The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t solved their defensive issues. That’s unfortunate, because it became obvious tonight that they are not a championship-level team on that end.
There is ample anecdotal evidence to support this claim, but two stat lines from OKC’s 114-105 loss to San Antonio paint the clearest picture.
Danny Green: 8-12 FG, 5-7 3pt, 21 pts
DeJuan Blair: 11-15 FG, 22 pts
Blair broke the 20-point barrier for the fourth time this season; Green, for the third, and it had never happened in the same game before. The lack of defensive focus on Oklahoma City’s part allowed this unprecedented event to occur.
Since basketball is a team sport, many players and coaches can share the blame. Tonight’s worst culprits follow.
Russell Westbrook: His occasional inattention on defense stuck out like a sorer-than-usual thumb thanks to Green’s hot shooting. Westbrook allowed Green to repeatedly shake loose for open looks from his favorite spots on the wings and in the corners.
Serge Ibaka: The six blocked shots look great in the box score, until a glance at the San Antonio stats reveal six offensive rebounds that Blair hauled in. Some of those putbacks came directly after Ibaka’s swats, and all of them came as a result of nobody blocking out the Spurs’ undersized, unathletic post man. It’s true that Ibaka can’t block shots and box out on the same possession, but he seemed more aware of rejection opportunities than nuts-and-bolts inside work.
Kendrick Perkins: No real effect on Blair’s or Green’s performances, but his slow-motion reactions on offense put the Thunder at a repeated disadvantage. His mounting disgust with his team’s defensive performance boiled over in a senseless shove of Tim Duncan that epitomized Oklahoma City’s lack of focus.
Kevin Durant: The offensive numbers (25 points, 8-19 FG, 2-8 3pt) were ordinary by his lofty standards, but his tendency to lose track of Kawhi Leonard on defense was a bigger problem. Leonard scored 15 points on 5-9 field goals, most of which were open thanks to his effective off-ball movement and Durant’s disinterest in following him.
Scott Brooks: The Spurs had several stretches of absurdly hot shooting, but on balance, their 9-19 mark from three tonight (47.4%) was only slightly above their season average of 39.8%. Brooks’ team showed a lack of preparation for this tendency, which bodes poorly for their playoff hopes.
There is no need for three Thunder help defenders to shade toward the paint when Tony Parker lurks on the perimeter, no matter how threatening his penetration may be. Many of the Spurs’ open threes came off kick-outs after the kind of crisp ball movement that poor defensive spacing allows.
There is also no excuse for the seeming lack of attention certain Thunder players are paying to scouting reports. Westbrook was the worst offender tonight, but numerous Thunder defenders turned their heads often enough to leave Spur snipers the openings they needed.
The Thunder locker room needs to reorient itself around the scouting reports and the film room – if they don’t want to watch most of the playoffs from their living rooms.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.