So how does this work, now back to panicking?
The issues were aplenty in the Thunder’s 104-95 loss to the Hawks that dropped them to 1-2. Rebounding, turnovers, spotty defense, spotty offense and extremely inconsistent play from Russell Westbrook all did Oklahoma City in. Oh, and the Hawks made a whole bunch of shots.
The season is yet very young still, but in my mind, this loss is far, far more frustrating than the flat finish against the Spurs. For one, the Hawks aren’t nearly as good as San Antonio and they were playing without Josh Smith. For two, it was the general disposition of the Thunder late in the game that’s concerning.
Unlike years past, there was a lack of closing and a missing killer instinct. And not just in the fourth. But after the big run to close the second quarter, there wasn’t any kind of sense of urgency coming out of the locker room to carry momentum and energy over to the third quarter. Instead, it was a flat third that set a very poor defensive tone for the second half.
The chances were there late. Tied at 81-81 with 7:07 left. Then down two at 91-89 with 4:05 remaining. After that the Hawks closed on a 13-6 run, making shots, plays and getting stops.
“It shouldn’t be going back and forth,” said Kevin Durant. “We’re a defensive team and we can’t be having that many breakdowns in a game. We just can’t. That goes down the line, it’s from everybody. It’s not just from one person, it’s from everybody on the team. So it’s something to learn from and we’ll be better next game.”
Speaking of learning, while KD’s evolving playmaking is excellent, it’s also a bit curious. He flirted with a triple-double tonight — 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists — but that’s now all three games under 25 points for Durant this season. Durant being a guy that once scored more than 25 in something like 30 straight games. KD’s averaging just 16 shots per game, about four fewer a game than last season. He’s passing and creating more, but forgetting himself.
“You know, sometimes I need to be more aggressive to score, that’s what I do,” Durant said. “Next game I’ll be better in that area. I got to make more plays for my teammates and myself. But it’s something to learn from like I said. Some shots I should’ve took, but I passed up. But I’ll be better next game.”
Said Scott Brooks about it: “I never complain about guys trying to make the extra pass and make the right play. Kevin is a playmaker that makes the right play. I thought he passed up four shots tonight. And that’s something I’ll talk to him about. When you’re open you’ve got to shoot it. And that’s what we talk about to all our guys. You pass a good shot up for a great shot, absolutely. But a good for a good, Kevin needs to take those shots. But he’s rebounding, he’s passing — he just has to clean up his turnovers, six turnovers is too many. But I love when guys make plays and eight assists, I’ll take that any day.”
Durant possesses that incredible ability to flip a switch and take over, but at the same time, you can’t feed your family but forget to feed yourself. Because if your breadwinner starves, the whole group does eventually. Durant’s evolution as a playmaker and creator is a very excellent development to his game. It’s much needed, now more than ever without Harden. But he’s a natural born scorer and the high percentage play is often Durant taking a shot. Because even if it’s a bad shot, the ball has a better chance of going in the basket than if he’s firing a pass through Serge Ibaka’s legs.
Big bright spot though: Kevin Martin lit it up. He scored 22 of his 28 in the first half, hit a big 3 late and looked extremely comfortable on the floor as a scorer. He only took 11 shots to get it all, hitting 6-of-8 from 3. For such a big game, it had to be a little odd for him to be going off while still going multiple possessions without seeing the ball.
“Nah, not like that,” Martin said. “We have a great team so we want to keep on building chemistry however that is, that’s one shot or 30 shots.”
Which is where the frustration of playing with Westbrook has to come in. Nobody defends Russ more than me, but there are games where he has to reel himself in. He didn’t force many bad shots or give away too many bad turnovers in the second half, but it’s the handful of empty possessions that he creates. When a guy like Martin is so clearly in a groove, Westbrook has to put on his point guarding hat and make things happen for him. I will never buy into this “Westbrook has to set teammates up” thing, but in certain situations, it’s much more necessary. Because Martin isn’t like James Harden in that the ball is in his hands and it’s his prerogative whether or not a shot goes up. Martin needs a setup, and with Westbrook’s skills, that should be able to happen more.
But it wasn’t Westbrook’s play that did OKC in. He had nine assists to only three turnovers. More than anything, it was the team’s overall defensive inconsistency, which is unnerving since the Thunder were so strong on that end the first two games. You can survive these ugly games, the ones where you turn it over and Westbrook shoots poorly if you’re getting stops. When you fail on that end, it means you have to be close to perfect on the other.
I’m going to keep saying this for at least a month: It’s too early to make any sweeping determination about the state of this team. We’re four percent done with the season. There are 79 games to play. There’s a lot to learn, a lot to grow from, a lot to get better at. A 3-0, or even 2-1 start would’ve made the shakeup of the last week feel a lot better, but this is a process and there’s no reason to start getting impatient, yet.
- Martin on his early impressions: “I think we all just want it so bad right now and we just have to realize it’s not April, May or June yet. It’s game three. We just have to come in to practice tomorrow, watch some film and have a better showing Tuesday night.
- I was really hoping Kevin Martin would get to 30 so I could share this stat: It took James Harden 195 games with the Thunder to score 30. Obviously there are a lot of qualifiers that come with that, but it’s a stat and a fact.
- Scott Brooks is clearly playing with his rotations some. He tried Eric Maynor and Reggie Jackson on the floor for five minutes in the second quarter. Results? Meh. Nothing that noticeable. The pair was a +1, but there wasn’t anything special about it.
- Brooks on his rotations: “That’s definitely a work in progress. Hopefully after some games we’ll have some rhythm there.”
- Brooks on turnovers: “We are an aggressive team. But we definitely have to stop turning the ball over. Twenty turnovers … that’s almost one quarter of basketball, you just take over halfcourt and give the guy the ball. It’s too many. We have to do a better job of valuing the basketball and getting a shot every time on the goal.”
- Hey, Serge Ibaka! He did stuff! Ibaka finally found his jumper a bit, knocking down 6-of-9 from the floor and scoring 14 points. Still, he’s just not impacting the game it seems. You could pin a whole lot of the defensive issues late on him. His pick-and-roll coverages were weak and he got lost rotating a couple of times.
- On Ibaka’s jumper: He’s so much more decisive with his jumper. He doesn’t really hesitate anymore. I think that’s been his problem with it early in the season is that he’s rushed the open ones. Tonight he took his time just a tick longer and knocked a few down.
- Hasheem Thabeet looks like an Avatar.
- Thabeet didn’t see any time in the second half, but he’s been much better than I anticipated. Like I’ve said, he’s in a role where he doesn’t have a whole lot of responsibility, which is helping him I think.
- I thought pregame this game would be mostly about the benches and other than Martin, OKC’s completely stunk. Maynor was poor, Nick Collison didn’t make a big impact and those five minutes from Jackson didn’t produce much.
- Brooks went mostly with smallball in the fourth. And the Thunder didn’t defend with it. The idea behind it is to create mismatches but the Hawks had no trouble guarding OKC.
- They won, but I have no idea why Larry Drew didn’t play Jeff Teague much in the second half.
- Rumble Watch: He went 0-for-1 on backwards halfcourt shots tonight.
- And outstanding play by Durant halfway through the first quarter I wanted to highlight: DeShawn Stevenson got him with a pump fake and stepped in to shoot a long 2. KD recovered to contest the shot from behind, Stevenson missed short and Durant hustled in and grabbed the rebound.
- KD was going through his pregame routine then glanced up at the clock and saw it was down to 10 seconds and quickly finished up his routine, skipping the part where laces up his shoes again.
- As they always do, the Thunder had their current opponent’s — in this case, the Hawks — previous game on in the locker room for players to watch as they got ready. Atlanta’s previous opponent? The Rockets. Kinda awkward.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @JustinKann: “K-Mart! Don’t discount that, that’s good for 3.”
Next up: Toronto at home Tuesday.