Have you ever wondered what it would look like if the Thunder played a half against air? And then wondered what it would look like to completely flip a 180 and play pitiful basketball quickly after?
Because that was the story tonight against Minnesota. The first half, Oklahoma City was scoring at will, moving the ball and pretty much dominating in every way. The Thunder scored 43 first quarter points and held a 72-50 lead at the half. Then after a short locker room break, OKC came out in the third quarter and absolutely played down to their opponent, or even dropped a level below that. There was no energy, no sense of urgency and no focus. The Wolves cut a 25-point Thunder lead down to eight and trailed by nine going into the fourth after a 31-18 quarter over the Thunder. In a word: Frustrating.
But they had it all along and everyone knew it. At no point was I really worried about blowing it. It’s a little different when you blow a big lead against Minnesota than when you blow a big lead against Dallas. The Thunder made the plays when they had to down the stretch and put win No. 48, 116-108, in their pocket, which was the goal coming in. And of course the obvious excuse is there with this being a bit of a let down game after last night.
But there’s really no good excuse for the recent lapse in defense. Allowing the Wolves, one of the worst offensive teams in the league, to score 108 points and at least 25 in each quarter isn’t good. The offense has been beautiful lately, but this team got to this point because of the defense. Hopefully this is a small hiccup right before the Thunder really cranks it up for the playoffs.
It just looked like the Thunder thought they could coast and take a night off after putting together a big lead. Instead of moving the ball, the Thunder starting shooting jumpers. The defensive rotations slowed down. The help defense wasn’t there. I feel like it’s just some sort of indifference that comes over the team when playing Minnesota. The other games the Thunder’s played against the Wolves, they’re built big leads only to see Minny whittle it down. Obviously this kind of feels like picking nits because coming off a three-game roadie and with the clinch happening less than 24 hours ago, I feel like there are good excuses and griping after a win isn’t fun. But hey, I gotta write about something, alright?
- Kevin Durant set a single-season franchise record for most points in a season. I would think he’s going to reset that mark a few times. He had 40 points tonight on 13-22 shooting and also grabbed nine rebounds. Yawn.
- The bench was solid again with Serge Ibaka leading the charge. He finished with 14 points (12 in the first half) and nine rebounds (six in the fourth). James Harden pitched in seven and Nick Collison grabbed a handful of rebounds.
- Nenad Krstic has quietly been playing really well. His interior defense has been an underrated thing all season, but he has been pretty solid offensively as well. He had 14 points on 7-13 shooting and grabbed five boards.
- Russell Westbrook finally set a new career-high in assists with 16. He had tied it three times prior with 15, but Jeff Green knocked down a 3 with about a minute left off a Westbrook pass to set the mark.
- Jeff Green was quietly excellent as well. Sixteen points and 10 rebounds for Green, with a couple hits from deep. Green’s 3-pointer has been much better lately, which is a reason the Thunder’s offense has become a lot more prolific lately.
- I listened to last night’s game on the radio and about half of the first quarter tonight and let me say, Matt Pinto does a fantastic job. He would be better if he had a sidekick, but he does a great job describing game action, even if he loves alliteration a little too much.
- Even though the Thunder won by just eight and played really poorly in stretches, they dominated the game.
- OKC outrebounded Minnesota 47-34 tonight. That was nice.
- And just 11 turns, including only one in the fourth.
- OKC is undefeated when shooting over 50 percent. Thats kind of amazing.
Again, it’s hard to complain after a win, especially when it’s the fourth in a row and you’re in a playoff seeding race where every win matters. But to fall asleep and execute so poorly wasn’t that fun to watch. But if there is a silver lining, you’ve got to like the way the Thunder has shown the ability to flip the proverbial switch. The defense ratched up some in the last seven minutes, there was solid execution and OKC just made quality plays to put away a win. You could kind of see the team have a look of, “Oh crap, we better start playing again or we’ll blow this.” And they did, making the plays and doing what was needed to secure a win. Even though the defense has been a little poo poo lately, I’m always smiling after a win. Always.
Next up: A big one in Utah Tuesday night.