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Thunder Views: Defense, Steven Adams, and playing backwards

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Coming back from double digit leads is much more fun than blowing them.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

A month ago, the Thunder were leading games by double digits hot out of the gates. They’d go up 15, and then in the blink of an eye (usually starting around mid-2nd quarter), the lead would vanish. Last night, it was the opposite. OKC was down 17 in the dreaded 3rd quarter, but phenomenal defense allowed them to stay within in striking distance, and an efficient fourth quarter put the icing on the cake.

Earlier this season, the Thunder would have lost last night’s game. Maybe I’m a glass half full kind of guy, but after gutting out now 3 consecutive wins by holding on in the 4th quarter, I think OKC has turned the corner.

Spotlight

The fourth quarter was exactly what the Thunder needed. At the end of the third, it felt as though a 20+ point effort was going to be needed from Russell Westbrook just to keep it close. Instead, as Billy Donovan said post-game, Russ recognized the difficulty Utah was having with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, so rather than going full-blown 2016-17 Westbrook, he kept the ball movement flowing. His final twelve minutes consisted of 6 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and just 1 turnover (He finished with 34-13-14). It was smart basketball, he saw where the game was trending, and rode with it.

For George and Melo, it was the tale of two halves. George had 3 points and 6 turnovers in the first 24 minutes, while posting 18 points (6-8 FG) and just 1 turnover in the second frame. Melo started 2-13 from the field, but hit 4 of his final 6 shots in the fourth when the Thunder slowed into the halfcourt pace. Both of these adjustments were vital in OKC tallying a W.

I would LOVE to talk about Steven Adams, because, as I’ve said before, he’s the greatest basketball player on the face of the planet, but I’ll just leave his combined stats from the last three games below. STEVEN ADAMS VS THE WORLD

Over the Thunder’s 3 game winning streak, Adams has 66 points (28-34 FG) and 25 rebounds.

Quick Rumbles

  • The Thunder’s defensive effort was stellar last night, especially in the fourth quarter. Over the final 12 minutes, they held Utah to 14 points on 7-24 shooting.
  • Westbrook’s triple double from Sunday’s win over the Spurs was taken away due to a rebound that was incorrectly credited to the reigning MVP. So Tuesday’s was Russ’ seventh triple double of the season.
  • Terrific quote here from Billy Donovan regarding Adams’ play as of late:
  • Here’s the go-to highlights down the stretch for OKC:
  • Andre Roberson was great again on Tuesday. He had 4 points (2/2 FG), 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. He was +14 on the night, while challenging rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell and holding him to 7 points in the 4th (Mitchell finished with 31).
  • OKC had 19 turnovers, but just 5 in the second half.
  • OKC outscored Utah in the paint 58-40.
  • Melo and George had a joint hearing after the game.

A Look Ahead

Four of OKC’s next six games come against teams under .500, but the first one is a little unconventional.

The Thunder take on the Brooklyn Nets in Mexico City on Thursday night at 10:00 PM ET (9:00 CT). The Nets are 9-14 and have been off since Monday after defeating the Hawks.