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Thunder fatigue: does Scott Brooks need to manage player minutes more effectively?

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The Thunder are struggling in 4th quarters. Is the culprit the same thing that plagued them last year?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference. In my previous post, I claimed that injuries are having a positive impact on the Thunder. However, how are injuries impacting the Thunder positively when they aren't winning games?

For the most part, the Thunder are competing with good energy and focus which keeps them competitive during most games. However, despite their energy and commitment, fourth quarter execution has been their undoing, turning winnable games into losses.  No matter how spectacular they are on the floor through 3 quarters, all their momentum fades away in the fourth quarter. They start committing a lot of turnovers, lack offensive production, and even lack in protecting the paint.

While there are several possible reasons behind that weakness, one area where Scott Brooks may be is failing in terms of arranging the players minutes and resting them for enough time so that they can have some dependable energy for the fourth quarter. In the last season, league MVP Kevin Durant played for 40 minutes in nearly every game, as he had to compensate for the loss of Westbrook. When the playoffs arrived, he often started cold and struggled a lot from the field, having a great deal of difficulty stringing together games where he played at his customary high level. Is it possible that this year's players are experiencing the same kind of fatigue in 4th quarters?Consider:  Jeremy Lamb played for 41 minutes against the Grizzles and scored 22 points. He played for 34 minutes after that against the Kings and scored 17 points. Lastly, against the Bucks, he played for 34 minutes as well but ended up scoring 6 points while shooting 2-out of-13 from the field and 0-out of -2 from the 3-point line. Since the current roster contains mostly bench players playing heavy minutes, it begs the question as to how many of them simply don't have the energy they need when the game comes to an end.

Let us expand the analysis to other Thunder games this season.

29 October, 2014 against Blazers

Q1: Thunder leading, 34-29

Q2: Tie at 20-20

Q3: Thunder trailing, 23-26

Result at end of third quarter: Thunder leading, 77-75

Q4: OKC losing, 12-31

End of game result: 89-106 (L)

Third Quarter average: Field goals 37.5%

Overall average: Field Goals 40%

Fourth Quarter average: Field goals 26.3%

The Thunder where doing a great job in the game until the fourth quarter. They were outscored by 19 points in the fourth quarter.

1 November, 2014 against Nuggets

Q1: OKC leading, 29-17

Q2: OKC leading, 26-17

Q3: DEN leading, 23-21

Result at end of third quarter: Thunder leading 78-55

Q4: OKC losing, 26-35

End of game result: 102-91 (W)

Third Quarter average: Field goals 47%

Overall average: Field Goals 43%

Fourth Quarter average: Field goals 39%

Although the Thunder won the game, once the fourth quarter began, the Thunder started loosing control of the game which gave the Nuggets the opportunity to launch a comeback. OKC was outscored by 9 points in the fourth quarter.

3 November, 2014 against Brooklyn

Q1: OKC trailing, 19-32

Q2: OKC trailing, 21-27

Q3: OKC trailing, 22-27

Result at end of third quarter: 62-85

Q4: OKC trailing 23-31

End of game result: 85-116

Third quarter average: Field goals 52.9%

Overall average: Field goals 39%

Fourth Quarter average: Field goals 35%

The Thunder had a weak start in the following game since the beginning but they where on the verge of being to able to achieve a comeback in the third quarter. However, once the fourth quarter began, OKC was outscored again by 8 points in the fourth quarter.

November 4, 2014 against Raptors

Q1: OKC leading , 30-23

Q2: OKC losing, 28-23

Q3: OKC losing, 18-22

Result at end of third quarter: Raptors in the lead 73-71

Q4: OKC trailing, 18-27

Third Quarter average: Field goals 47.1%

Overall average: Field goals 52%, 3PT 28%

Fourth Quarter average: Field Goals 40%

End of game result: 100-88 (L)

OKC ended the first quarter with a lead but started trailing in the second and third quarter with a minor deficit but once the fourth quarter began, OKC was outscored by 9 points in the fourth quarter.

November 11, 2014 against Bucks

Q1: OKC leading 22-15

Q2: OKC losing 16-26

Q3: OKC losing 26-28

End of third quarter result: 64-59, OKC in the lead

Q4: Losing, 14-16

End of game result: 78-85 (L)

Third Quarter average: Field goals 42%

Overall average: Field goals 33%

Fourth Quarter average: Field goals 33.1%

The Thunder started the game successfully but struggled the rest of the way. The Bucks prevented the Thunder to take control over the fourth quarter, which resulted in the Thunder being crushed.

To be sure, Brooks is dealing with a difficult situation, still missing Durant, Westbrook, Mitch McGary, Perry Jones, and Andre Roberson, all players who would help the Thunder balance out their minutes.  However, they won't be at full strength for another few weeks, so Brooks is going to have to get creative in order to make sure his key offensive players have enough energy in the 4th, which is the quarter what matters the most.

The Thunder are already in a position where every single player should play his role at a high level just to be competitive in the 4th. How much more is it hurting the team that their key players are also drained of energy when the game is on the line?