I am about out of ways to try and understand the Thunder in this season. Maybe you can.
But I know this, and I exchanged a few comments with you all before the game — OKC’s defense is no joke. When they focus — really, really focus — they can take apart almost any kind of offense. When they don’t switch, when they stay on the ball, and play with the right lineups, it doesn’t even matter how well they shoot on the other end of the court.
In fact, as I’ve stated, it’s really the only way they can be a contender. Check this out. In the 1st half, the Thunder shot 46% from the floor, 8-16 from three, won the rebounding and assist battles, and trailed by a point.
In the second half, OKC shot 32% from the floor, 2-17(!) from three, tallied only 8 assists, and won the game, against the NBA’s best, on their home court, to snap a 20 game home winning streak. Why? Because after surrendering 62 points in the 1st half, the Thunder held the best offense in the NBA to 40 second half points on 42% shooting, 5-16 from three, caused 10 turnovers, and kept them off the free throw line (only 7 in the 2nd half total).
They held MVP favorite James Harden to 1-7 shooting, only 3 free throws, and forced 4 turnovers, many of them late in the game. Once again it was the aggressive defense and energy of bench guys Jerami Grant and, surprisingly, Alex Abrines, who helped set the table. Alex in particular is worth a callout, because even though his shot wasn’t falling (1-8, 0-7 from three), the kid worked his butt off defensively, grabbed 2 steals and helped cause a handful of others. He got 27 minutes of run helping shut down a prolific offense, and Abrines was ready for the challenge to fill in where Corey Brewer struggled. Of particular note — these guys, along with Patrick Patterson — did a fantastic job defending Chris Paul (6-15, 2-8 from three), frequently forcing him into deep, contested threes as the clock wound down.
Lastly, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, OKC’s Batman and Robin, set the tone on both ends. Neither one was good offensively — PG was 6-17, but got to the FT line 10 times, and Westbrook was 10-28, with frequent misses at the rim — they both committed to the defensive focus, and that was the difference in the ball game. And they, not the Rockets, were the aggressors late, helping get the team to the free throw line 33 times in total to make up for the poor shooting.
All told, it was an impressive win against a Rockets team who, while having nothing to play for, still sought to defend to the end the honor of their home court winning streak.
Meanwhile, OKC heads to Miami on Monday, April 9th, to take on the Heat in a game that will once again have playoff intensity and implications.
That’s all I got. Have at it, I can’t comprehend this team anymore.