Save us Derek Fisher, you’re our only hope.
Well, not really, but the Thunder went to Utah Tuesday and lost one of those games where you probably turned the TV off five or six times and said to yourself, “I’m not watching this crap,” only to come back three minutes later to see Oklahoma City had cut into the Jazz’s lead to keep you interested. There were a lot of problems with the Thunder against the Jazz. First, Utah outscored OKC 50-20 in the paint. Second, the Thunder turned the ball over 20 times. Third, the Thunder’s first half defense was deplorable. And fourth, Kevin Durant went just 6-of-22 from the field.
Add all of that up and you’ve got some kind of ugly loss to the Jazz on the road.
This loss drops the Thunder to the third best record in the league and now 7-5 since the All-Star break. The “SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED QUESTION MARK?!?!” questions are pouring in. Here’s my stance, and you’re probably tired of hearing it: No. Do the Thunder have some issues? Yes, of course. Could they play better in a lot of areas? Absolutely. Do there need to be adjustments? Definitely. Are questions for myself an easy way to write a recap? For sure. But it’s not like the team that ripped 14 straight at home and held the best record in basketball for a good while just forgot how to play. They aren’t playing their best basketball now. They’re doing some dumb things. They’re losing games they shouldn’t.
But is that reason to freak? Not yet. It’s March. The season is long. You worry about bad habits, but you definitely don’t panic about not playing great in March, especially when not playing great translates into seven wins out of 12 tries. Did you know last year’s championship Mavericks lost six straight in January? Then four of six in March? And then four straight in April? It happens. It doesn’t mean you suck all of a sudden.
That said, losing games that you should win isn’t any less frustrating. I think Oklahoma City blew this game in the second quarter with an absolutely pathetic defensive effort. They’re just way too accepting at giving up dribble penetration. It’s almost like they invite it. They know they have Serge Ibaka waiting in the paint to swat away attempts, so there’s just no effort to really stop the ball.
I feel like every player should be locked in a dark room and forced to watch the way Royal Ivey defended Tony Parker. Ivey’s not a gifted defender. He’s not blessed athletically. He’s got good instincts, but what he really has, is want to, as my dad would say. He just chooses to make it difficult on the man in front of him. He’s not going to accept him going where he wants, when he wants. He commits himself to playing out each possession with everything he’s got. Granted, guys like Westbrook, Harden and Durant need to save a little for the other end, but at some point, it’s about bad habits. And the Thunder have plenty. You can’t just count on calling upon that defense in big moments. You can’t assume you can flip a switch. It’s got to be an identity for 48 minutes. It’s got to be part of who you are as a team. Choose to stop the man in front of you.
Do that and you’re not trying to rely on big shots from Durant, Westbrook and Harden to rescue you. That’s the habit you worry about. The Thunder offense, while the best in the league, is a bit too erratic to completely rely upon in the postseason. There will be multiple games where the ball movement stalls out, where Durant isn’t hitting and where the turnovers pile up. What you have to be able to fall back on then is a tough minded defense that doesn’t let in anything easy, at any point in the game. Not just the last eight minutes of the game.
The concern is that the Thunder appear to lack a sense of urgency, especially on the defensive end. It’s not that they’re losing games necessarily. Again, it happens. It just seems that OKC isn’t really playing with a swagger, but an arrogance. Assuming they’re good enough to win without putting all their chips on the table for the full 48. Which is bothersome.
- You know when things turned for the Thunder? When Scott Brooks switched Thabo Sefolosha over to Devin Harris early in the third quarter. He got Westbrook off him and put a man on Harris that wasn’t willing to just concede open looks. And it changed the looked of the Thunder defense. Better organization, less frantic help defense and most importantly, more stops. The defense starts up top and if you don’t control the ball handler, the rest of the defense is broken apart immediately. Thabo simply challenging Harris was enough to disrupt Utah’s offense.
- Durant went just 6-22 and scored 18, while Westbrook went for 23 on 8-11 shooting. Take that, those that, people that unequivocally believe Durant must shoot more than Westbrook. In hindsight, the Thunder probably should’ve cleared out and let Westbrook try and carry the stagnant offense in the fourth. If he had failed, people would grumble. But that, right there, is the world the Thunder, and Russell Westbrook, live in. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The margin for error available to Westbrook is razor thin. If he takes over late and doesn’t make everything, the loss gets pinned on his shoulders. Instead, he relentlessly deferred and it ended up costing OKC.
- And you know what? People wanted to gripe Westbrook only had three assists. Unbelievable. Kind of hard to pile up the assists when the primary guy you’re passing to misses 16 of his 22 shots. But that doesn’t happen to KD much. He was off tonight. Can’t expect him to hit half his shots EVERY night, can we? (OK, he’s set the bar pretty high, I’ll admit.)
- KD went 0-7 in the fourth quarter. Don’t count on that happening very much.
- Daequan Cook injured his right leg in the second half. He was diagnosed with a knee sprain and left the arena in crutches and will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
- Ibaka’s mid-range game is such a weapon within OKC’s offense. It expands things, gives a wonderful bailout option and makes KD, Russ and Harden that much tougher.
- Eight missed Thunder free throws in a seven-point loss loom pretty large right about now.
- James Harden had a gorgeous sequence in the second quarter. A big dunk and then a sick no-look pass to Nick Collison.
- Reggie Jackson, not great in this one.
- Perk just could NOT stay down on Al Jefferson’s pump fake. It’s one of those things much easier said than done, but yeesh.
- It sure seemed like the kind of game where you wanted to come in blasting the rebounding, except the Thunder gave up only 12 offensive boards, which isn’t terrible. Felt like 20 though.
- The quicker Russell Westbrook puts his hands down after shooting it, the more he’s feeling it.
- KD rolled his ankle early in the game but walked it off and stayed in. Manly.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “And that was almost a happy accident.”
Next up: Home against the Clippers Wednesday.