The Thunder played the best two (first) quarters of the season against the Boston Celtics. The defense was solid and the offense was good, despite the usual issues from behind the arc and from the free throw line. The only problem? The game is always forty-eight minutes long, and Oklahoma City didn’t bother to show up in the third quarter. The Thunder allowed the Celtic to score forty (40!) points, while on the other end they scored only twenty-three. The fourth quarter has been a battle, a lot of fouls (mostly called on the Thunder), but OKC’s second unit was able to gain a nine points lead with a bit more of four minutes left to play: 94-85 the score at that point. As it happened against the Clippers in Los Angeles last week, the Thunder blacked out on offense and scored only one point in the last four minutes and twenty-two seconds.
The Thunder are the only winless team in the Western Conference.
- Shooting Struggles
Oklahoma City has big shooting issues, and last night wasn’t an exception. The Thunder shot 39% from the floor, 25% from behind the arc (7-28) and a miserable 56% from the free-throw line (14-25). The shots created during the course of the game have been for the most part good shots (Westbrook’s three-pointer at the end of the game obviously it wasn’t), they just didn’t go in, and that’s a problem. This Thunder’s roster doesn’t have many reliable three-point shooters, but the ones who are supposed to make them are failing. The team has to figure out how to get out of this slump before it’s too late. It’s impossible to win games and to go scoreless in the last four minutes of the game, especially against a team like the Celtics.
- Great defense, bad defense
The Thunder played an outstanding first half on the defensive end. Everything was on point, the switching, the helps, the one on one defense, rebounding, everything. That’s the way this team is designed to play on that end. However, Oklahoma City is consistent at being inconsistent, and in the second half, more specifically the third quarter, they just blew all the good work up. Boston started to hit one three after another, but the Thunder weren’t able to adjust, and that’s another big issue. The defense in the fourth quarter was better, but OKC fouled too much, and the Celtics were able to hang around from the free-throw line before taking over in the last minutes.
- Line up changes
I liked the move from Billy Donovan to start Jerami Grant instead of Patrick Patterson. He is a better defender, rebounder, can attack the basket, and with the way Patterson is shooting the ball, you don’t lose much as a three-point threat. The next step now is to start Alex Abrines. The Spanish player can spread the floor, attack the rim, defenders have to guard him, and most importantly he is a capable defender. Is he a defensive force? Absolutely not, but he is definitely better on both ends than Ferguson.
- Too many fouls
Once again the Thunder found themselves in foul troubles. Paul George finished the game with five, same for Russell Westbrook, while Dennis Schröder ended up with four. Oklahoma City is trying to play a physical type of defense, it works from time to time, but these new fouls rules are apparently creating problems for the Thunder. This is another important aspect where the Thunder need to improve. Fouling too much is allowing teams to score easily from the free-throw line, and takes away the ability to defend better.
- Some positives
Last night wasn’t all bad. As mentioned before, the defense was outstanding for some parts of the game. Another positive takeaway from the game is the second unit: the bench this year has been reliable. Hamidou Diallo seems to have earned Donovan’s trust, Nerlens Noel is a luxury back up center as well as Schröder on the point guard position. Patterson played slightly better versus the Celtics’ second unit, and I think it would help Ferguson to come out from the bench.
The Thunder will play on Sunday night, in Oklahoma City, against the Phoenix Suns. This is a must-win game for OKC.
Cover photo by Zach Beeker