Throughout the season, whether the Oklahoma City Thunder were down three points or 20, it was due to the other team merely being better than them. The Rockets probably would have won this game because they are the better and more experienced team, but that doesn’t excuse the Thunder from losing this game 136-106 at home.
The Thunder didn’t win the day because they got washed in virtually every aspect of this game. Who would have predicted that after losing James Harden, the Rockets would go for their franchise-record in made threes? They shot 28-of-52, and the Thunder waited until the Rockets were scorching hot to start playing defense on the perimeter.
Oklahoma City leads the league in drives per game and are ordinarily successful in playing that brand of basketball, but on Monday night, they only shot 48.9 percent from the paint. OKC only outscored Houston 44-42 in the paint, were out-rebounded 50-45 and turned the ball over 11 times to OKC’s 18.
The Thunder don’t have a chance to win, especially against a playoff-caliber squad when they’re they’re out-performed from three unless they’re excelling in other areas of the game. More specifically, from the paint and at the free-throw line, while playing a good brand of defense.
Speaking of defense, should we expect this Thunder team to play the tough defense they did in the first half of this young season? Probably not. In seven of the last nine games, they’ve given up at least 120 points.
There are plenty of teams in this league that are elite offensively and delinquent defensively, and there are teams that lack offensive firepower but are athletic, physical, and defensive-minded. The Thunder could be headed down a road where they’re neither. They could be headed down a road where they’re a bottom-10 team offensively and a bottom-10 team defensively if they don’t wake up and quickly build their identity.
As we approach the quarter mark of the NBA season, teams find their stride and their identity. What will the Thunder’s be?