SIX THINGS FROM THE LAST WEEK OF THUNDER BASKETBALL
Before the Oklahoma City Thunder punched the Golden State Warriors silly, the Thunder dropped two straight games after building double-digit leads. First, the Thunder built a 23-point first-half lead against the San Antonio Spurs before falling 104-101. Then, three nights later, the Thunder ran out to a 19-point first-half lead against the New Orleans Pelicans before losing again, 104-107.
In six of the Thunder’s nine losses this year, the Thunder held a double-digit advantage. Maybe it’s growing pains, maybe it’s something else, but the Thunder has a habit of flashing brilliance but failing to sustain it for forty-eight minutes.
The Meaty Middle.
If you’ve watched the Thunder this year, you’ve probably noticed it’s not just one or two things that plague the team. As Billy Donovan noted, the Thunder’s struggles vary from night-to-night and loss-to-loss. But there is one constant among the losses–a lack of focus. To start games, the Thunder is dialed in, and often races out to a big lead. In the fourth, the Thunder digs deep, keeping them in every game this year. Those pesky second and third quarters, though, are the real reason the Thunder has a losing record seventeen games into the season. In fact, in the nine losses, the Thunder’s net rating by quarter is as follows: +20 in the first quarter, -14 in the second quarter, -26 in the third quarter, and -7 in the fourth quarter.
The linchpin of the Thunder’s success against the Warriors was defense. The Thunder absolutely hounded the Warriors, forcing 22 turnovers and racking up 15 steals. Though the Thunder has incredible offensive firepower with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, the defense may be the key to a deep playoff run. The Thunder lead the league in forcing turnovers (opponents average 19 per game against the Thunder). What’s even better is that the Thunder is also the best in the NBA at turning those turnovers into points, averaging 22 points off turnovers per game.
Earth to Josh.
Josh Huestis is technically in his third year as an NBA player, but he still has yet to learn a few basics — like what to do when your teammate is at the free-throw line. Against the Warriors, Adams went to the line on a shooting foul, and Huestis needed a little help on what to do. First, Westbrook had to yell out from the bench for Huestis to get down on the block, and second, Huestis nearly left Adams hanging on the ceremonial free-throw high five.
Big Man On the Break.
When the big guy gets a steal and takes it all the way down the court for a score, you have to give him some love in the Week in Review. It’s like a rule. Here’s to you, Patrick Patterson.
No Love Lost.
“You’re a p—-,” Kevin Durant yelled at Westbrook. “You’re soft,” Westbrook barked back.
Just another game? LOL.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
A lot of things went right for the Thunder on Wednesday night. It was an incredible performance by a team that has been a major disappointment thus far. But the most enjoyable aspect of the win was watching Russ be Russ again.
Virtually every game last season, Westbrook laid it all on the line, with a me vs. the world mentality that ultimately led to an MVP award and one of the greatest statistical feats in NBA history (averaging a triple double). This year, Westbrook, the strongest-willed player in the NBA, seems unsure of when to impose his will and when to defer to his new teammates. Wednesday night was different, though. From the tip, he absolutely attacked the Warriors with the “I’m better than you” attitude that makes him so special. But, unlike last season when Westbrook had to do it all, he had a little help from his friends — namely George and Anthony.
Earlier this season, when faced with questions about the Thunder’s struggles, Anthony placed his trust in Westbrook, telling reporters that he and George came to Oklahoma City for Russ. Those words rang true against the Warriors, with Anthony and George absolutely hyped to propel the Thunder to its biggest win of the season. Watch the game and watch Anthony and George’s demeanor. You’ll see two guys who understood the gravity of the game and relished the situation. Watch Anthony put some extra pep in his signature three-point celebration. Watch George chirp and shimmy at the Warrior bench after a dagger three.
Sure, those guys weren’t with the team last year and weren’t personally involved in the notorious Durant-Westbrook split, but it wasn’t just a “regular game” to them. They had chosen their side, and it was pretty clear whose side they were on.