Swarmed: Thunder Blitzed in the 3rd Quarter in Loss – OKC 103, CHA 116
With 5:56 to go in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook’s feet were coming back to earth after flushing the ball through the hoop just a split second earlier to tie the game at 66. Less than 90 seconds later, the Thunder trailed to the Charlotte Hornets by 10. At the 2:41 mark, just over 3 minutes after Westbrook’s fast break slam, the Thunder’s deficit was 20.
A barrage like that can happen just that fast in the NBA, and the Thunder learned that lesson the hard way in a 116-103 loss to the Hornets on Monday night. After exchanging a lackluster first quarter for a strong second quarter in the first half, the Thunder found itself in a tie ball game heading into halftime. Charlotte’s offense had gotten a little loose early, but Head Coach Billy Donovan’s team had tamped it down to start the second quarter.
When both teams walked out of the halftime locker room, two completely different teams emerged. The Thunder couldn’t get much going on offense, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field, while the Hornets knocked down 14-of-25 shots, including 7 three-pointers in the period.
“We just made a lot of bonehead plays. Three-point, four-point plays,” said point guard Russell Westbrook (30 points, 7 assists). “They had a 40-point quarter. Can’t afford to do that.”
The three-point line was the main nemesis for the Thunder in that period, as wing players got hung up in no-mans land on a few clear threes by Marvin Williams and then a wide open one by Frank Kaminsky. The backbreakers were a pair of Alex Abrines fouls on three-point attempts, including one by Treveon Graham in the corner that turned into a four-point play. Before the Thunder knew it, Charlotte had ripped off a 22-2 run.
“We had a couple breakdowns there. We got strung out on a switch and we had two guys go to the same player, and it happened twice,” Donovan explained. “One time we fouled a three-point shooter and the other time we gave Kaminsky a three, which was more of a communication issue.”
“We have to do a better job and be more conscientious of not fouling in that situation,” Donovan added.
Coming into the game, the Thunder knew that the free throw line would be a huge factor. It wasn’t just the Thunder’s own free throw shooting woes of late, which were remedied to the tune of 24-for-25 tonight. The bigger issue was always going to be the way Charlotte draws fouls. The Hornets came into the game leading the league in free throws attempted and made per game. After giving up free throws on a three-pointer and then an and-one on a three, the Thunder had to try to rally back late in the fourth quarter, but it was too late.
“We picked up some cheap fouls that we committed. We have to be better on that behalf,” noted forward Paul George. “They were just the more connected team.”
“It seems we’re a completely different team that last four or five minutes every game,” George added. “That’s what we have to bottle up for a full 48 minutes.
What George is referencing was the Thunder’s 10-1 run to cut the Hornets lead down to 106-94 with 5:39 to go, a burst that seemed to give the team some life and the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd some hope. Then, with 5:12 left, Kemba Walker dribbled into and then buried a tough three-pointer, which in turn put the Thunder’s comeback hopes underground.
Despite the nature of some of these losses and the natural disappointment due to expectations heading into the season, the Thunder realizes that there was never any way to predict how their 2017-18 season would play out. The only thing this team can do is look to one another and find a base style of play and create a consistent performance level to sustain it throughout games. The record is 12-14 through 26 games. There’s still 56 to go.
“26 games. It’s an 82 game season,” Westbrook said. “It’s up to us, honestly. We just have to figure it out and play the same way every night.”
By the Numbers
16 – Turnovers by the Thunder, which led to 23 points for Charlotte
20 – Points for Paul George in his return to the lineup, on 7-for-14 shooting
24 – Non-paint two’s taken by the Thunder on the night. It made 7 of those attempts
The Last Word
“For the talent we have, obviously this is not where we want to be, but we’re going to remain optimistic for the future and what we can do. We can find a way to really do it night-in and night-out.” – small forward Paul George