Over the last six to seven games the Oklahoma City Thunder changed their identity. For the first time in a very long time, they displayed the ability to consistently move the ball on offense while playing inspired, hard-nosed defense at the same time.
On Monday night, the Thunder allowed the Sacramento Kings to have their way in the first quarter, building confidence on both ends of the court and built emotional confidence as well. Sacramento defeated the Thunder 117-113 for the second time of this young season.
As expected after missing six games due to an ankle sprain, it was clear that Russell Westbrook was a little rusty and like a kid in school that misses a week’s worth of classes, he was a little behind on what the rest of his classmates learned. What did they learn you ask? That ball-movement is the key to a fluid and efficient offense. During that process, they learned how to improve their already thriving defense. Players were stepping up on both ends of the floor and it was a beautiful sight to see for Thunder fans.
Offensively, with Westbrook being OKC’s floor general, he resorted to isolation-style basketball, reminiscent of the Thunder last season which threw that offensive rhythm the Thunder had during his absence off. Settling for unnecessary 3-point shots before trying other avenues hurt the team very early and in the meantime, the Kings well, Iman Shumpert, was lighting the Thunder up. At one point in the first, the Kings were up 27-8 on the Thunder with 5:55 to play.
After a slow start offensively, the Thunder picked things up in the second period but still struggled to tame Iman Shumpert, Buddy Hield and the rest of the Kings. Both scored 32 points in the second and Sacramento maintained a 13-point lead into the break.
It wasn’t until late in the game that the Thunder started figuring things out and it wasn’t until the final four minutes that they started playing basketball IQ suitable enough to pull off an improbable comeback. Oklahoma City shot poor from three, yet continued to shoot threes throughout the game. Forty-one attempts later, the Thunder were only shooting 29.1 percent from behind the arc, which is a boosted percentage due to a few they made in the final stages of the contest. It appeared as if OKC were trying to keep up with the Kings from three but the difference is, the Kings shot a solid 42.1 percent.
It’s essential for the Thunder to stick to their strengths and that’s not shooting spot-up threes. What makes them different from other teams is their athleticism and depth. They have the ability to beat teams with pure athleticism from their starting lineup, to their bench players.
What makes the Thunder a dangerous team is their ability to defend from every position. There’s a reason they rank first in defensive rating and first in steals. They play energetic and inspired defense nightly and that’s what they lacked for the full 48 minutes against the Kings.