The Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night was a gut punch, no doubt about it, but the final numbers are strangely encouraging. Prior to the game, if someone had told me that Paul George and Carmelo Anthony would only hit a combined 7 of 28 shots and miss all 12 of their 3-point attempts, I would have predicted a blow-out victory for the Trail Blazers. And after spotting Portland 17 points in the first quarter, it almost was.
Thunder Nation, that is about as ugly a single quarter box score as you will ever see. Fortunately, Raymond Felton and Jerami Grant came off the bench and combined for 17 second-quarter points to jump-start the offense as well as the Thunder defense. Going into halftime, the only thing keeping Portland ahead of the Thunder was C.J. McCollum’s defense defying 3 for 4 shooting in the second...
...and, a little number in the team stats. Second chance points. Those points would loom even larger in a second-half bloodbath that included 8 ties and 13 lead changes.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Trail Blazers had corralled 18 offensive rebounds (8 above their season average) and outscored the Thunder 21 to 10 on second-chance points.
Granted, when two of your primary weapons can’t make a 3-point shot to save their lives and chuck more bricks than a mason’s laborer it hurts, but the truth is this, shooters, even NBA All-Star caliber shooters, go through slumps, and when they do, good teams find other ways to win. For the most part, the Thunder did that Sunday night, but it’s the part they didn’t that eventually sealed their fate.
Don’t misunderstand and think I’m giving Melo a free pass on a horrendous shooting night because I’m not. The Thunder had the day off on Tuesday, and while the rest of the team was kicking back or going to the museum, Carmelo Anthony should have his tired old butt in the gym getting his stroke back. Nailing catch and shoot 3’s is Anthony’s primary job on this team.
Coach Billy Donovan stood behind his decision to go with his aging All-Star in his post-game interview:
In this case, I can see Billy’s point, between the two, Jerami or Carmelo, Melo is the proven scorer under pressure and is out-shooting Grant from beyond the arc since the All-Star break, 37.9% to 32%. Patrick Patterson’s 41.9% 3-point shooting since the AS break would have been a better challenge or Alex Abrines’ 47.6%. 2Pat would bring a ton more defense than Melo and Teen Wolf has ice water running through his veins when his shot is falling like it has been lately.
And besides, the Thunder have a much bigger offensive problem than Carmelo’s little 2 game shooting slump with Paul George’s blistering 27.4% stroke sitting at the bottom of the Thunder’s 3-point shooting list since the break. Where are all the red flag the sky is falling alerts on that front? My guess is that they are in an appropriate place, waiting for his slump to pass.
Truth is, Donovan isn’t nearly as concerned about Melo missing a few shots as he is about a much more dangerous shark that has returned to take a bite out of his team. Defensive rebounding %.
The Thunder spent much of the early season near the bottom of the league in Defensive Rebounding% and it reared its ugly head again just before playoffs. The Thunder did a great job on the perimeter and held a top 5 three-point shooting team (37.6%) to just 26.5% overall, and just 12.5% in the second half. But forcing misses is just part of the battle and doesn’t mean squat if you fail to secure the basketball after the missed shot.
And the problem isn’t isolated to just the Portland game as the Thunder are surrendering more opponent offensive rebounds in the month of March than any other month this season. Naturally, more second-chance opportunities are producing more second-chance points, so it is no surprise that OKC is giving opponents an extra 14.9 pts/gm this month, but even more concerning than the points is the extra strain the extra possessions are putting on a Thunder defense already missing it’s best defensive player.
Again, the Portland loss hurt, but I see Anthony and George both having horrible shooting nights just as I see Steven Adams’ 2 for 7 second half, an anomaly. I’m not saying it will never happen again, just that it deviates from the norm.
One or the other having a bad game is one thing, and the beauty of having 3 other scoring options, but both, with Steven Adams struggling as well for an entire half? That’s bad luck and fixable with some extra reps after practice, but this opponent offensive rebounding issue is like a bad penny that keeps turning up at the worst times.
And it’s not bad bounces like PG tried to palm off on reporters as the problem after the Portland game. It’s a lack of focus and a lack of effort. It’s plain old-fashioned leaving a job unfinished and it’s inexcusable.
Dennis Rodman led the NBA in rebounding for seven seasons from 1991 to 1998. I dare Paul George to say that Rodman led the league that long because he got good bounces. For seven years straight?
I don’t just dare him, I double-dog dare him.