Time to Solve the Third Quarter, Finish Strong on the Road
Date: Nov. 12, 2019
Tip-Off Time: 6 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusIn less than two minutes, the Thunder erased an 11-point deficit and tied the game on an outrageous fall-away three-pointer by Danilo Gallinari. One stop and a score would have sealed a stunning home win against the Milwaukee Bucks, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Despite building a wall of defenders to force Giannis Antetokounmpo from getting to the rim and forcing a bailout pass, the Bucks swung the ball to 7-foot center Brook Lopez, who pump-faked, side-stepped, slid his foot and knocked down a three-pointer to beat the Thunder in the closing seconds on Sunday. Though the loss dropped OKC to 4-6 on the season, it was emblematic of the team’s competitive spirit.
“No matter the deficit, we’re going to keep fighting,” said guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Opponent BreakdownOn Tuesday the Thunder will face another Central Division foe, this time the Indiana Pacers, who have ripped of wins in 6 of their last 7 games after dropping three straight to start the season. Newcomers Malcolm Brogdon and TJ Warren have paired with holdovers in Domantas Sabonis and Doug McDermott to be efficient on offense. The Pacers are shooting 47.1 percent from the field while averaging 26.2 assists compared to just 13.4 turnovers per game.
The Thunder will need to be vigilant for the entire 48 minutes on defense and also to eliminate any haymaker scoring runs the Pacers try to throw in front of their home crowd.
“If we be ourselves and play the way we know we need to play for a full four quarters we’ll be fine,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
Matchup FocusAfter coming over from Milwaukee to Indiana, Brogdon has been a revelation, amping up his usage rate and assist percentage to levels that put him in elite territory amongst NBA guards. He’s averaging 20.8 points on 46.3 percent shooting while also dishing out 8.9 assists per game so far this season. Stopping him with physicality won’t work, as he’s knocked down 46-of-47 free throw attempts so far this year.
One player Thunder head coach Billy Donovan as employed to tackle tricky defensive assignments has been point guard Dennis Schröder. The seventh-year point guard is still handling the ball, scoring at high levels off the bench (14.7 points per game) and getting teammates involved (4.7 assists per game) but has been freed up by the presence of Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul to not have to shoulder the totality of playmaking responsibilities. That extra energy has been channeled to the defensive side of the ball, where he’s helped the Thunder thrive this season.
“He is really important to us,” Donovan said of Schröder. “The one thing that has been great with Dennis is that he plays with an edge and a competitive spirit every night.”
Stat to WatchEven with a sub-.500 record, the Thunder has a plus-1.8 point differential and plus-1.9 net rating. In fact, the Thunder’s six losses have come by an average of only 5.8 points, including four losses by four points or less. There’s been a valiant spirit among the group to keep games close heading into the final moments, but one way the Thunder could really help itself out is by getting off to better starts at the beginning of the third quarter.
Through ten games, the Thunder is allowing opponents to score 30.0 points on average during third quarters, 25th in the league. That’s compared to just 25.0 points in the first quarter (5th), 25.1 in the 2nd quarter (5th) and 25.4 in the fourth quarter (7th). There have been possessions where the offense has stagnated without the ability to get downhill and attack the paint. In addition, the Thunder has had some passivity on defense coming out of the locker room, which it will look to correct moving forward.
“Our defense has got to be better,” said Paul. “We’ve got to figure out our third quarters. Once we figure that out, we’ll be in a good place.”
Thunder TrendFor three consecutive games the Thunder has set a season-high in assists with 26 at San Antonio, 30 against Golden State and 31 versus Milwaukee. As a result the Thunder’s offensive metrics have continued rising over the past week, demonstrating Donovan’s insistence that the ball scores when it is moved from side to side on the floor. On Sunday, seven Thunder players had at least 2 assists, led by Nerlens Noel and Gilgeous-Alexander with 6 apiece.
“We’re trying to play the right way,” Donovan said. “There’s going to be times where teams switch, and we can use our guard speed to make plays going downhill. We’ve got to rely on each other. We’re trying to do that, and when someone penetrates that we’re trying to make the extra pass.”
Watch: 1-on-1 with Nerlens noel