Instead of fighting fire with fire, why not fight fire with it’s biggest weakness, water? Basketball speaking, while every NBA team’s gameplan is to stock up on shooting power to compete against the Golden State Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to dethrone the Warriors dynasty with their stifling defense.
Other than a slow early January, the Thunder have been an elite defensive team that can stop whoever when every member of the team is dialed in. Sunday evening, they had their best performance defensively against the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, defeating them 118-112.
Milwaukee is the second highest scoring team in the NBA, averaging 117.2 points per game and only managed to score 112 in Oklahoma City, which may be a little inflated, due to the final 10 points coming in a desperation effort. Oklahoma City controlled what the Bucks did on offense throughout the entire game and forced Milwaukee’s star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to an unusually inefficient shooting night.
Antetokounmpo scored 27 points which right at his season average but the glaring difference was his shooting percentage. He shoots 58.1 percent from the field for the season but shot 36.3 percent against the Thunder. That’s due to Jerami Grant’s physical, pesky defense on the Greek Freak.
The Thunder wrote the blueprint for NBA teams that haven’t figured out a way to slow down the MVP candidate. In the event that Grant was overpowered or overwhelmed with what Giannis was doing, OKC’s help defense stepped up and made the difference. Through three quarters, Giannis was held to 3-of-12 shooting, but 0-of-9 inside the three-point line, which is completely uncharacteristic an 18 percent three-point shooter like Giannis.
What the Thunder did to the (35-12) Milwaukee Bucks is exactly why they have the best chance to defeat the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder have not been the best three-point shooting team all season but as of late, they’ve at least been respectable. Slightly above average. That paired with their elite defense when they consistently lock in makes for the perfect recipe to dethrone the Golden State Warriors.
Instead of trying to fit the mold of the modern NBA team, the Thunder should continue to build their defensive identity so they can separate themselves. What makes OKC different is what makes them such a threat.
Paul George added to his MVP-caliber season with 36 points on 12-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds, and three steals. Westbrook, who has flown under the radar lately, is steadily picking up triple-doubles. He recorded his third-straight tonight with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. He didn’t have a great shooting night but George, Grant, and Adams made up for that by combining for 30-of-51 shooting (58.8percent), along with shooting 12-of-20 (60 percent) from three.
The Thunder have a special team and a special gift but will they play consistent enough to reach their full potential?