Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers faced a must-win situation on Thursday night and only one team left the Chesapeake Energy Arena with that much needed ‘W.’
The Lakers came into Oklahoma City and torched Oklahoma City’s defense, defeating the Thunder 138-128 in overtime behind Kyle Kuzma’s 32 points.
The 28th and 30th ranked three-point shooting teams in the NBA put on a show tonight, completely contrary to the script. OKC shot 22-for-54 (40.7 percent) from three, which was a franchise record for three-point makes in a single game. Los Angeles shot an even better 19-for-40 (47.5 percent) from three.
Shoot, did I mention Lebron James didn’t play? Well, he didn’t and didn’t even make the trip to Oklahoma City.
Most watched this game and saw on the surface what happened but there were some particulars that need to be explained as to why the Thunder dropped their fifth game in six tries.
If giving up 142 points on Tuesday to the 13-win Atlanta Hawks wasn’t bad enough, then giving up 138 points to the Lebron-less Lakers, at home, on primetime television took the cake. OKC’s once highly-boasted perimeter defense has been softer than Charmin lately, giving up 19 threes tonight and 18 in Atlanta. What’s harder to swallow is the fact that the Lakers and Hawks are 27th and 28th in the NBA in three-point shooting.
That means OKC’s defense has been bad, bad and there aren’t many excuses to excuse that fact. It has been complete chaos defensively for the Thunder.
In the NBA, you can’t allow yourself to give up 130 points per game to your last six opponents, but the Thunder have. What makes all this worse is watching the interior defense suffer. It’s a complete loss of identity for the Thunder since Jan. 6 when they started this skid against the Washington Wizards at home.
The lack of defense has been the most tragic thing for the Thunder as of late but free throw shooting has been the most tragic statistic of the season that has been quite satisfying until recently. Poor free throw shooting affected the Thunder again tonight where they shot 24-of-36 from the line, countered by the Lakers 19-of-21.
The Thunder lost the game by 10 points (in trash time), they missed 12 free throws. If OKC just makes half of those they missed, they win this game.
It’s a problem.
Thunder got three happy and instead of pushing the ball inside when the threes stopped falling, they got overzealous when it mattered most. Yes, they set a franchise record with 22 made threes but after going 3-of-10 in the fourth quarter, it was time to take a few steps in.
They did the opposite.
In the overtime period, Oklahoma City shot 2-for-12 from three. All but one shot in OT was a three, which is cringeworthy. After staring 17-32 through three, they finished the game 5-of-22.
The Laker continued to make their threes, though.
OKC has flipped the script this month. After starting the season at the very top of the NBA by the way of defensive rating, they’ve plummeted down to 23rd in the NBA in the month of January. Remember how critical Thunder fans were of the three-point shooting earlier this season? After being in last place all season in three-point percentage, OKC has ranked 12th this month at 36.9 percent.
For those that thought three-point shooting would be the fix-all for OKC, putting them over the top in the Western Conference, shame on you. The moment the Thunder became a decent three-point shooting team is the moment their defense started slipping.
There’s a reason they say defense wins championships.
Feature photo: Zach Beeker/ Getty Images.