The scariest thing in downtown Oklahoma City on Halloween evening wasn’t the ghosts or ghouls in the crowd. It was the Thunder’s play on the court. I don’t know who our guys dressed up as, but they were pretty good costumes because I definitely didn’t recognize them.
For example, who was that guy wearing No. 35 tonight in the first half? Whoever he was struggled shooting the ball in the first half and turned it over six times. And who were those guys in white playing defense? Utah scored 52 points inside the paint tonight and took 33 shots at the rim. The Thunder I know don’t usually allow that sort of thing.
Overall, it was a pretty ugly, uninspired, frustrating performance by the Thunder. They lost by 21, Utah shot 53 percent from the field and OKC gave up 120 points. So, quick! Everybody freak out. I know. I thought they were going to go 82-0 too.
Oklahoma City was facing a hungry Utah Jazz team that desperately needed a win. Consider this: The Jazz haven’t started 0-3 since 1979. They were focused, prepared and intense from the tip. And I don’t think the Thunder were ready for them. Utah hit most everything. The Thunder did not. When you don’t make shots and the other guy does, it’s hard to win. In fact, it’s hard to really even stay close. I know fans want to win every game, but here’s a secret – the Thunder’s probably going to lose a few more this year. Hopefully not in this fashion, but it certainly happens. Just because OKC lose this one doesn’t mean we all need to panic.
However, while it’s one loss very early in the season, there are some concerning factors to this. Any time you lose at home to a division rival, it’s not a great thing. There really wasn’t a sense of urgency until late in the third quarter. The Thunder almost came in too big for their britches and thought they were good enough to coast and win. Maybe they thought they could sleepwalk until the fourth quarter and crank things up then. If so, they were wrong.
The Thunder defense was pitiful, but the offense was equally upsetting. OKC scored just 40 points in the first half. There was little ball movement, little cutting and a lot of “stand around, you shoot it” offense. I don’t necessarily think the Thunder’s offense was much different in this game than the first two, but the difference here was that OKC didn’t shoot an absurd amount of free throws. The Thunder ended up with 34 attempts, but most of those came in the second half when they finally turned up the energy. So even still, with OKC scoring 30 points at the line, it makes you wonder where the offense is coming from. They can’t count on getting 30 attempts a night. There has to be some coherency to this offense. There was none Sunday.
In a lot of ways though, the Thunder offense is based around Kevin Durant’s shot-making ability. Sometimes that works. Actually, most of the time, that works. But tonight, he was 3-10 in the first half and was 3-13 early in the third quarter. It’s just not going to work with the Thunder standing around and waiting for Russell Westbrook or Durant to make a play for them.
And then the defense. The defense was horrid. The Jazz had 100 points with seven minutes left in the game. That’s fairly terrible. Especially for a team that fancies itself as real stoppers on that end.
A lot of that I blame on Scott Brooks, who tried a number of different things with his lineups to try and spark the team. He went super small with Westbrook, Harden, Sefolosha, Green and Durant. Then he went weird with Harden, Cook, Durant, Green and Ibaka at one point. But what we didn’t see any of in the second half was probably the lineup that played the soundest defense. There was no sign of Cole Aldrich in the second half who in just a few minutes, was pretty solid on the interior defense. Aldrich really was the only Thunder player that performed well on Al Jefferson. I think Brooks had an idea to play Aldrich just a few minutes to get his feet wet and didn’t anticipate his interior defenders to get manhandled the way they did.
- Scott Brooks should watch a little tape on Utah’s ball movement and flex offense. It’s nice stuff. The ball is distributed to guys in open spaces. It’s designed for open looks and multiple options. An example of Utah’s sharing are the 32 assists on 44 made baskets.
- Durant is slumping a bit shooting the ball to start the year but still, 28 points on 8-19 shooting including 4-6 from 3. We all know it’ll get going and maybe his stronger second half (5-9 in the half) will get him going.
- KD hit two pull-up 3-pointers and let me tell you, they were be-a-u-ti-ful. I love that shot. It’s not the smartest thing, but when it swishes through, it’s just awesome.
- Another example of OKC relying too much on the free throw line: Of the first three, this is the first game OKC made more baskets than free throws. Without the stripe, OKC might be 0-3. Obviously getting to the line is part of basketball and that’s a great thing, but the Thunder can’t just plan on scoring 40 points from there.
- Utah’s 5-4 lead in the first quarter was their first lead of the season. That’s kind of crazy.
- Jeff Green had a weird game. He really picked up the offensive slack in the first half for Westbrook and Durant, scoring 15 points. He went into the post three times against the Jazz and abused the mismatches he was drawing. His moves were decisive, strong and aggressive. I loved them. Then as soon as Paul Millsap switched back to Green and Uncle Jeff missed a good looking jump hook, he drifted back to the perimeter. I don’t get it. Keep going inside! Green finished 5-14 for the game and was 0-4 from 3. His 17 and nine are nice, but I feel like he left a lot in the paint.
- OKC was 23-35 inside 10 feet and 9-45 from everywhere else. Of those nine makes, Durant hit five, the rest of the team four. Ouch.
- One thing the Thunder busted out with about six minutes left in the third was a strong full-court press. OKC quickly went on an 8-0 run and used the pressure almost halfway through the fourth. You don’t see many NBA teams use that type of thing and it worked to some degree, but it also gave Utah some easy points. Interesting look though and it’s a big reason Aldrich didn’t play much in the second half. Brooks wanted to use the press to try and get back in the game so Aldrich sat.
- James Harden continues to struggle. Just seven points, including 0-5 from 3.
- I loved what Cole Aldrich added to this game. He was only in for a short time, but his defensive impact was immediate. When he entered, OKC quickly outrebounded Utah 10-3. After his left and Ibaka checked in at the 5, the Thunder got worked inside. More Aldrich against post-playing teams, please.
- The last four minutes of the first half decided this game. OKC didn’t score and Utah went on a 10-0 run to make it 56-40. The Thunder shot just 36 percent in the first half.
- One thing to remember about this team: This is the same group as last year that won 50. (I’m sorry, Etan Thomas really wasn’t much of a loss.) They didn’t forget what made them good. They don’t suck all of a sudden. Sometimes good players have bad games.
One thing to note is that it’s harder to teach after a win than a loss. Brooks and his staff almost certainly saw the issues from the first two games and probably tried to work on them. But when you win, it’s hard to let things sink in. The best teaching comes after a loss. The Jazz exposed a bunch of the Thunder’s problems and now Brooks, Kalamian and company can go to work on the tape and start straightening things out. There are good things to learn from here. Of course you’d rather keep trying to learn after wins, but this happens. I doubt this will be the last double-digit loss of the year, though I hope I’m wrong.
This one rounded out to be a dismal 120-99 loss. But it’s the third game in. Like last season, this isn’t a finished product yet. Remember, those guys that won 50 last year hovered around .500 for the first two months of the year before really figuring things out. So despite my earlier advice, don’t freak out.
Next up: At the Clippers Wednesday.