Over the course of the first half of the season, the Thunder have suffered back to back losses on three separate occasions. Momentum is a funny thing in a professional sports season. Losses are never a good thing, but sometimes they can be useful learning tools to take the temperature of the team's overall psyche and resolve.
With 82 games to work through, there are plenty of highs and lows, and I'm sure it is difficult to always be up for every game. The better teams learn how to rely on experience and strategy to maximize their performances even when they know they don't have a full tank of gas. I don't think the Thunder are at that Spurs/Celtics level yet.
Let's take a brief look at how the Thunder have fared during these blips in the first half of the season.
Losing Streak 1: the first month of play.
Loss 1: Jazz 120, Thunder 99
Date: Oct. 31
The Thunder lost because: They gave up 120 points. Specifically, in the second quarter they were outscored by 12, did not win a single quarter, and allowed the Jazz to shoot 53% from the field.
The other team was better because: The Jazz had 32 assists on 44 made field goals. Point Guard Deron Williams worked the Thunder mercilessly, running pick and rolls with both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who ended up with 30 and 23 points, respectively, and the two combined for 26 rebounds.
A singular factor that could have reversed the outcome: There sadly was no singular factor. Rather, it was a splash of cold water on the Thunder's expectations. The Thunder were the chic pick to make a huge leap this season, picked by pundits to win 60 games. This game was the first evidence that they still had some lessons to learn against veteran teams.
Loss 2: Clippers 107, Thunder 92
Date: November 3
The Thunder lost because: Once again they fell behind early, trailing the Clippers by 19 in the first half. The team showed no sense of urgency in their aggressiveness on offense or defense.
The other team was better because: The Clippers netted their first win of the season by relying on their youth and athleticism. Eric Bledsoe, Eric Gordon, and Blake Griffin continuously forced the issue on the Thunder, who appeared to be caught by surprise that a supposed lesser team could take them to the shed so easily.
A singular factor that could have reversed the outcome: Kevin Durant began showing signs of not being ready for the season. It could have been fatigue, too many games played over the course of the last year, or just not being physically ready to bang with the big boys. He looked physically slow, unsure about his shot or offensive game, and missed 10 three point shots in shooting 6-24.
The losing skid ended when: The Thunder beat their division rivals the Trailblazers in a gut checking overtime win, 107-106.
Lesson gleaned from these losses: The Thunder were going to have to earn each and every win. Seldom would another team hand them the victory. They could not simply assume that they would always play well.
Losing Streak 2: Bringing in the new year.
Loss 1: Spurs 101, Thunder 74
Date: January 1
The Thunder lost because: Right out of the gate, it was clear that the Spurs were both the superior team and extremely intent on flexing their defensive muscles. The Thunder were simply not ready to deal with the kind of pressure and execution that the Spurs were throwing at them. Trailing by 14 after a quarter, the game was effectively over.
The other team was better because: The Spurs are the best team in the league. In a seven game series played right now, I don't think the Thunder could win more than two games against them. Their sense of purpose, focus, and intensity are on a level that the Thunder are not close to approaching right now.
A singular factor that could have reversed the outcome: Practically impossible to say one thing could have turned the tables. It would have been better to at least see the Thunder commit to playing sound defense, despite the situation.
Loss 2: Memphis 110, Thunder 105
Date: January 4
The Thunder lost because: They could not figure out a way to stop Zach Randolph in the low post. Randolph is part of a select few players who are strong and adept at navigating around the rim, able to finish strong as well as hit the mid-range jump shot. The Thunder couldn't match up with his physicality.
The other team was better because: Aside from Randolph, the Grizzlies got clutch performances from Tony Allen, who scored 16 points in the second half and hit a shot-clock beating three pointer that gave the Grizz a five point cushion with just over a minute to play.
A singular factor that could have reversed the outcome: You probably remember this painful sequence. The Thunder had pulled to within three, and had 15 seconds to work. Instead of working their angles, coming out of an out of bounds play Durant hoisted a 31 foot contested shot that didn't come close. The opportunity to prolong the game was lost.
The losing skid ended when: The Thunder toughened up mentally and finally overcame the Mavericks. It was more of a psychological hurdle than a physical one, since the Mavs were missing Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler.
Lesson gleaned from these losses: The Spurs have a team cohesiveness that the Thunder lack. The reality is, it only comes over the course of time, and by a tight bond between the coach (Greg Popovich) and star player (Tim Duncan). The Thunder do have the groundwork for such a situation though, so there is hope. From the Grizzlies loss, it was a lesson in humility for Durant, not just for missing the shot, but for making a bad decision.
Losing Streak 3: The Second Half of the Season.
Loss 1: Lakers 101, Thunder 94
Date: January 17
The Thunder lost because: The Lakers were able to execute better down the stretch. They did not play great in the 4th quarter; rather, LA left the door open on a number of occasions for the Thunder to try and creep through. The Thunder did not have the ability to take advantage of these opportunities, committing turnovers, missing shots, and missing free throws.
The other team was better because: In the second and third quarters, the Thunder allowed the Lakers to continuously drive into the lane for layups and open three point shots. The two middle quarters were predominantly the difference in the game.
A singular factor that could have reversed the outcome: The Thunder could have either a) shot better from the 3-point line (2-22) or b) stopped shooting from the 3-point line.
Loss 2: Nuggets 112, Thunder 107
Date: January 19
The Thunder lost because: Kevin Durant suffered another cold shooting night, where he frequently settled for fade-away shots instead of maintaining his post-position or driving the ball to the rim.
The other team was better because: Carmelo Anthony played a wonderful game, working his offensive repertoire both inside and out. He carried the Nuggets most of the way, and then their point guard Chauncy Billups provided the team with enough offensive efficiency at the end to hold on.
A singular factor that could have reversed the outcome: The Thunder needed somebody to step up and hit a shot in the 4th quarter other than Russell Westbrook. He had done a valiant job both hitting jump shots and driving the ball to the rim, but ultimately he needed help that didn't come.
The losing skid ended when: ???