The Thunder snapped their 4-game losing streak in dramatic fashion, recovering aggressively in the 2nd half in Toronto to upset the Raptors, 116-109. The Thunder, struggling mightily since the All-Star break, were able to turn the tables on Toronto two nights after falling to this same team in OKC in overtime.
While I’m loathe to resort to pop cultural memes, I have to admit. Through a half of play, this is kind of how Toronto was making the Thunder look.
In other words, the Raptors looked completely unconcerned with anything OKC was trying to do to get back in the game.
But then, the 3rd quarter happened, and OKC went into Berserker mode.
A combination of tighter, aggressive defense, particularly around the rim, coupled with timely shooting from 3-point range (8-13 in the quarter) helped the Thunder turn a 10 point halftime deficit into a 3 point advantage heading into the 4th.
For better or worse, in good times and bad, the Thunder are always going to be Russell Westbrook’s team. And as his focus, energy, and success rises and falls en toto, so does the team’s. Westbrook reverted to poor shooting (6-20, 2-9 from three) but was everywhere else, tallying a triple-double and working overtime to get his teammates lots of touches in the 2nd half. Sometimes for Russ, it’s pure volume. The more times he can put the ball in his teammates’ hands, the more likely they are to convert.
One particular recipient? Steven Adams. While Adams’ box score won’t wow you (9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist), the fact that he was finally involved in the offense late, setting screens, rolling to the middle, and then flinging the ball around the perimeter, tells you everything you need to know about his and the Thunder’s aggressive and yet functional approach. For the Thunder to be even barely proficient in the halfcourt set, Adams HAS to be a useful part of it. And the fact that he hasn’t consistently been involved has played a major part in the Thunder’s struggles.
In addition to that pair, it was George’s return to shooting form for sure, but also the reemergence of Dennis Schroder’s offense (26 points on 10-16 shooting, 4-7 from three) that was a deciding factor.
To be sure, this model is not particularly sustainable. It can earn big wins like tonight, or game 5 against the Jazz in last year’s playoffs, but over a 7-game series, it has to be more. Let’s hope this was the first step back to where the Thunder need to be as the playoffs loom.