The Thunder endured another absolutely brutal loss last night, this time to the Golden State Warriors. Things are looking bad from a win-loss perspective, and there's plenty valid points of frustration with the loss. Why were Andre Roberson and Lance Thomas out on the floor over Jeremy Lamb when OKC needed a three? Why did Kendrick Perkins continually leave Marreese Speights open? Why was Serge Ibaka called for basket interference when Festus Ezeli's hand was clearly in the cylinder?
But you know what? Forget it all. Wipe the hard drive known as your brain and take a look at these numbers:
Klay Thompson and Steph Curry in the second half: 1 of 15 from the floor, 0 of 6 from three, 4 assists, 1 turnover
That's right. The Thunder relegated the league's best scoring duo to a single basket and four assists. I don't care how good of a game Marreese Speights was having. If the Thunder can do that when they've got Durant and Westbrook in the game, they will beat the Warriors every single time.
How did the Thunder do it? Let's break it down.
1. When Steph Curry uses a high screen, switch
If you watch all of Steph Curry's second half misses, you'll notice that a ton of them came with Serge Ibaka or another big man guarding him. A few of these misses were kind of lucky, since the defense was in transition mode and had to switch men. But most of the time, it was the result of a switch on a high screen. You might think that having the slower-footed Ibaka on Curry is a problem, but most of the time it's a blessing. Curry will never, ever drive on a big man. He always shoots. And the Thunder's big men knew that, always playing the perimeter tightly and affecting Curry's shot. It helps that Ibaka has incredible athleticism, too.
2. Play Klay Thompson as tightly as possible
This one's easy, and a no brainer. With the extremely lanky Andre Roberson and Jeremy Lamb guarding him, Klay Thompson had a ridiculously hard time finding space. Brooks had obviously ordered Roberson and Lamb to get as close to Klay as possible. If you watch footage of the second quarter, Roberson is literally in physical contact with Klay nearly the entire time he was on the floor. This made it really hard for Klay to find any space. The best part about it is that the Warriors design plays that take a lot of the decision making out of Klay's game. Roberson accurately sniffed out a lot of the specifically designed catch and shoot plays before the ball was even in Klay's hands, and it really affected Klay's ability to shoot.
3. Never switch on Klay Thompson
Whenever Jackson switched onto Klay in the first half, it always spelled trouble for the Thunder. Jackson isn't necessarily a bad defender in this instance. It's just that Klay is significantly taller, and Jackson plays Klay deep. This allowed Klay to get off a couple of perimeter shots that kept the Warriors in the lead. Additionally, Klay is much more of a threat near the rim, so you don't want to give him any excuse to drive.
4. Don't worry too much about trapping
The Thunder did trap these two players occasionally, but it never turned out for the better. The Warriors are a high turnover team, but they're arguably an even better assist team. They know how to move the ball quickly in the half-court, and will take advantage of any player that you leave open. It's better to trust your defenders to take care of their primary scorers, since the Warriors make a lot of their bank by getting their role players open. Case in point: the Warriors had a season low 9 turnovers tonight, while also registering a season low 91 points. That says a lot about the pace that the Thunder forced upon the Warriors, as well as the defensive style they played.
5. Stop transition by keeping players fresh
This was a big part of the larger defensive scheme, but the Warriors were slowed down to an absolute crawl for the majority of this game. I'd be quick to credit Scott Brooks for keeping the rotations deep and fresh. Every single starter got an extended break in the first and second half (see: popcorn machine), allowing the Thunder to hustle every single man back on D. This is a refreshing contrast to Brooks' stilted lineups in the Jazz and Nuggets games earlier this week, which kept key players on the floor for more than 15 minutes at a time and led to defensive errors. Also, I don't think I need to say that about 50% of every Steph Curry and Klay Thompson YouTube highlight reel is watching them get screened for quick shots in transition, so yeah. Excellent job here by Brooks and Big Blue.
If you're a Thunder fan, I honestly can't see how you would take very many negatives from this game. With the Thunder missing three of their five best scorers, they went toe-to-toe with one of the best scoring teams in the league. OKC shut down Golden State's best two scorers and effectively reduced the game to a scrappy defense-fest. When it came down to it, the Thunder simply didn't have the personnel necessary to win. The effort was there. Ibaka was hitting clutch shots, and so were Morrow and Jackson. If these guys can hang tough with the best now, imagine how many shots they'll be hitting when Durant and Westbrook are on the floor?
Honestly, when it's complete, this may be the greatest Thunder team of all-time. Just a few more weeks.
What did you think of the Thunder's defensive effort last night? Drop a comment and let us know!