The game against the Memphis Grizzlies was ugly to watch. The Oklahoma City Thunder lacked intensity, and Memphis got the looks that they wanted against the leaky defense. It was an awful performance by the Thunder, and it was frustrating to watch.
The Thunder is a team that is capable of beating any team in the league. We saw the Thunder defeat the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night in resounding fashion. In that game, the Thunder played stingy defense and made the Western Conference’s best team ineffective.
However, the Thunder have not consistently displayed that level of play in the bubble so far. The Thunder played a sloppy game against Denver, where turnovers were very common. In the game against Memphis, the same lax approach manifested itself again.
From the moment that Memphis started to take control of the tie, the Thunder shrank. The energy levels dropped, and the Grizzlies were able to build an unassailable lead. The Grizzlies are an exciting young team that has an exciting future. However, this is a team that the Thunder should beat.
The lack of intensity has not been a Thunder trait this season. Oklahoma City has come back from huge deficits to win games by playing hard and making the right decisions on the court. A lack of energy is a trait associated with teams of the Thunder’s past.
Teams led by Russell Westbrook and Paul George seemed to drift through the regular season except when big games came about. Flipping a switch is not easy. Soft play does not evaporate overnight, and it is an issue that will bite the Thunder in the ass if Oklahoma City continues to play this way.
The Thunder have to make playing hard a focus for the team. Oklahoma City does not have the talent to coast through games and wins on ability alone. The Thunder have to play with intensity to win against the best teams in the league.
Over the last two games, Shai’s efficiency from the field has fallen off a cliff. Gilgeous-Alexander went 3-11 against the Lakers and 3-13 against the Grizzlies. Those are ugly numbers for a player that the Thunder rely upon to score the ball.
In the Lakers game, Shai was able to get to the free-throw line. His makes at the stripe glossed over his poor scoring. This was not the case against the Grizzlies. Shai did not get free points at the line and was flat-out bad from the field.
Shai struggled to score the ball, which impacted the Thunder’s chances of winning the game. Gilgeous-Alexander fell into a trap where he took a lot of threes when he was out of rhythm. SGA forced shots from deep and did not play within the flow of the offense.
Shai continued chasing the three throughout the game and did not relent on these looks even when he could not buy a bucket from deep. In these situations, Gilgeous-Alexander needs to recognize that he needs to focus on other aspects of his game if he is not scoring rhythm.
Billy Donovan has received a lot of praise this season from coaches and fans alike. Coach Donovan has done an excellent job with the Thunder this season and deserves a lot of credit. However, Billy had a shocker against the Grizzlies.
Danilo Gallinari played 19 minutes during the Grizzlies fixture. It made no sense to me as Gallinari is a crucial scoring option for the Thunder and needs to be on the floor for Oklahoma City to operate effectively on offense. Gallinari’s lack of minutes meant that Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Hervey saw many non-garbage time minutes.
I struggled to understand why Hamidou Diallo played 23 minutes in the game and took eleven shots. Diallo did not play well on offense; he missed natural looks at the rim, and his shot selection was not great. Hami took a few pull up jumpers from mid despite being a poor shooter.
Usually, Hamidou is a solid defender, but he did not play with much energy against Memphis. Diallo occasionally fought over screens, and his play caused a few defensive breakdowns. There was a notable moment in the fourth quarter where Diallo stopped to complain at the referee.
Diallo’s stoppage caused a breakdown. Memphis was able to knock down a quality look on this possession. Diallo forgot the core rule of defense; you play until the referee blows his whistle.
Coach Donovan spent a lot of time during the Memphis game experimenting with different rotations and lineups. I understand the need for experimentation, but this was a winnable game for the Thunder. I do not see the point of Kevin Hervey or Deonte Burton seeing minutes. Neither player will play significant minutes in the postseason.
The Thunder’s best nine or ten guys are relatively evident. These will be the players who will be part of Donovan’s playoff rotation. Billy has to focus on refining these rotations instead of trying out untested ideas.
Adams was missed dearly:
Steven Adams starts for the Thunder, but his value goes deeper than his on-court production. Adams is a tone-setter for the Thunder. His willingness to make the extra effort and sacrifice his body for the team’s benefit is essential. Adams sets the culture for the Thunder; his play encourages others to sacrifice themselves for the good of the organization.
Without Adams, the Thunder looked listless. The intensity was not quite there, and Memphis was able to get a lot of points inside. Gorgui Dieng and Jonas Valanciunas scored 29 points inside. The Thunder lacked defensive leadership without Adams; this contributed hugely to the Thunder’s porous defense.
Oklahoma City needs Adams to be healthy and productive, going forward. He is too valuable for the Thunder to lose.