By Michael Doutey
The Oklahoma City Thunder drop another game, this time 142-126 in Atlanta to the Hawks. OKC has now lost four of their last five games and their defense has take a nose dive over the past week-and-a-half. The Thunder are now 26-17 on the season and hold a full game lead over the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers for third place in the Western Conference.
So, how about that Thunder defense? OKC gave up 142 points to the Hawks. Sure, the Hawks are starting to play better, but come on. 142?! That is simply unacceptable. OKC allowed 45 points in two separate quarters, the second and the fourth. The Thunder defense has been its anchor all season long. But after that really impressive win the Thunder had over the Trail Blazers, OKC hasn’t looked the same. It is the dog days of the NBA. It is the middle of the season and the grind is here. The Thunder’s identity is defense, which is probably the toughest thing to hang your hat on in the league. It takes tons of focus and energy. It is not easy. The Thunder as a team are going through the motions a little bit. Their focus is lacking. Their mentality has shifted from playing great defense to trying to outscore teams. Outscoring teams It is easier than playing excellent defense, but the Thunder aren’t built to be an offensive juggernaut. The Thunder know where their bread is buttered. But right now, the Thunder are fighting the dog days of the NBA. They are in a slump. But the Thunder will wake up from it. This isn’t an issue that they can’t correct. They just need to show more focus and energy on the defense end. Once they do that for 48 minutes the better they’ll look. It is just the tough grind of the season for OKC. It is nothing more and nothing less.
The second unit was completely awful last night. Everyone on the bench had a negative plus-minus. It wasn’t just a negative plus-minus, but it was by double digits. Dennis Schröder was a minus-11. Patrick Patterson was a minus-13 in 13 minutes. Abdel Nader was a minus-19 in 14 minutes. Hamidou Diallo was a minus-21 in 11 minutes. The two quarters where the Thunder play and use their second unit the most are the second and fourth quarter. In those quarters the Thunder gave up 45 points. The Hawks were like an avalanche, once the offense got rolling and the Thunder starters returned, they couldn’t do anything about it. In the first and third quarters, OKC only allowed 25 and 27 points. Hey, that isn’t too bad! But the Thunder couldn’t overcome such a poor performance from the Thunder second unit. Schröder scored really well (21 points), especially in the second half. But the rest of the second unit scored nine points. That just isn’t good enough. The Thunder need Nerlens Noel back, who is the backbone of that groups defense. They just need more from the second unit as a whole.
I really don’t have much else to say about this game. It was a frustrating loss. It has been a frustrating two weeks from the Thunder. But as the great Aaron Rodgers once said, RELAX! It is January. There is lots of time and lots of basketball left. Don’t overreact to slumps of bad play, just like you shouldn’t get overjoyed when the Thunder play extremely well. Remember, it is not a sprint. The NBA is a marathon with many highs and lows. This is a low for OKC, but they will come out of it.
The Thunder will be back in action on Thursday night to take on the LA Lakers. Tip is at 8:30 p.m. inside the Peake.