On Wednesday night, the Thunder faced the playoff-bound Brooklyn Nets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. After a lackluster first half, they found some inspiration and put everything together in the second half to win the game, 108-96. Thursday night, they were on the road in Indiana to face another playoff team and had the complete opposite result. After starting the game on fire, up 63-50 at halftime, the Thunder lost their spunk and dropped a heartbreaker 108-106 to the Pacers.
For the first time in one game, the Thunder showed everyone exactly how they could make a run past the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Finals and how they could get the boot in the first round of the playoffs.
To start the game everything was clicking. OKC’s defense was superb, holding Indiana to 50 points on 36 percent shooting and forcing nine turnovers. In addition to that, Paul George had Pacers fans reminiscing on what used to be after scoring 20 points in the half, netting five threes in the process. Westbrook and Adams and the rest of the Thunder team were clicking on all cylinders as well.
Just like Wednesday night in the Peake, the second half was the polar opposite of the first. Except instead of the Thunder progressing, they regressed as the game went on. After scoring 63 points in a half, they scored just 43 in the final 24 minutes and abandoned everything positive they were doing previously.
After netting five triples in the first half, George went 1-of-6 in the second. However, he still scored 16 points in the half. The same thing happened to Westbrook. The Thunder as a team slipped offensively, but the reason behind that falls on the back of their defense which played an incredibly lazy brand of basketball to close the game out, especially in the third quarter. OKC relaxed in every way and was lazy in their defending, so they committed an uncharacteristic and detrimental 10 fouls in the quarter alone. Those fouls knocked OKC out of their rhythm and aided in the Pacers outscoring them 31-25 in the quarter.
By the time the fourth quarter came around the Thunder were gassed and clearly desperate for offense. In any situation, when you’re desperate things typically tend to get worse and that’s what happened against Indiana as OKC weren’t able to get anything going. The Pacers outscored the Thunder 27-18 in the fourth quarter, while Westbrook and George went 1-of-6 and just like the third quarter, couldn’t stop Indiana on offense.
This game was a perfect representation of how the Thunder can transcend the Golden State Warriors for the Western Conference title and how they may succumb to a lower seed in the first round like Utah, San Antonio or the Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s simple, if the Thunder hangs their hats on defense as they did in the first half and let everything else fall into place, they’ll succeed next month when the playoffs begin. But if they’re lazy on defense and desperate on offense like they were in the second half, this may result in an even more disappointing season than last year.
Thirty-three percent of OKC’s success lies on Paul George and the tone he sets for the team on defense. Thirty-three percent is reliant on Russell Westbrook and the way he runs the offense and 33 percent depends on the way the Thunder role players follow George and Westbrook’s lead.
Which version of the Thunder can we expect through the final 13 games, into the playoffs?