The Thunder lost Tuesday night's game to the Utah Jazz by a whopping 19 points. Most people, including Yucca Man of SLC Dunk, are attributing the Jazz win primarily to a galvanizing speech by Quin Snyder. With Utah threatening to fumble away the game via poor ball management in the second quarter, Snyder screamed at his team to "wake up" during a technical free throw.
The Jazz went on a huge run after that and never really looked back. I won't deny that Snyder's speech had some impact, but I'd be quicker to credit his tactics. The Jazz got away with running exclusively the pick and roll for an extended period of the third quarter. The Thunder failed to defend it correctly every single time, allowing the Jazz to establish offensive rhythm. Before you knew it, Trey Burke was running isos, the Jazz were hot from outside, and Oklahoma City was facing a mounting deficit.
Anyway, I'm laying out the Thunder's defensive failures for us all to see. Here's six plays, all taken from roughly the same period of the third quarter. All six are basic pick and rolls, and all six see the Thunder commit really basic errors.
Play 1: Reggie Jackson meets a screen
Early in the third, Hayward hands the ball off to Kanter for a high post screen. This is where the Thunder commit mistake number 1, because there's absolutely no reason for Ibaka to defend Kanter that closely. Kanter had shot 1 of 5 up to this point, and most teams will let him fire at will. Thomas chases Hayward under the screen, but is a bit slow.
Lance Thomas is significantly behind Hayward at this point, but Hayward's just setting another screen. The pick was a rather nasty surprise for Reggie Jackson, who now has to fight his way through Hayward and Kanter as Burke rolls across the floor.
Ibaka is forced to hedge, as Reggie can't recover in time. This leaves Kanter unhindered, and forces Adams to try and guard both Kanter and Favors in the post. Burke has a open passing lane to them both, and eventually gives it to Favors for the score. Regardless, Reggie's getting caught around the screen lost the play. It was right of RJ to fight over the screen to prevent the Burke three (Burke was 2 of 3 on the night), but Jackson still could have been more attentive.
Play 2: Jeremy Lamb loses his head
Basic high pick and roll here. The Thunder ICE the pick and roll by playing Steven Adams low, since Derrick Favors is only a threat to roll. Theoretically, the Thunder should be able to stop this every time.
Everything seems to be going fine until Jeremy Lamb comes over to help. Oh no....
Yep, disaster. Lamb ends up doing nothing more than double-teaming Favors at the free throw line, with Ibaka playing help D behind them both. Meanwhile, Burks sits wide open for the easy three.
Play 3: Adams has slow feet, and Ibaka loses Kanter
Much like the last play, this is a simple high pick and roll. It's Favors again, so the Thunder play ICE and have Adams stay deep.
Here's where things get wonky. Adams should be stepping up more than he is, but he's a bit slow footed in getting to Burke. Meanwhile, Enes Kanter is out of Ibaka's sight, enabling him to establish ideal offensive rebounding position. These two errors combined to break the play.
Burke would end up missing the lay up, but it was a very makeable shot. Kanter would use his position to get the o-board and score, though.
Play 4: Reggie Jackson meets a screen....again
Like the others, this one's a simple high pick and roll. The pick setter is Kanter this time, but it doesn't matter. Reggie is already behind Trey Burke as Burke receives the ball. The play is thus doomed from the start.
Unsurprisingly, Trey Burke nails the easy floater.
Play 5: Steven Adams hedges too high
The clip I have of this play starts late, but you can tell what just went on. Alec Burks went around a Derrick Favors pick. Burks is a threat from three, so the Thunder played ICE and had Lamb chased Burks over the screen. Steven Adams was supposed to stay deep, but he didn't stay deep enough. This allowed Derrick Favors a line to the basket, forcing Lance Thomas to step over and help.
Favors receives the ball in the post, and by this point Serge Ibaka has come over to help. Favors can't risk plowing through Thomas and Ibaka, so he makes the sensible pass to Kanter in the corner. Hayward, a better shooter, is in the other corner, but Favors doesn't see him. Hayward would stand in the corner for the duration of the play.
Upon receiving the ball, Kanter immediately notices that he's captured the attention of Reggie Jackson. Kanter thus flips it to the now open Trey Burke.
Burke, seeing Reggie Jackson ready to try and contest the shot, immediately drives the ball. He gets to the lane rather easily, and is able to make a pass to Derrick Favors. Favors, already with inside positioning, scores easily. Meanwhile, Burks remained virtually unguarded as well. A total mess of a defense, all brought about by a simple error in ICEing the pick and roll.
Play 6: Kendrick Perkins has feet made of solid granite
Again, high pick and roll, Nothing new. Hayward's a good shooter and Favors can't shoot, so the Thunder ICE again and Kendrick Perkins plays low. Nothing out of the ordinary....
At this point, it looks like Gordon Hayward's drive is destined to fail. Perk is in position to meet Hayward before Hayward gets to the rim, and Ibaka is in position to help. No problem, right?
Nope. Ibaka thought Perk had it, but Perk was too slow. Perk simply played the role of matador and let Hayward stampede to the basket unhindered.
There's really not much left to say here. If the Thunder are going to ICE the pick and roll, they need to have their big man play deeper and more attentively. It's a defensive scheme that's set up to avoid giving away anything but the pick and pop, yet the Jazz were able to slice right through it on five different occasions. There's nothing that Scott Brooks did wrong tactically. Everything simply comes down to the players playing bad basketball, and allowing the Jazz some very easy baskets.
I understand that this is a young team, and that most of the players committing errors in the above plays are younger guys still trying to find their roles. But a KD and Westbrook return doesn't fix these defensive issues, and the Thunder are going to need to buckle down when it matters most.
What did you think of the plays in question? Are they really the reason for the Jazz loss? Am I missing the point? Drop a comment and let us know!