The Thunder on Friday night faced Maurice Cheeks for the first time since he accepted the head coaching position with Detroit this summer.
Oklahoma City outlasted the Pistons, 119-110, inside The Palace of Auburn Hills, but the bond between Cheeks and Thunder players and coaches remains strong, a product of Cheeks spending the past four seasons with the Thunder.
“I'm excited for his opportunity here,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I learned a lot from him. I love how he thinks the game. He has a very strong, systematic approach of getting better every month. It's kind of like what I believe in. But he's a big part of that. Their team will always be better month by month, year by year. That's the way he approaches things. He's very consistent in his work.”
At several points in the game, Cheeks and Thunder players exchanged pleasantries. Derek Fisher strolled over and shook hands with Cheeks. Kevin Durant patted Cheeks on the hip after hitting a tough fadeaway in the final two minutes. Cheeks grinned when Russell Westbrook nailed a familiar pullup jumper in transition.
“Coach Cheeks was great for us. He really did a lot here,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “I was happy to see him get a job because I know that's what he wanted.
“But he was a great influence on a lot of our players. He was a guy that could talk to guys on the side and calm guys down in certain situations or build guys up in certain situations. He just really has a good feel for players and the mental part of the game. He did a lot here.”
BROOKS NOT WORRIED ABOUT PERKINS
Starting center Kendrick Perkins has played fewer minutes than rookie center Steven Adams in three of the previous four games.
Brooks, however, said Friday that he's not worried about Perkins' ego or his ability to stay mentally engaged.
“It's not something that I'm concerned with,” Brooks said. “He's a big part of what we do. He's been a great pro for over a decade. He understands he has to just continue to focus on his minutes.”