Oklahoma City Thunder forward Mike Muscala (33) fouls Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) as Thunder guard Chris Paul (3) drives during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Salt Lake City.
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

We expected the worst last night so when the final score came down, we were pleasantly surprised. For the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans, the 100-95 loss to one of the Western Conference favorites, the Utah Jazz, there were a lot of good to take away from.

The Thunder’s win totals are considerably lower than in year’s past due to the loss of a couple of well known guys in Russell Westbrook and Paul George. However, the additions of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul, the Thunder appeared to be a formidable bunch. The duo combined for 48 of the 95 points Oklahoma City scored. While Chris Paul’s future with Oklahoma City will remain in the air for the foreseeable future, it was SGA’s take over in the second and third quarter that put Oklahoma City in prime striking distance.

The real difference in this game came down to two things: coaching and having a superstar.

The mere presence of Donovan Mitchell gave Oklahoma City fits. His ability to hit key shots when the Jazz needed was detrimental to the Thunder’s winning percentages. Oklahoma City had no answer for him and that was more than just defending shots. The game winner or you can call it. Donovan caught a high screen from Gobert, leaving Mitchell open for a mid-range jumper. While he nailed it, nothing but the bottom of the net, it left Adams on an island. Does he push up and get blown by Mitchell, leaving the rim wide open or does he hold his ground, hoping a player who shoots under 50 percent can match his percentages. Mitchell’s ability to close games prevailed and the Thunder are sent back to Oklahoma City trying to get better.

Then there was Billy Donovan’s decision making down the stretch. The inability to call the right play against a team he’s seen more than a dozen times remains frustrating. Chris Paul having to take a contested corner three because Donovan’s ability to draw up a simple play that puts Utah in precarious situations is alarming. This team has eight new players, so some of the frustration plays we’ve seen in the past should change as the personal changes. It didn’t last night and that’s what is the most worrisome.

SGA is the real deal. While he didn’t score in the fourth quarter, setting a new career high of 25 points through just three quarters, his ability to maneuver through the lane is impressive. He hit shots within stride and really showed why the Thunder were so amped to get him in the trade. He’s probably the future of Oklahoma City basketball. His line of 10-of-23 shooting, 3-of-7 from three looks oddly like a Russell Westbrook line.

The Thunder have a lot of things to work out as they continue to integrate so many new players. One thing everyone should improve on is the free throw shooting. SGA, a career 80 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, was only 3-of-6. Adams appeared to be in midseason form as he was 1-of-6, missing his first four attempts. Oklahoma City’s been will continue to be a bit of an engima unless proven otherwise. Without Andre Roberson back, which will force someone to the bench (most likely Terrance Ferguson [we’ll get to him in a moment]), the bench will struggle to find their own identity. Only 21 points on absymal shooting, 7-of-24 and 1-of-8 from three. It was literally the Hamidou Diallo show for the bench. Dennis Schröder hasn’t been found in Utah and maybe he was left back in Oklahoma City. The local authorities are on it. He was terrible, going 1-of-8 from the floor. We could get someone like Sebastian Telfair to do that for the league minimum.

Steven Adams was not himself against Gobert. That is something we should come to accept. When Adams matches up against someone better than him, he will struggle heavily. This could be applied to Jokic, Nurkic and maybe Whiteside. The Kiwi is a little too slow to move with the guys who are defensive powers. While Adams’ game is old school, his ability to overcome strong defense is not. He disappears and becomes a non-factor. The Thunder have little to no room for error and him becoming a non-factor is a real flat tire for the Thunder. Interesting to see what Adams can do against other players in the league. He’s often one of the more criticized Thunder players due to his hefty contract.

Terrance Ferguson tried to play his way out of the rotation. If it wasn’t for Schröder’s poor performance, it may be Ferguson who’s sent to the bench. We’ve said it for years, you cannot have a starting guard have more turnovers (1) than shot attempts (0). He started out slow last year and turned into a quality player but as we said about Adams and Schröder: there’s no room for error.

The Thunder are a good team. If Sam Presti doesn’t blow this team up and let it ride out, the Thunder are showing why they could be a playoff team. Injuries and other things will creep up but it’s how the Thunder will respond during those times that will show what real team the they have.

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Chuck Chaney

Founder & Editor-in-Chief.
Member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.