There was something different about the Thunder’s defensive intensity during their 102-72 blowout win over the Bulls Sunday night in Oklahoma City.
Not only did they hold Chicago to 72 points on 29.1 percent shooting (NBA season low), they also forced 17 turnovers and finished with nine steals. Although the Bulls happen to be one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA, Scott Brooks was still impressed with his team’s commitment on defense.
"Holding a team to 29 percent shooting says a lot about the commitment we had on that end of the floor," Brooks said. "We were able to sustain that energy for 48 minutes tonight and we wanted to be physical. We knew that’s how they (Bulls) wanted to play and we wanted to make sure we didn’t get outplayed in that area."
The Thunder’s stellar defensive performance comes off four straight games in which they gave up at least 109 points. Three of the four teams they played during that streak (Utah, Minnesota, Houston) rank near the bottom of the league in opponents’ points per game. The Bulls rank third in that category.
The question that should be asked is: does the Thunder step up their intensity level against good defensive teams or do they play down to their opponents during should-be blowout games?
There’s something to this and Thabo Sefolosha doesn’t like what he sees.
"It's not a good trend," Sefolosha said. "We have to play our brand of basketball regardless of who we play against. We need to establish that and play the same way every game."
Kevin Durant added:
"It’s a focus thing...We make mistakes, but as long as we communicate we can make up for it."
Obviously the Thunder can score. However, they struggle to slow teams down during games. Brooks claims it could be the high-tempo pace they run their offense with combined with their opponents' ability to get out and run.
"It’s a balance and fine line that we always have to be careful with," Brooks said. "We have to use our athleticism and our ability to score, but we can’t forget about the defensive end. Some teams play fast and we get caught up in it. It’s been like that the past couple of weeks."
It’s rare to see a team score like the Thunder and play consistent defense. When you can outscore every team in the world, it is tough to put a ton of effort into stopping the weaker opponents.
Even with their offensive advantages, the Thunder must keep making strides on the defensive end. They have games against Denver, both L.A. teams, New York, Boston and San Antonio coming in the next two weeks. If they turn in a lackluster effort against any of those teams they could be looking at another bad defensive stretch.