Caron Butler planted himself in the left corner, a bit out of the fray, as a way to ease himself into his first possession with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As Kevin Durant drove toward the lane, sucking in the defense, he deftly fired a cross-court line drive, hitting Butler with what should have been an open look.
But instead, it drilled an unsuspecting Butler right in the arm.
Welcome to life in Oklahoma City, where a 7-footer passes like a point guard and opposing defenses are forced to lock all their attention on two of the world’s most dynamic scorers.
“I was like, ‘Oh, wow,’” Butler said. “So that’s something to look forward to from here on out, knowing that when he comes off the pick and rolls and that side tags in, be there and be ready to shoot the ball.”
That was just a small part of Butler’s first learning experience, a successful one, during the Thunder’s 125-92 win over Philadelphia.
Butler entered to a raucous standing ovation, from a crowd he compared to his college days at UConn.
“That was unbelievable,” Butler said. “I didn’t expect that. I didn’t know how to feel.”
From there, he had some rough patches.
Butler went 1-of-4 from the field and understandably looked lost at times, playing his first NBA game in two weeks and his first minutes under Scott Brooks’ system, just two days after meeting the coach.
“I’m sure he was practicing and I’m sure he was staying in shape,” Brooks said. “But it’s not the same as playing NBA minutes.”
But even in a spotty effort, Butler showed flashes of what he can give this Thunder team.
Just a few minutes after entering, OKC called for an isolation on the left block. Butler turned, faced up and knocked down a smooth 15-footer.
At the start of the second quarter, he showed what he can do on the other end.
Less than a minute after swatting Eric Maynor on a layup attempt, Butler raced back and picked off a Sixers pass, logging his first block and steal in OKC.
And in the second half, he ran a pair of pretty pick and rolls with Nick Collison, one leading to an assist and the other leading to two free throws.
“He went out there and played basketball the right way,” Brooks said. “If he had a shot, he took it, if he had a pass, he passed it. And we have to continue to add that mentality to our team.”
In all, Butler categorized it as a special night.
He was upbeat throughout the game, smiling after big plays, chatting with his new teammates, instructing Jeremy Lamb during timeouts and enjoying a pair of Hasheem Thabeet buckets.
“I had a good time, as long as we win, I’m good,” Butler said. “I hadn’t won in a month, so that felt good to get that win.”
Quite a difference from Milwaukee.