The Oklahoma City Thunder had a busy week. They went 3-1, returned to the top of the Western Conference Standings, and clinched the Northwest Division Championship.
Here are the Western playoff seedings as of April 13:
The New York Knicks were in town to start things off and left before the Thunder defense could show up. The Knicks shot 49% from the field, had 15 made 3-pointers, and dropped 125 points on the Thunder's home court. The Thunder's defense had trouble getting a handle on the Knick's pick-and-roll offense and gave up too many offensive rebounds. However, there was good news: the Thunder's offense was present and accounted for. OKC kept the game close, losing to the Knicks 120-125. Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 37 points.
2. Utah Jazz
Tuesday, OKC began their final road trip, first to Utah and then on to back-to-back games with the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers. Out west, the Thunder's defense showed up before their offense, holding each opponent under 100 points and out-scoring them by a margin of at least 10 points. In these three games, the Thunder proved that they can adjust to whatever offense comes at them. Utah likes to slash across the lane and set screens for their bigs, so the Thunder took away that outlet and forced Utah to beat them from the outside. Kevin Durant was one assist away from a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists. The Thunder won, 90-80.
3. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors love to attack from the perimeter with some of the best shooters in the league: Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack. Durant was also the leading scorer against Golden State with 31 points. Kevin Martin scored 23 while Serge Ibaka had 17. Thabo Sefolosha beat the halftime buzzer with a corner 3, giving the Thunder a little cushion in a close first half with the Warriors. The Thunder played an even tempo'd game through a half, but then in the 3rd quarter turned on the jets and outscored the Warriors in the win, 116-97. In an odd ruling, the NBA fined Kevin Durant $25,000 for what they dubbed a, "menacing gesture."
4. Portland Trail Blazers
It would be in the Portland game, however, that the Thunder would see the pick-and-roll offense again. This time, OKC jumped Damian Lillard, the likely Rookie of the year, forcing him to give up the ball or shoot a contested shot. This is important because the same exact thing happened in the Portland game. Against the Trail Blazers, Sefolosha hit a 3 from the corner just seconds before the buzzer, giving the Thunder an one-point lead. Then, in the third quarter, the Thunder returned and blew the game wide open, putting it out of Portland's reach. The final score was 106-90. Russell Westbrook was the leading scorer in this one with 33 points. Reggie Jackson scored 17 points in 28 minutes of play.
What have we learned about the Thunder this week?
The Thunder is the team to beat in the West and is playing like it. They have found a common thread that holds them all together and accountable: a fierce, solid "help" defense. Mental toughness - making the right play all the time - is what Coach Brooks has talked about all week. They have found their identity, using words like: toughness, together, and playing for each other. The Thunder can secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs by winning out the last two games of the season. OKC faces the Sacramento Kings Monday, April 15th and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in the final game of the season.