I certainly understand the frustration. The Thunder have not played all that well post All-Star break. They’re 6-4, have lost three at home (including two straight now) and certainly have lacked a few of the important things you need to win an NBA championship. Namely consistent defense, consistent offense and consistent everything else.
Two big moments stick out: Tim Duncan’s and-1 and James Harden’s terrible inbounds pass. And while both certainly greatly contributed to the Thunder dropping this one to the Spurs, Oklahoma City lost this game in the second quarter. The first was worse in terms of the box score, but OKC let itself go in that second 12 minutes. The defense got lazy, the Spurs got every loose ball and the offense got sloppy. Said Kevin Durant postgame: “[The fans] should’ve booed us in the first half.” He’s probably right. The effort just wasn’t there.
Consider this: To start the second quarter, the Spurs scored on 14 of their first 16 possessions. The Thunder actually went almost six minutes without getting a stop. That’s not acceptable. I’m a pretty anti-panic person, but even I had to stop for a second and take that one in.
But the Thunder game themselves a chance. Which makes this one a bit easier to stomach. Scott Brooks should be commended for managing his second half rotation extremely well, sitting most of the second unit and making the change to put Royal Ivey on Tony Parker. OKC suffered a bit on the glass, but the Thunder defended the pick-and-roll much better and outside of Danny Green finding a few pockets late in the shot clock, played pretty outstanding second half defense. The Spurs make shots. You can’t just rely on them missing open jumpers. And where the Thunder failed to contest and close out on shooters in the first half, Ivey and the smallball lineup did much, much better with it in the second half.
This loss against the Spurs is probably going to cause a good bit of lashing out. At home, the Thunder trailed at one point by 27, played easily the worst half of basketball this season giving up 65 points the first 24 minutes and failed to execute a simple inbounds pass down four with 50 seconds left that turned into an easy San Antonio dunk. There were failures across the board, which is absolutely what you didn’t want to see in a game on national TV against your closest competition in the conference. But the Thunder weren’t ready and the Spurs were.
The second half was another story. The Thunder whittled that 27-point deficit to two, had chances to get over the hump if they could’ve gotten a rebound, finished a putback, made a jumper, got a stop — but they just couldn’t make the necessary plays. And so this game comes down to two viewpoints:
1) The first half revealed a bunch of issues and the Thunder have to get a lot of it straightened out otherwise this season is headed for disappointment or 2) The Spurs were just exceedingly hot and the second half comeback speaks to the team’s resiliency and it’s something to build on. I’m not really in either camp. I see it as a loss to a good team in which the Thunder didn’t play well, but then played better.
There’s no denying it though. Since the All-Star break, the Thunder haven’t played that great. But you don’t really want to be playing great necessarily in March. You want to be playing great in April, May and hopefully June. If this is a bump in the road to learn from, then so be it. Losing the season series to the Spurs and letting the top spot in the West tighten to just a three-game edge on San Antonio isn’t fun, but the season is long. This isn’t the type of loss that really hurts. It’s the ones to the Wizards, Cavs and Rockets that you’re going to remember.
- Watching Ivey defend Parker in the fourth quarter made me want to run over to a Thundergirl and take her pompons. He just decided that Parker wasn’t going to get anything easy. And I hope Westbrook noticed it. Westbrook is as a competitive guy as there is. Nobody plays harder. But it’s about committing yourself to each and every possession defensively. Deciding that guy in front of you isn’t going to get what he wants. Westbrook let Parker get to his spots a bit too easily, didn’t stay in front of him well and got caught by a number of screens. Ivey just chose not to.
- That 9-0 run to start the fourth was pretty fun. The Thunder got it to 92-88 and it really felt like if they could just get over the hump and take a lead, the game would be theirs. But the Spurs made big shots or got a big stop every time they needed it.
- So, Russell Westbrook took 29 shots compared to just 19 for Durant. And you know what? I would’ve been fine with Russ shooting another 10 times. Nobody was playing with much aggression on the offense end and without Westbrook giving OKC a spark in the third scoring 13 points, the Thunder were headed for a double-digit loss. Durant wasn’t shooting the ball well and Westbrook took over just at the right time. I thought Russ picked his spot really well to take over.
- On the second night of a back-to-back, Westbrook played 45 minutes, Durant 43.
- KD on losing at home: “We can’t be relaxed because we’re at home. Just because we’re at home doesn’t mean we’re going to win games. We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency, play harder and we’ll be alright.”
- The Thunder didn’t have Daequan Cook who sat out because of shoulder soreness.
- The Spurs didn’t have Manu Ginobili either. Which means we still haven’t seen a game yet this year with him in it.
- Westbrook and Serge Ibaka got into a pretty animated conversation in the second quarter. Westbrook appeared to be upset with Ibaka’s help defense. And Ibaka was upset with Westbrook upsetness.
- The Thunder fanbase is a bit fragile. One guy tweeted me in the first half and said he wasn’t even this disappointed when the Thunder were 3-29. I mean…
- There wasn’t anywhere near the disappointed or heartache in the Thunder locker room after this one as there was following the Cleveland or Houston losses. It was like the players knew they lost a tough one to a really good team. Which is exactly what happened. Said Durant, “It’s tough to lose to these guys. They always have our number, I think. It’s still kind of early before the playoffs. We just have to figure how we’re going to get better man. I think last night was a step in the right direction. Tonight we stepped back a little bit. I looked forward having this practice off day and try and gain some momentum against Portland.”
- Brooks was searching all over for answers and even turned to Lazar Hayward for a bit. Hayward shot two 3s, and both went in-and-out. I think he should’ve been credited with like two points.
- Something I learned tonight: Eric Maynor’s middle name is Demarqua.
- The crowd was pretty awesome tonight. Extremely loud in the second half and I was impressed as most of the arena stood and applauded the Thunder as the final seconds ticked off at the end, recognizing the effort for the comeback.
- Westbrook falling down on most of his layup attempts creates a lot of 5-on-4 situations.
- Don’t know why, but Rumble wearing a hat amuses me.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @taylorvenus: “Bonner just got it. In the Harry Potter books they call it a howler.” 50 points to Brian Davisdor.
Next up: Portland at home Sunday.