New Thunder fit perfectly in first game

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Alex Abrines knew there was a chance he’d get his first start of the season for Oklahoma City. With Victor Oladipo ailing, Abrines was the next man up.
However, what the rookie didn’t expect was to post a career-high 19 points to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Abrines knew how important it was for him to see his first couple of shots go through the rim.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Abrines said. “For the shooters, to hit their first shot it gets more easy as you get confidence. So it was important to hit the first two.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook collected his 28th triple-double of the season. He scored 17 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field to go with 17 assists and 18 rebounds.
Andre Roberson matched Abrines with 19 points as they combined to hit eight of the team’s 10 3-pointers. Steven Adams collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder (33-25).
D’Angelo Russell paced the Lakers (19-41) with 29 points on 12-of-26 shooting from the floor. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to score 14 points and Julius Randle added 13.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new president of basketball operations, was in the building to watch the team for the first time since taking over. For the players, that means they are playing not only for the present but also for the future.
“It’s good. It like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Russell said. “It’s like coming to a new team. Trying to impress the GM (general manager) and the guys in the front office with your play, with your off the court and the way you handle yourself. So it’s just all different.”
The Thunder reserves made the biggest impact in the first half. Abrines scorched the Lakers for 10 first-quarter points. That included knocking down two 3-pointers.
Oklahoma City also received strong contributions from its newest members. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who were traded from Chicago on Thursday, didn’t hesitate to get involved in their first game with the Thunder. The duo combined for 10 points.
“It felt great,” Gibson said. “I didn’t want to mess up. I was able to calm down and have a lot of fun with the guys. It’s a great group of guys, real unselfish. … I had a great time tonight.”
The Lakers stayed in striking distance throughout the first half. Russell and Clarkson were able to knock down a few jumpers while also driving to the rim for layups.
Los Angeles trailed Oklahoma City 58-51 at halftime.
Abrines once again came out on fire to start the third quarter. He hit three quick 3-pointers as the Thunder stormed ahead to a 73-58 advantage.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Lakers. Not only were they unable to slow down the Thunder, their offense fell apart.
Only Russell seemed to be able to get his shot off as they fell behind by 20 points.
Westbrook reached his triple-double midway through the quarter. He gaves his new teammates a front-row view of what the type of season he has been having.
“It’s a lot better to be with him than against him,” McDermott said of Westbrook.
The Lakers finally found their offense in the fourth quarter as Randle and Ingram joined the party. They were able to cut the Thunder lead to nine with four minutes left but didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish the run.
“I think the key was defense,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “I think we did a very good job of communication. We did a really good job on pick and rolls. I think the most important thing was everybody give 100 percent effort.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer for

Thunder improve to 3-0 behind Westbrook triple-double

Photo by Torrey Purvey

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Written on the chalkboard in the Los Angeles locker room were three keys to their game with Oklahoma City. Unfortunately for the Lakers, none of them included slowing down Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook pushed the pace all night and recorded his second consecutive triple-double to lead the Thunder to a 113-96 victory over the Lakers Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“That’s what we do,” Westbrook said. “We have to go. That’s our advantage, we’re athletic. We’re young and we want to run up and down the floor. That’s what we should do.”
Westbrook posted 33 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds while taking only 21 shots en route to his 39th career triple-double. Through three games, he is averaging 38.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.6 assists. He is the first player in NBA history with 100 points, 30 rebounds and 30 assists in the first three games of the season.
“He had a masterful game tonight,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He was getting everyone involved, shooting when the shots were there and playmaking for teammates. He showed today why he is one of the top point guards in the world.”
Victor Oladipo added 20 points, while Steven Adams scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Thunder (3-0).
D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle paced the Lakers with 20 points apiece. Randle also grabbed nine rebounds. Nick Young scored 16 for Los Angeles (1-2).
With 4:30 left in the fourth quarter, Westbrook fed Adams a pass that led to an easy layup. The Lakers gave the ball away, and Westbrook turned it into a breakaway dunk that put Oklahoma City up 99-91.
“They started to press a little bit, tried to change the game,” Westbrook said. “We just started attacking the press. Getting out in transition, getting easy buckets. Getting stops when we needed to.”
Young was then called for a charge when he ran over Oladipo under the basket. Westbrook was fouled and knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to 10. On the next possession, Westbrook threw an alley-oop to Adams, and the Thunder led 103-91 with 3:15 left.
Randle missed two free throws before Westbrook drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key that put the contest away.
“We tried to pick up the intensity a little bit,” Young said. “We just made a couple of mistakes down the stretch. Westbrook is non-stop energy, a one-man fastbreak. He is constantly on the go. He put a lot of pressure on us, on the defense.”
As a team, the Thunder shot 47.4 percent from the field and turned the ball over 20 times. The Lakers had 22 turnovers, which Oklahoma City turned into 26 points, and shot 40.2 percent.
The Lakers came out moving the ball around and using their quickness to get the Thunder defense out of place. Randle scored eight points in the first six minutes against the bigger front line of center Adams and Domantas Sabonis.
The lead didn’t last long, as Oklahoma City grinded its way back into the game. Oladipo found his shooting touch from beyond the arc and from mid-range.
However, it was the combination of Westbrook and Adams that was too much for the Lakers to handle. The two have nearly perfected their two-man pick-and-roll, which put the Los Angeles defense on its heels.
“Steven, I’m just happy he is on my team,” Westbrook said. “He is a big part of what you guys may not see throughout the game. He’s screening, his ability to roll to the basket. His size. He has tremendous hands. He can catch the basketball at any speed and he’s always ready.”
Besides Randle, the Lakers’ offense went cold for much of the second quarter. As a team, Los Angeles shot 5 of 18 from 3-point range in the half, enabling the Thunder to storm ahead and take a 58-46 advantage into halftime.
The Thunder didn’t shoot particularly well in the third quarter, but they controlled the backboards, which kept the poor-shooting Lakers from getting easy second-chance points.
Guard Jordan Clarkson kept the Lakers close as they trailed 77-71 heading into the fourth quarter.
Los Angeles could have been closer, but it kept trying and failing to complete alley-oop dunks in the paint over the Thunder big men.
Behind Enes Kanter, the Thunder tried to pull away in the fourth. He scored six consecutive points to put Oklahoma City ahead 92-79 midway through the quarter.
“I think the bench was ready,” Kanter said. “They came out with a lot of energy. The most important key was energy. We matched their energy, and we were better on the court.”

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