Thunder host former team members Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and the Indiana Pacers, followed by a return visit to Minnesota for a rematch with the Wolves. There are no nights off in the NBA, and the Oklahoma City will need to bring their A game against their former teammates in order to get back on track.
Wiggins’ game-winner Sunday night quickly changed the story in what was still a gritty comeback and a thrilling end-game sequence. If a 1-2 start is any indication of what is to come, the Thunder are likely in for what will be a roller coaster ride of a season, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.