The Oklahoma City Thunder have not played a regular-season basketball game in front of fans in 592 days, precisely. Tonight, the NBA is officially back in Oklahoma City with fans in the stands. The energy going into tonight’s game was significantly different than that of last season. The fact that this is the first regular-season game in the same arena that was the “ground zero” for the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is notable. As much as I dislike saying this, we are finally getting back to normal.
Tonight, Oklahoma City played the Philadelphia 76ers, A team going through a modern-day sports “soap opera” with point guard Ben Simmons. Simmons, wanting out of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, wanting the right asking price. While the situation is ongoing, Simmons is not mentally ready to play heading into tonight’s game. Joel Embiid was listed as “day-to-day” before the game tonight. However, Embiid was in the starting lineup.
Oklahoma City Thunder fans didn’t skip a beat once the ball was tipped at Paycom Center, standing until the first Thunder basket as customary. The basket came at the 9:20 mark on the game clock. The game started with Sixers guard Seth Curry shooting 4-of-5, scoring 11 of the Sixer’s first 15 points. He finished the first quarter with 23 of Philly’s 36 points. The Thunder offense started this game significantly better than the game versus Houston on Friday. However, the three-point shot was again problematic in the first quarter at 28 percent on 2-of-7 shooting. However, the Thunder scored 26 first-quarter points, the highest point total in the first quarter this season. They trailed Philadelphia by ten at 36-26 after the first.
The second unit for the Thunder is a contributing factor to the Thunder’s shooting struggles. However, OKC held their own for most of the first half against the 76ers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey were instrumental in the second quarter with a combined 21 points. As a result, OKC trailed by only eight going into the break at 59-51.
During halftime, the celebration was on as the Quad City Dj’s played throughout the Paycom Center, encouraging everyone to “come on the train, and ride it.” The celebration wasn’t the score, the play of Giddey, or even the fan who made the Midfirst half-court shot for 20,000 thousand dollars. It was for the fans to be able to enjoy an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City again.
The Thunder opened the third quarter in rhythm, outscoring Philly 6-to-2 to cut into the 76ers lead, looking competitive, keeping the pressure on Philly with mini runs chipping away at the 76ers lead. By the 3:45 mark of the third quarter, the Thunder trailed by three points. However, Philadelphia’s three-point shooting ultimately was too much for the Thunder in the fourth. The 76ers pushed their lead back up to 18 early in the fourth quarter and never looked back. But, Oklahoma City fought as if it were a two-point game. The effort for OKC was noteworthy. However, Philly won the game 115-103.
The biggest takeaway from this game was Gilgeous-Alexander’s play. He looked to recapture his form from last season before his injury. He finished the night with 29 points, six rebounds, and eight assists.
Also, Giddey is quickly becoming a “player to watch” in the league. His court vision and basketball IQ are better than 99% of people thought when the Thunder drafted him with the 6th pick. With 1:30 left, Giddey took a hard foul on a layup from Embiid. After the free throw shots, he knocked the inbounds pass loose and hit a transition three. I remember saying to myself, “I like this kid.”