The Thunder’s had two major calling cards during this recent good stretch of basketball – defense and rebounding.
And OKC did neither well tonight. At all.
Chicago outscored the Thunder in both the third and fourth quarters, outrebounded OKC by 11 and seemed to score at will in stretches as the Bulls broke a seven-game road losing streak 103-96 in front of a sold out Ford Center.
This was just one of those frustrating losses that really reminded me of the competitive but tough December OKC had. Kevin Durant was solid scoring 28 and grabbing six boards (but was 2-9 from the floor in the second half). Jeff Green was alright with 18, but only had three rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 15 points and six assists, but wasn’t that great in the second half. Nick Collison was excellent off the bench with 12 and 13, but he was really the only guy that hit the glass. A couple guys played good, nobody played great and a couple guys played bad. You add those three things together and a seven-point loss sounds about right.
After the first half, I was feeling really good about the Westbrook/Derrick Rose matchup. Westbrook had 12 points on 5-8 shooting with three assists and just one turnover. Rose had five points on 2-4 shooting with three assists and five turns. The second half, they swapped. Rose absolutely took the game over. He went a perfect 10-10 from the field in the second half (almost all sweet jumpers) and turned it over just once. Westbrook went 1-8 with three points, had three dimes and turned it over three times. Westbrook wasn’t bad by any means, but Rose was excellent.
I don’t know what happened, but in the third and fourth quarters, OKC just couldn’t get stops. The Bulls held a six-point lead or so pretty much the entire fourth and every time the Thunder would score, they wouldn’t get a stop. OKC never made up and ground and that eventually resulted in the Bulls pulling away.
Chicago shot 53 percent from the floor (OKC 48 percent), but outrebounded the Thunder 43-31. Jeff Green had no effect on the glass (just three rebounds) Nenad Krstic had just two boards and nobody but Nick Collison grabbed a rebound off the bench. In fact, Collison had 42 percent of the Thunder’s rebounds.
So with the Thunder getting pounded on the glass and not getting any stops, how were they in it and how did they lead control pretty much the entire first half? Turnovers. Chicago turned it 14 times in the first half and OKC cashed those in for 22 points. The Bulls tightened up in the second half and only gave it away eight times for eight Thunder points. Without the turnovers, the Thunder wasn’t playing good enough defense and rebounding well enough to win. It was that simple.
While the defense was bad overall, you do have to salute Thabo Sefolosha for another fine defensive performance. He held Ben Gordon to 8-17 from the field until he was forced to cover Rose for the last six minutes of the game. Thabo had three more steals tonight and four blocks. Here’s his steals from the last seven games – 3, 0, 3, 5, 2, 3, 3, 3. That’s outstanding. I’ll take six points on 2-7 shooting if he keeps playing that kind of defense.
Back to Westbrook tonight: What was the difference between halves? He was as good as he’s been all season in the first half, knocking down open mid-range jumpers, taking care of the ball and creating opportunities for teammates. He only took one forced shot and it really wasn’t that bad of a shot. But in the second, he started pressing. He started trying too hard. Instead of staying patient and taking quality shots, he went flying into the lane trying to draw fouls. It was like he sensed the game slipping away and he tried to take it over. And while that can be a good mentality sometimes, he needs to take the game over with his playmaking ability. He was controlling the game in the first half with good decisions. He was out of control in the second. Now I know some will say, “Well he’s just not a point guard.” But the reality is, he’s a rookie and he’s learning for crap’s sake. Think about Durant’s shot selection last year compared to this year. Night and day. Give Russ time and let games like this soak in for him. It may be night and day next year and he may be shocking you with his control of the game.
(A good stat Joe sent me: “One quick stat from the advanced stats page. RW used up (as in shot or turned it) 17 possessions, but only scored at least one point on 6. He used more possessions than anyone not named Durant.” That says a lot there. And I bet if you separated the difference between the first half and the second, it would be pretty big.)
This was a disappointing loss just because the way it happened. And it shows that while the team has played better lately, there’s still a long way to go. There were breakdowns defensively and in the late game offensive execution. This team is getting there and sooner than later they’ll get it, but we have to remember they’re young and they’re still learning. They fought, hustled and scrapped but things just didn’t click tonight. It happens and I’m sure Scott Brooks and the coaching staff will find a lot of talking points from the game film here. Which could be a good thing in the long run.
A day off for the Thunder and then the Jazz return Friday to the Ford Center looking for revenge from the beatdown the Thunder put on them last time in Oklahoma City.