What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
I suppose that the Thunder's home winning streak had to come to an end, but it is quite the bitter pill to swallow to see it happen like it did tonight. We can call it the Hawks game Part II, but tonight's was worse because Cleveland does not even have the same offensive fire power as the Hawks.
Over nearly the full course of 48 minutes, the Cleveland Cavaliers came onto the Thunder's court and out-everything'd the Thunder and in the end were able to walk out with their heads held high with the big win.
My visceral reaction to tonight's loss was not simply that the Thunder got outworked, but also that their entire demeanor going about their business seemed to be that they really were not that interested in playing the game. I'm sure that if you asked each player to a man if they were invested in the win that they would say 'yes,' but the first and last quarters bookend perfectly what I am addressing.
In the opening quarter, we once again saw the Thunder struggle to get their defense going against the opponent. This event is nothing new; it seems to be their M.O. this season. However, from an offensive standpoint they were content to stand around shooting jumpers, and though it pains me to say it, this is the kind of thing that Charles Barkley is talking about when he calls the Thunder a jump shooting team. In all, the Thunder took 13 3-point shots in the opening quarter alone. They did make a few of them, so the Thunder actually had the lead at the end of the quarter, but it was the fact that they were settling for so many outside shots that concerned me the most. Cleveland statistically is not a good defensive team nor are they a good rebounding team. However, by the Thunder taking so many long range shots in their offensive set, they enabled the Cavs to become better at both. The Cavs no longer had to worry about defending the interior as tightly, and the long rebounds played well into Cleveland's ability to get out on the fast break.
In the final quarter, with the Thunder adding virtually nothing at all to their lead over the previous two quarters, they failed time and time again in creating any sort of sustainable offense. Despite getting into the free throw bonus with six minutes to go, the Thunder did little to get the ball into the paint where they could at the very least try to generate free throws. Instead, shot after shot rained down from the outside, and not one 3-pointer (six in all) found the bottom of the net.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
Let us revisit my word of warning in the preview:
The Thunder look to have a big advantage on the boards tonight, as the Cavs are still missing Anderson Varejao from the lineup. OKC will need to maintain their focus in this particular area; they have a tendency to abandon their fundamentals when they don't take their opponent as seriously as they ought. If the Thunder get lazy on the boards, or if they try to get too clever in their defensive pursuits, a disciplined and committed Cavs team could make this game close in the end.
That is pretty much what happened, wasn't it?
Even when the Thunder defense was fully engaged, and it is worth mentioning that they WERE engaged during the middle two quarters, their efforts were repeatedly thwarted by their inability to secure the ball after they made a big stop. For most of the game, the Cavs were shooting under 38% and the Thunder were shooting over 50%, yet the score never grew precisely because of this poor trend.
What seems to happen in games such as this is that the Thunder rebounders - Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Durant in particular - seem to abandon their fundamentals in exchange for trusting their own athleticism. However, rebounding is a game of space, not athletics. The best rebounders in the game, such as Kevin Love, rarely have to jump for rebounds because the work that they do comes before they even have to jump. By the Thunder relying on their jumping instead of their boxing out and positioning, they are already failing in the game to secure defensive rebounds.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Offensive rebounding is the easiest statistic to point toward when remembering this game. The Cavs outworked the Thunder on the boards all night long. The Cavs are not terrible rebounders by any stretch, but they have been missing their top big man Anderson Varejao, and subsequently do not have a dominant rebounding force in the mold of a Zach Randolph or DeMarcus Cousins. Even so, they finished the game with 21 offensive rebounds (compared to the Thunder's eight) and won the rebounding battle overall, 51-40.
As a result of this rebounding advantage, the Cavs earned 16 more shot attempts at the rim. So even though they only shot 41.8% for the game (compared to the Thunder's 48.7%), this additional number of shot attempts more than made up the difference. By the end of the game, you could see in the Cavs' body language that they knew if they kept pounding the boards that they would overtake the Thunder in the end.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder won at home on Wednesday night against the Suns by playing three mediocre quarters of basketball followed by 16 minutes of Ghostrider from Hell offensive and defensive basketball. The catnip that comes with that ability is to begin to think that OKC is good enough to make that shift whenever they want to. Indeed, in tonight's game they played the 4th with an air of expectation. Surely their superpowers would kick in at some point, right?
As a result, the Thunder never got emotionally or physically engaged in the end of the game, and were content to hoist jump shot after jump shot. While the Cavs were working their way to the rim and the free throw line to build a nine point lead with under a minute to go, the Thunder looked like they had no plan in place to deal with the situation. For the first time I've seen all season long, they looked like they were giving up.
On top of the general blase attitude, what alarmed me the most, and this is a trend that has stretched back a few games, is that the Thunder seemed extremely unprepared on how to deal with their opponent. Wednesday night against the Suns, the Thunder made the same defensive mistakes over and over again in the first half, only correcting themselves in the end. In tonight's game, the Thunder seemed like they had no idea what their opponent was trying to do on offense or defense. For example, Kevin Durant has a clear height advantage over almost any small forward in the league, and yet there he was again, hoisting more 3-pointers (7) than free throws (6).
The Thunder need to do a better job in their preparation for tomorrow night's game against the Bobcats. So, you might say, they're only the Bobcats. Perhaps that is what the team said about the Cavs as well.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 23 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Overall team effort
Thunder Plunderer: Kyrie Irving, 9 points, 12 assists, 3 steals
Next Game: vs the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday March 10th at 7:00 PM Central Standard Time