Bricktown Beat

Thunder spoil Cade Cunningham’s debut, oust Pistons 76-72 to open Summer League play

Headed into Sunday evening, all the lights surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder and Detriot Pistons were centered around Cade Cunningham — the Thunder called for a blackout. The Thunder spoiled Cunningham’s debut in their Summer League opener grasping onto a 76-72 lead to remain undefeated. For the Thunder (1-0), their flawless start provides the first step into a championship bid while for the Pistons (0-1) — they’ll be looking to regroup after falling short in their debut.

Josh Giddey set the tone early slashing inside on the first possession for a breakaway jam followed by a contested Theo Maledon layup. Josh Giddey took an awkward fall a minute inside the contest resulting in the guard hobbling around the floor — and Detriot taking advantage. Led by two Cade Cunningham three-pointers, the Pistons drummed out a 12-0 run in a three-minute span. Oklahoma City kept themselves into the game until the frame’s midway point, but an offensive explosion started by Luke Garza spurred on a 13-4 Pistons closer to hang themselves up 26-14. The quarter gravitated towards the perimeter as the Thunder shot a paltry 1-of-8 from distance to the Pistons’ 5-of-10 palette.  

Josh Giddey made his way to the tunnel to begin the second quarter — but the Thunder reserves helped set the tone. Started by a 6-0 interior run, the Thunder rattled off 12 points in the paint to charge a 15-2 run to regain their lead 29-28. Both teams paddled between four lead changes in the following minute, but a late push from the Thunder fended the Pistons off — outsourcing the Pistons 28-12 en route to a 42-38 lead at the half.

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s shooting struggles ran rampant in the first half going a mere 2-of-14 from deep range — but a 10-of-15 showing from the charity stripe helped to cover the difference. Theo Maledon put forth his veteran leadership early tallying 9 points and 7 assists by the quarter’s half while Jeremiah Robinson-Earl rallied off a 10-point second quarter to lead all players in points at 12. The second-round pick kept active around the paint with four field goals around the iron, but the big man even flashed his three-point game with a top-of-the-key triple. 

For the Pistons, they made use of all members of the squad, but a lack of a clear top option proved to hurt in the long run. Cade Cunningham toyed with excellence early, but a fruitless second quarter held him to 6 points and 4 rebounds at the half. 

The second half continued the back-to-basket basics as up until the two-minute mark, neither side had canned a three-point jumper. Theo Maledon opened the floodgates with the quarter’s first triple, only to be upped by a Saddiq Bey three on the other end. Battling from the interior, Oklahoma City and Detriot matched each other stride-for-stride in the selection, but a 20-14 paint advantage from the Thunder hoisted them up 67-57 leading into the final frame.

Through five minutes, the Thunder shed cracks in their play going a rough 3-of-10, but three Pistons turnovers and a 2-of-6 shot chart put the Thunder in the driver’s seat up 76-66 wielding five minutes to go. It took a full minute for any action to take place as a Tyler Cook free throw helped settle the dust for the Pistons — and shifted them straight into drive. Piggybacking off of Cook’s success, the Pistons pioneered a 6-0 run to find themselves out 76-72 at the two-minute warning. Detroit’s swarming defense continued to hound Oklahoma City with a jump ball and missed field goal, but an overshot Killian Hayes bounce pass gave the Thunder an extra breath. Off the recent invigoration, Theo Maledon found himself doubled at the top-of-the-key. With the increased pressure,  Maledon gunned an over-the-shoulder pass down low to Jaylen Hoard, but a bobbled catch and chasedown block kept Detriot in the contest. Draining inside a minute, the Pistons shifted their gears to the three-point line, settling on a Cade Cunningham corner three — front iron. A Thunder rebound helped shed the game clock to 11 seconds following a miss, and by that point — it was too late. Oklahoma City steals the contest 76-72.

The Thunder failed to score in the final five minutes. They shot 0-of-11 in that span.

The Thunder taking this contest despite their five-minute stagnation reinstated the testament that defense wins you championships. In all, Oklahoma City held Detriot to a 28-of-71 (29.8%) collage from the floor while locking them to a 7-of-29 (24.1%) clip from downtown. In restraining the PIstons’ shooting success, they kept their opposition frazzled resulting in 20 team turnovers.

Detriot’s strenuous offense laid an egg on Cade Cunningham’s debut as the No. 1 Pick logged 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists — but also a 5-turnover inkblot and a 5-of-17 performance from the floor. Saddiq Bey led Detriot with 14 points (6-of-13 FG) and 12 rebounds.

Oklahoma City’s “small-ball” lineup cost them a 49-39 deficit in the rebounding department, but their overall activity handed them some extra inches. As aforementioned, their pesky defense pushed them into the limelight, but their headstrong offense waved the way for victory. The Thunder outnumbered the Pistons 50-36 in the paint while simultaneously pressuring officials through their physicality on drives, resulting in three more team free throws. The Thunder’s interior production bolstered an otherwise dull 30-of-83 (36.1%) performance from distance backed by a stale 3-of-27 (11.1%) night from distance.

Theo Maledon rallied the Thunder’s troops posting 15 points (4-of-11 FG) and 11 assists in 32 minutes. The Thunder’s regular-season minute leader lasered off behind-the-back and no-look dishes with ease setting the pace for the contest. By the final buzzer, Maledon tied the Pistons’ team assist total at 11.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl outplayed his second-round selection ironing out 14 points and 6 rebounds on an efficient 6-of-12 clip. Robinson-Earl played up to his “swiss army knife” standards contributing by setting screens, finishing down low, and even hanging from outside. On defense, Robinson-Earl stood firm playing small-ball five, but the 6-foot-9 forward also impressed holding off Detriot’s guards, including Cade Cunningham.   

Aaron Wiggins put on a gymnastics set in his Summer League debut swerving around defenders with elite-level footwork to hit the stat sheet. Wiggins’ 13-point, 5-rebound effort was a polar opposite of his perimeter play, as all five of his makes came around the basket. At his brightest moments, Wiggins froze defenders by taking his man in isolation and spinning off his pivot foot for scores. As advertised, Wiggins also scraped up 3 steals in his 23 minutes.

Tre Mann shot a subpar 3-of-14 in Sunday’s contest, but the first-round pick put his defenders on ice throughout his 26 minutes. Mann’s quick first step torched his matchups on drives consistently, but plays came with million-dollar moves and ten-cent finishes. Mann tacked on two highlight drives with a floater and double-clutch adjustment during the night indicated that once he finds his touch — it’ll be difficult to stop him.

Josh Giddey never returned after logging 5 minutes in the contest. Giddey’s early isolation should signal more is to come, but as evaluated — an ankle sprain may alter his Las Vegas timeline.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (1-0) will look to remain undefeated as they face the New Orleans Pelicans (0-0) on Wednesday.  

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