How OKC Thunder responded to postponed season opener vs. Houston Rockets: 'We knew this was a possibility'
Al Horford was eating his pre-game meal in his hotel room when he got a text with the news.
Mark Daigneault was getting off the elevator and heading to the bus that was supposed to take the Thunder to the Toyota Center.
But just before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the NBA announced that the 7 p.m. Thunder-Rockets season opener in Houston had been postponed. The Rockets didn’t have the league-required eight available players for the game.
Rockets star James Harden had violated NBA health and safety protocols for attending a large indoor social gathering. Three Rockets had returned positive or inconclusive COVID-19 tests. Four other players were in quarantine following contact tracing.
“We knew this was a possibility at some point,” Daigneault said.
The league and its teams had braced themselves for a bumpy ride, but the NBA couldn’t make it through Day 2 of the bubble-less season without its first postponement.
“We were expecting to get out there and get it going,” Horford said. “But at the same time I think the NBA is really trying to put our health first. It’s something that’s tough, but it felt like it was the right decision.”
Daigneault knew the postponement was a possibility before he got on the elevator Wednesday. The first-year Thunder coach had been on a call with general manager Sam Presti and other higher-ups in the organization.
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“He was the one that was kinda running point back here with the league,” Daigneault said of Presti. “He was just making sure that everybody that was on the ground in Houston had real-time information of what was going on and we were able to put some contingencies in place for if we played, if we didn’t play, if we went to the arena and then didn’t play. There’s obviously a lot of moving parts in a situation like this.”
Instead of busing to the arena, the Thunder flew back to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.
The team practiced Thursday morning in advance of its new season opener — 6 p.m. Saturday at Charlotte.
“Nothing about this was predictable or ideal,” Daigneault said. “We didn’t know we’d be coming in and having kind of a punchy practice today. But it was the best thing to keep our momentum going and keep us sharp heading into Saturday. I thought the guys just came in with their hard hat on today and knew what we had to get done.”
As the Thunder closed practice Thursday, Daigneault said one player shared a message with the group.
“Everybody have a great day and make sure we’re safe. Stay smart.”
Horford said that’s the only path forward.
“We really need to abide to everything that the NBA is recommending to us,” Horford said. “That’s our responsibility as professionals, and I feel like our guys are doing a good job of that and we need to continue with that, because that’s the only way we’re gonna have a season.”