5 Quick Facts: Thunder lost defensive identity and offensive rhythm

The Phoenix Suns have been the biggest surprise of the NBA bubble after winning five-straight games. Heading into the restart, they were six games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. That was just 11 days ago. After a dominating win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday afternoon, they’re the only undefeated team in the bubble, winning all six of their games.

OKC was missing big names like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, and Nerlens Noel, but that shouldn’t have warranted the blowout that was handed to them by a team with a sub-.500 record.

Here are five quick facts about Monday’s loss.

The Thunder started fast and played inspired.

OKC started this game hot. Possibly too hot. The entire team fired on all cylinders while shooting 54% from the field and 55% from three. They also held Phoenix to 23 points on 45% shooting, while forcing eight early turnovers. Of the players that started hot in the first quarter was Darius Bazley, who continued his hot streak from Sunday night with 12 points and five rebounds.

We’ll remember the bubble as Darius Bazley’s coming out party.

Since the night Baze was drafted, we knew that he’d be a good NBA player. But at 19 years old, we saw that coming in 4-5 years. Not 14 months later. At just 20 years and 59 days old, the shots that Darius would pass up or shy away from in February, he’s confidently taking in August. In February, he’d wait for the offense to come to him, and now he’s confidently handling the ball and creating offense for himself and others. Over the last six games, he’s averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. In his last two games, he’s averaged 22.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, including his first double-double against the Suns on Monday with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Chris Paul has a lot of heart.

As if we didn’t know, CP3 has never lacked heart and that was put on display once again on Monday. In a game where five of OKC’s six leading scorers were inactive due to nagging injuries or personal issues, this was the perfect game for Paul to rest his body for the final two games of the bubble heading into the playoffs.

Thunder lacked that inspired play through 75% of the game.

Everything was fine and dandy when the Thunder entered the second quarter with a 14-point lead. Then, according to Billy Donovan, Phoenix’s increased defensive pressure was too much for the inexperienced team that the Thunder could put on the floor. Phoenix went on to outscore OKC 105-64 through the remaining three quarters while shooting 24-25 from the free-throw line.

Devin Booker is elite, and no one on the Thunder could contain him.

Booker may have scored 35 points on Monday against the Thunder, but that’s on par with his previous five games. He’s scored 30 or more points in four of Phoenix’s six games, averaging 30.3 points per game on 50.1% shooting. He’s playing at a legendary level when it matters most. He’s led his team from being six games out of the playoffs to only tailing the Grizzlies (who has lost all but one game) by just one game.

Despite Monday’s loss, the Thunder still sits in the fifth spot in the Western Conference. The Utah Jazz trail OKC by a half-game after they lost to the Mavericks on Monday as well. If the playoffs started today, the Oklahoma City Thunder would face Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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