The NBA had its first ever game in England as the Oklahoma City Thunder fended off the scrappy Philadelphia 76ers for a 103-99 victory on Tuesday. Following a 95-82 victory over the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker on Saturday, the Thunder opened their NBA slate against the 76ers with a win.
In their second preseason game, the Thunder took their first steps in figuring out how they will work around the Russell Westbrook injury for the first 6 weeks of the season. Kevin Durant finished two rebounds shy of a triple double, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the third quarter and adding 12 assists. After taking over the game in the third quarter, Durant sat the bench in the fourth, as head coach Scott Brooks gave his other players a chance to step up and seal the game. The big story of that fourth quarter was the performance of backup point guard Reggie Jackson.
Filling in for Westbrook until he comes back, Jackson showed that he has the ability to be a huge contributor for the Thunder this year. Jackson led all scorers with 29 points, and hit some clutch fourth quarter free throws down the stretch to preserve the win for OKC. Jackson also showed flashes of Russell Westbrook in his ability to use his speed to drive into the lane and score with some acrobatic finishes around the rim. If Jackson can carry his preseason performances into the regular season, the Thunder will have no problem competing without Westbrook.
Jeremy Lamb struggled in his first starting appearance, scoring only 7 points and going 0-8 from three point range, but played very well defensively, including three steals and an emphatic block on a Tony Wroten layup attempt in the third quarter. Serge Ibaka added 18 points and 11 rebounds along with three blocked shots.
Wroten led Philadelphia with 20 points off the bench. Evan Turner added 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The 76ers were able to come back to tie the game at 85 in the fourth quarter, but were unable to hang on with the Thunder down the stretch.
Another interesting aspect of this game was the interest of the English crowd. In their effort to increase international interest in the NBA this season, the Thunder and 76ers have been on a weeklong tour around Europe. Manchester is hardly a hot spot for NBA basketball, with plenty of empty seats in the arena. However, the game saw appearances from Premier League soccer players such as Rio Ferdinand and David de Gea. There has definitely been increased interest in the sport, with the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks scheduled to play a game in London in January.
The Thunder will now have a week to rest before they take on the Denver Nuggets back home at the Chesapeake Energy Arena next Tuesday. Durant hopes to continue his preseason tear back in the United States. We have seen a completely new version of Durant so far, as he has become a much more capable distributer. His game has evolved quite a bit from being just a scorer in his rookie year. If he can continue to pour in 20+ points a night and also set up his teammates for easy looks, plus his ability to lead the team in rebounds, Durant will make an extremely strong case for NBA MVP this season.