The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Chicago Bulls on the road, 114-112. Facing a Chicago team in the midst of disarray — a fired coach, a seven game losing streak and falling in the last 11 of 12 — the Thunder repeated too many of the mistakes that nearly cost them two nights ago. Instead of OKC fixing those mistakes, it was the Bulls who played nearly 48 minutes of better, smarter, more consistent basketball. And because of that, they earned the upset win.
The Bulls have had a heck of a week, no doubt, and in one particular way they share a common thread with the Thunder — Fred Hoiberg was hired the same summer as Billy Donovan, and I had the same misgivings about both. Hoiberg largely bore out what I expect from college-to-pro coaches. And despite the fact that Donovan has risen above that fate, tonight was not his best night nor was it OKC’s best all around effort.
In fact, if Paul George doesn’t hit a game-winning three on Wednesday, we’re likely talking about a two-game slide to lottery teams both in the midst of a precipitous start to their respective seasons.
In any event, let’s review the suddenly insightful game preview keys to the game, brought to you by WTLC:
- Don’t take dumb shots
The Thunder gave up 70 first half points to a 5 win Bulls team who just saw its coach fired and its interim coach declare his players were out of shape and kind of lazy. (and while I am not one to criticize pro athletes for their athletic abilities, I have to wonder if Jabari Parker has been vacationing with Boris “land walrus” Diaw) That’s a lot of points to a struggling team, and it means a lot of things went really not well. Oops, there goes another turnover.
Meanwhile, the Thunder offense, as it were, has been kind of a mess. I think we established really well a season ago that expecting one guy to get hot for an extended stretch while playing like crap for the other 3 quarters is not a winning formula. The goal is for the team to play consistent throughout, and if you need that one special guy to get hot for a stretch to push you over the top, those reserves are in the tank. And that consistency has been lacking, post-Pistons win.
Here are three things that stood out to me the most:
1. The Thunder’s 3-point offense is awful
And this isn’t even a recent thing. We’ve chatted in the comments about how it seems like great 3-point shooters come to OKC and watch their percentages fall off. And it is not even that OKC isn’t producing open looks; they’re there all game long. Yet somehow Chicago looked like they had a far more disciplined 3-point offense (12-25 shooting) than the Thunder.
I suspect, without any evidence at all, that it is a matter of regimented strategic iterations. Great 3-point shooters rely on repetition to build the muscle memory necessary to produce 40% shooting against any defense. And part of that is not just the open shots, but where they are located, where they come from, when they come within the play set, and who is delivering the passes. And for whatever reason you want to choose, going all the way back to 2014, OKC has not had a system in place to do that. It says something that their best long-range shooter is Jerami Grant (and that’s not a knock against Grant).
2. Russell Westbrook’s shooting mechanics are broken
I was downright shocked Russ hit that late-game three that kept OKC in the game. The problem isn’t even that he’s not creating good looks for himself; while the familiar Russ burst is not quite where it used to be, he still used it to get to the rim repeatedly, including a layup that tied the game late.
But before then, he powered his way to the rim and missed a point-blank, barely contested layup that somehow overshot the rim. It was bizarre.
As a result, and every other team can see it now, they’re daring Russ to shoot from the outside, making it all the more critical for him to lay off the threes. If the defense is ok with you shooting it, that’s the shot you need to avoid relying on.
Tonight’s Russ wasn’t “Bad Russ,” in my opinion, even though he recorded the rare quadruple-double with 24 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists, and 10 turnovers. This was more “not very good Russ,” which is a different kind of thing. He was good and yet not good at the same time, and I’m not sure what the solution is if other guys aren’t making shots.
3. The bench has fallen way off
A lot of the shotmaking that has fallen off has been a result of poor bench play. Right now, the bench is entirely Dennis Schroder, so it rises and falls as his shotmaking ability does. They’re not producing good, makable shots for other players as they have demonstrated they can do.
It’s great to Have Hamidou Diallo back, but thus far he hasn’t brought the same finishing ability he did before he was hurt. Meanwhile, Deonte Burton, a guy who has proven he can knock down shots, didn’t see any action. And Alex Abrines...I don’t even know what’s going on there, but he’s missing open looks again, and they’re not even close. Without the bench producing something more than Schroder’s effort, OKC’s overall scheme doesn’t work because their offense still hasn’t demonstrated the consistency it needs. They need that bench to create good offense for 15-20 minutes a night.
While I would never argue there are good losses, especially in the West this season, I hope this loss serves as a reality check. OKC didn’t learn the lessons they should have learned after the win over the Nets, and they kind of deserved to lose the way they did tonight, with the other team hitting the game winner off two nifty sets initiated by Lauri Markkanen (who looks like a cross between Ryan Phillippe and a young Justin Timberlake), while OKC set up a second great game-winning look for Paul George, but this time PG missed.
Paul George misses the game winner! pic.twitter.com/oSxMR4J4Xt— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) December 8, 2018
Next game: vs Utah Jazz on Monday, Dec. 10 at 7PM CST
Knob Creek, in case you were wondering. Aaaand...maybe a second one.