Last night’s game was nothing short of a disappointment from the Thunder. It was a really poor performance and the Thunder’s lack of effort was plain to see. Houston ended the night with 24 offensive rebounds, Tari Eason chipped in 12 by himself.
Houston deserve credit for their hard work and for their execution on the night. They did incredibly well without Jalen Green or Kevin Porter Jr, their two primary shot-creators but this was a game that the Thunder lost.
This loss is the latest in a line of worrying defeats for the Thunder. Oklahoma City have consistently failed to take advantage of games against teams like Houston, Charlotte and Detroit. In the four contests played against these teams, the Thunder are 0-4.
In contrast, we have seen the Thunder play really well against good teams like Philly, like Boston. It does seem that OKC get up for big games and then try to rely on talent to beat teams with comparable rosters.
This approach did not work five years ago during the Westbrook-PG era and it certainly does not work in this current era of basketball. The Western Conference is hugely competitive at the moment, only three games separate the #5 seed and the #13 seed. A bad run of form could doom any hope of a potential playoff berth.
The level of parity within the Conference means that the Thunder have to take care of business and pick up wins in favourable games in order to have any chance at advancing up the standings.
Three weeks ago, the playoff picture was pretty rosy for the Thunder. The Clippers were on the verge of imploding due to injury but the return of Kawhi Leonard has steadied the ship. LA have won six out of their last seven games and finally look to be rounding into form. Golden State were in a similar sort of space without Stephen Curry and they have now turned a corner.
Good teams make winning consistently a habit, not a surprise. This might seem like a cliche but finding ways to win is important in boosting morale. San Antonio under Coach Popovich made the playoffs 22 seasons in row and won five championships while rarely having the best roster in the association.
For their last ring, the Spurs shocked the world and dismantled the defending champions, Miami Heat. Everybody thought that the brilliance of LeBron James would be too much to overcome for Duncan, Manu and Tony Parker in the twilight of their careers.
And yet, San Antonio were able to pull off a stunning victory through consistent execution of a well-designed game plan and contributions from the entire roster. The likes of Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter impacted the game positively and sapped the Heat’s energy whenever the ‘Big Three’ sat on the bench.
They were able to perform this feat as the roster had complete faith in Coach Popovich and themselves. San Antonio knew how to win when the game tight and that sort of confidence only comes about from winning games consistently week in, week out.
Oklahoma City are nowhere near where that last great Spurs’ team was but the lesson is still same, reeling off win streaks builds confidence and understanding within the organisation.
The Thunder are one of the youngest teams in the league and have overachieved relative to expectations this season but it is time to start thinking about that next step for the club and what the roster needs to be equipped to win a playoff series.