I feel like I can say without hesitation that at this point in this young NBA season, that the Oklahoma City Thunder are the worst defensive team in the league.
I don’t even feel like that is all that bold. Coming in to the game against the Spurs Sunday, the Thunder ranked 29th in defensive efficiency, in the bottom 10 in opponent points per game and dead last in opponent field goal percentage.
And those numbers are sure to only get worse after the Thunder’s 117-104 loss to San Antonio Sunday night.
It wasn’t just the numbers in this one where the Thunder failed defensively. The Spurs actually shot just 40.9 percent compared to OKC’s 45.2 percent. It was more that OKC failed the eye test for me. A large part of San Antonio’s field goal percentage was because they missed multiple looks on tip-ins and layups. Most of the night, the Thunder defense was absolutely shredded. OKC overplayed everything and never stopped the ball. I remember Tony Parker weaving through three and four defenders en route to an easy layup multiple times.
And then there was Matt Bonner. The Spurs sharpshooter just returned from injury and really was the complete difference in this game. He went 7-7 from 3 and finished with 21 points. But it wasn’t just great shooting from Bonner. Not missing on seven 3-point attempts is darn impressive, but he was WIDE open. For instance, here was the Spurs’ offense for a lot of the second half. Tim Duncan comes to set a ball screen for Parker. Serge Ibaka hedges and Russell Westbrook tries to cut off the dribble. Antonio McDyess flashes in the paint, completely sucking in the remaining three Thunder defenders. Everyone in white totally just starts staring at the ball, leaves their man and then Parker either dumps to McDyess who kicks to an open shooter or Parker dishes on his own. It wasn’t complicated. But darn it, it was effective.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if we weren’t talking about a team that was one of the absolute best defensive units in the league last season. It’s not a matter of them not playing hard. Because they are. Scott Brooks – who I think is a very good coach – often thinks playing hard will solve everything. He says that all the time. “Just play hard … keep playing hard … play hard it we’ll get stops.” Well it doesn’t always work. There are principles to maintain and the Thunder just aren’t doing the most simple ones. They aren’t stopping the ball. They aren’t containing the man in front of them. They are watching the ball too much. They aren’t closing on shooters. And they are having some of the misfortune of watching teams make a lot of shots against them. All of that combined, and you’ve got a poor defensive team.
Thing is, with this game in particular, OKC was in for most of it because they were making shots and playing well offensively themselves. The Thunder scored 65 points in the first half, but only led by four points. At one point in the second, OKC held a 12 point lead. The bench built that margin then Brooks went back to the starters who didn’t get any stops. All in all, a strange, frustrating game that the Thunder really had no business winning, but also shouldn’t have lost by 13. We’re not asking for fantastic, swarming defense at right now. At this point, just some average, mediocre stuff is enough to get it done. An example is how OKC defended the Blazers. The Thunder played defense for six minutes and it was enough to win. They didn’t play much of any in this one and the Spurs made them pay.
- What was up with the lineups in the fourth quarter? First, OKC trotted out Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Sefolosha and Ibaka. Then Durant subbed for Ibaka and OKC was left with maybe the smallest lineup I’ve ever seen the Thunder go with. The Spurs countered by going small, but clearly it didn’t work.
- OKC didn’t get the big games from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in this one. Westbrook had 19 points, but on 5-17 shooting and Durant 23 on 23 shots. KD only attempted two free throws the entire night.
- I’m curious as to what the NBA record is for times a referee blows his whistle, because I’m pretty sure Derrick Stafford obliterated it tonight.
- A bright spot was certainly Serge Ibaka’s performance. Ibaka’s mid-range game is coming along beautifully and how about him hitting 7-10 at the line? Ibaka had three blocks and really he should be credited with more than that because he altered a large number of San Antonio’s shots that ended up as misses.
- The score by quarter (OKC first): 35-30, 65-61, 79-82, 104-117. OKC scored just 14 points in the third and 24 in the fourth. One team sorted out its defensive issues at the half and made adjustments.
- Jeff Green returned and was effective early. He scored 10 quick points and hit a couple outside shots. But he played just 26 minutes. I thought the Thunder offense was spaced so much better with Green playing. The Thunder needs someone to be able to knock down an outside shot and when it’s Green, the Thunder offense ain’t bad at all.
- Nick Collison returned and Thunder fans gave him a huge standing ovation. It was cool. Of course he drew a charge and attempted to take three. That’s something OKC has definitely been missing.
- Was it just me or did it look like Tiago Splitter was wearing his shorts super high tonight?
- James Harden ditched the headband for the first time and played his best game of the season. He saw a season-high 37 minutes and scored a season-high 14 points.
- OKC held a four-point lead going into the third quarter, but the second half started with a 7-0 run entirely from DeJuan Blair. He out-hustled OKC on a few plays and basically just muscled the Thunder.
- The Thunder missed six free throws in this one, going 24-30 from the line. The Spurs on the other hand, went 34-38.
- OKC had just five offensive rebounds. That’s a season-low. San Antonio beat OKC on the boards 45-36.
- As sharp as the Spurs’ offense was, they had just 16 assists to OKC’s 20. But it’s not like San Antonio wasn’t sharing the ball beautifully. Sometimes that assists number is a huge misconception. The Spurs scored a lot on second chance opportunities, but also from drive and kick stuff. A guy doesn’t get an assist on the swing pass or kick out, but because of the ball movement, lanes were opened to drive and score from.
- No more Sunday night home games, okay guys?
Don’t misunderstand here though. The Spurs are a really, really good team. This is their seventh straight and now they’re 8-1 with only a loss to the undefeated Hornets. There’s absolutely no shame in losing to them. And to be 5-4 with this tough of a schedule to start the season really isn’t bad at all.
But we’ve come to expect better from our guys. A loss in this game wouldn’t have been unexpected or something to get grumpy over, but the pathetic defensive effort sure is. Last week, it was the offense. By all appearances, that’s starting to get sorted out. Now, it’s the other end, the end OKC really prides itself on. The side the Thunder is dead last on. So I guess the good news is, there’s no where to go but up.
Next up: At the Jazz Monday night.