Photo Credits: Oklahoma City Blue/NBA G-League
The Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue kicked off their regular season opener Thursday vs. the Salt Lake City Stars, the G-League affiliate of the Utah Jazz. For the Blue, they have been constructing their roster since the fall of last year, and needless to say— their months of preparation more than paid off, as they inflicted terror upon the Stars with a statement 118-84 win.
The Blue jumped out to an early 9-0 lead out the gate, and appeared to have the reigns on the game— but the Stars were not going down without a fight. Salt Lake City clawed their way back into the contest, erased the early nine point hole and tying the game 23-23 off a Yogi Ferrell buzzer-beating triple that fell gracefully off the glass. Despite the Stars leveling the playing field Oklahoma City found an immediate source of offense in Antonius Clevaland, who scored 12 of the teams 23 first quarter points. The start of the second frame was reminiscent of the game’s rootage as the Blue found their stride on offense— but unlike the first, the Stars had no late-run to them. Oklahoma City posted 34 points in the period chiefly off of Moses Brown’s high efficiency around the basket, point-guard Chasson Randle’s 5-of-5 shooting off of drives to the basket, and the rejuvenation of Antonius Clevaland late, who netted 7 points in the period, including a three-ball as time expired to not only get back at Ferrell— but give the Blue a 56-41 lead by half, their largest lead to that point.
For the Blue, their staunch offense never let up, matching their second quarter total of 34 points behind new options in guards Melvin Frazier Jr. and Rob Edwards. Salt Lake City improved upon converting on shots, tallying their game-high of 29 points in the quarter— but it still left them down 90-70 with twelve to go. The Stars never could never charge themselves up for a comeback, as the Blue ran away with the game taking as large as a 36-point lead late, settling for a 34-point 118-84 victory instead.
Oklahoma City took this game behind enforcing major limitations on Salt Lake City while displaying dominance in moving the ball. The Stars offense had been ratted out in the early stages of the game as their halfcourt offense shot just 31% on the game and 24% from three. Oklahoma City did an excellent job in shutting down the paint as once the Stars moved out to three, there was little ball-movement what-so-ever, only having 12 assists to show for their efforts. The Blue put all their marbles in one basket with Cleveland in period number one as only 5 of their made field goals had come assisted, a play style not to be rolled out again. In quarters 2-through-4 the Blue shifted gears modeling their game around the extra pass— a move that garnered 27 assists by the end of the contest— and five players in double-figures.
Antonius Cleveland finished his strong debut off recording a double-double with the game high of 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and snagging 11 rebounds, and 5 assists in the process. Cleveland’s effortless shot-creation all all 3-levels set the trend for his teammates while flustering the Stars early. The Blue’s second-round draft choice Rob Edwards lit a fire under the bench posting 21 points in just 22 minutes of play. Edwards’ range from outside (4-of-7) left him space to operate inside and collect the majority of his points. Chasson Randle lifted the Blue up with his 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting operating well in the penetration to post 2 assists. Two-way player Moses Brown racked up a double-double with 15 points (5-of-10 FG) and 17 rebounds. Brown’s height advantage (7’2″) let him peer right over the defense and collect 6 offensive rebounds. Melvin Frazier Jr. had a slippery first half but picked himself up to cap the game with 13 points (5-of-8 FG), 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in 27 minutes. The 24-year-old flashed hints of shooting potential going 3-for-5 on threes and showed off some inside game, providing a euro-step finish and a wondrous dump off pass on the drive to Chasson Randle, etched up by a behind- the-back and spin move inside. The Blue’s first round selection in Zavier Simpson sized up 6 points on the game, but made his money’s worth facilitating, receiving a game-high with 9 assists.
Thunder mainstays Aleksej Pokusevski and Ty Jerome had their moments, going for 5 and 4 points respectively, and will look to improve in their next contest.
The Blue will square off against the G-League Ignite team midday Friday to complete their back-to-back set, pitting the Blue’s starts against the Ignite’s highlighted by top-10 picks Jalen Green and Jonathon Kuminga.