What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The chickens finally came home to roost.
The Thunder fell to 20-6 tonight, but in a way it feels much worse because a lot of the problems we've seen festering below the surface finally came out tonight against the Kings. Over the past eight games, the Thunder have been playing some truly horrific defensive basketball. The team is fortunate that their offense is often good enough to mask these defensive shortcomings, but make no mistake, their perimeter defense has been really bad. Six times in the past eight games OKC gave up over 100 points in a season where every team's offense is struggling.
In previous games we could justify the poor defense to some extent - it is not surprising if a team like the Spurs or even Warriors go over the century mark. Sacramento, though? Sacramento does not even average 92 points per game, had only cracked 100 points four times before tonight, and as a team shoots under 41% from the field. Yes, they rebound aggressively, but their high point man Marcus Thornton only averages 17 ppg. Offensive juggernauts, they are not.
No, the Kings scoring 106 on the Thunder is a clarifying moment as to how bad their defense has gotten as of late.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
OKC simply could not stop the dribble-drive penetration once again. Opposing guards, whether they're quick (Tony Parker), smart (Chris Paul), streaky (Monta Ellis), physical (Tyreke Evans), or even none of the above (Jimmer Fredette), are getting into the lane and to the rim with surprising ease. The Thunder perimeter defense, which usually consists of Russell Westbrook, Daequan Cook, James Harden, Reggie Jackson, and Kevin Durant in some combination, is offering practically no resistance at all outside of the lane. As a result, opposing teams are breaking through the first line of defense and creating both layups and wide open corner jump shots. The Kings scored 34 in the 2nd quarter and 30 in the 4th. Those 64 points comprised 70% of their team's average output for an entire game.
Also, at the end of the game, the Thunder failed to execute anything resembling a competent offense. Despite the Kings' overaggressive perimeter defense, OKC never attempted any back-door plays or weak-side lobs that could have taken pressure off the ball. For a reality check, Nick Collison played 25 minutes and did not even attempt a shot. That fact is symptomatic of an offense that did not have any sense of purpose tonight.
The Thunder's offensive ineptitude sunk them in the end. After the Thunder went up by eight points in the 4th at 95-87, they were outscored 19-6 the rest of the way.
What is the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The Kings attempted 22 more shots than the Thunder in this game.
We know that one of the best recipes for a lesser team to follow if they want to compete is to increase their chances for generating points. Tonight, the Kings were able to grab 17 offensive rebounds and cause the Thunder to turn the ball over 23 times, including seven by Russell Westbrook, four by Kevin Durant, and four by James Harden. That is 15 turnovers the Kings forced by the Thunder's three main ball handlers.
As a result, even though the Kings did not shoot well from the floor (40.4%), from the 3-point line (35%) or even from the free throw line (73.1%), the sheer volume of extra opportunities they had at the rim overcame the Thunder's superior shooting in all three of those categories. I think that is what stings the most - the Kings weren't even playing great offensive basketball as the Warriors were two nights ago; they just continued to beat the Thunder in all the little ways, and those little ways culminated in a margin of victory.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder still have the best record in the West, which means that every lesser team they play here on out is going to look at OKC and see the potential for a season-defining win as the Kings did tonight. OKC is going to get some of the league's worst teams' best efforts. We saw that tonight, as the Kings played better defense and more competent offense than the Thunder. This is the new reality in which the Thunder now operate.
The two biggest holes in the Thunder's overall make-up - poor perimeter defense and turnovers - are not being corrected. Both are fixable with some adjustments. For example, bad perimeter defense is usually a symptom of poor individual defensive posture and an aggressive desire for steals, and turnovers are the result of players holding onto the ball too long.
There are 33 games in between tonight and when the Thunder see the Kings again. Will either or both of these problems be fixed by then?
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, 17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 10 blocks, 9 rebounds before fouling out
Thunder Blunder: 23 team turnovers, which led to 25 Kings points
Thunder Plunderer: Tyreke Evans, 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals
Next Game: At the Utah Jazz, Friday February 10, 9:30 PM Central Standard Time