A little after 4 p.m. Wednesday, as Oklahoma City Thunder players and coaches were getting ready to leave the Houston hotel for the season opener against the Rockets, news started trickling in that the game would be postponed.
General manager Sam Presti was in contact with the NBA during the afternoon and passed along pertinent information to leadership in Houston.
“We had kind of a leadership call with Sam and some different people in the organization that lead our pillars and we knew the possibility of it pretty close to when we were going to leave for the arena,” head coach Mark Daigneault said.
As it became apparent that more and more Rockets may miss the game,Thunder officials began preparing contingencies for how to handle that night and the morning after if the game did not happen.
Houston was already without Ben McLemore, who had been self-isolating for multiple days prior to Wednesday. News broke early that day that James Harden was being investigated by the league for a breach in protocol. Then, a positive COVID-19 test for rookie KJ Martin caused further issues for the Rockets. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Jae’Sean Tate were deemed close contacts to Martin after the group had received haircuts in an apartment together, according to Rockets Wire, and were ruled out via contact tracing.
For an away game that was supposed to start at 7 p.m., Thunder officials started to make backup plans. Dinner was initially supposed to be at 11 p.m. The plane ride home could be adjusted if the team could depart earlier.
At 4:24 p.m., Shams Charania tweeted that the game was postponed, and the league made its official announcement two minutes later that the Rockets did not have enough active players to compete.
Head coach Mark Daigneault was getting off the elevator on the way to the team bus when he heard there was a “strong possibility” the game would be postponed. Center Al Horford was eating his pregame meal in his room when the news reached him.
“I literally was eating my pregame meal and we got a text saying that there may be a possibility of the game being suspended,” Horford said.
“Then obviously I went in my phone and I looked and I kind of saw what was going on … we got a (follow-up) text not too long after that, letting us know that the game was postponed.”
Like Daigneault, some players were on their way to the team buses when they were alerted, Horford said.
The Thunder did not leave the hotel.
“We knew this was a possibility at some point. It’s gonna be a little bit of gymnastics from time to time, but our team’s prepared for that,” Daigneault said.
The game was called off two and a half hours before the scheduled start time, much less abruptly than the March 11 game against the Utah Jazz that was postponed moments before tipoff and ultimately caused the league to suspend play.
On that day, the Thunder and Jazz were stuck in Chesapeake Energy Arena as they underwent coronavirus tests and ensured they did not have the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, players returned to their hotel rooms and dinner was moved up to 7 p.m. The flight was pushed up, allowing the Thunder to get back to Oklahoma City earlier, and there was a morning practice Thursday.
“On a pretty quick turnaround, it was a pretty good exercise for our organization, and I thought everyone from top to bottom did a great job,” Daigneault said.
The Thunder focused on physicality at their Thursday practice to keep their legs and bodies sharp and make up for the lack of game Wednesday and prepare them for the new, de facto opener set for Saturday.
“Obviously, for us, disappointed, 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 and it felt like it was the right decision.”
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