Lack of Consistency, Discipline Does in Thunder – OKC 107, NOP 114

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

NEW ORLEANS – Only six minutes had gone by to start the game, and the Thunder was already up by 19 points. Great start. Similar to ones it has had recently.

Over the ensuing 12 minutes, that lead evaporated down to nothing. From then, it was on, and as the game wore on, the Thunder didn’t make enough plays on either end to come up with a win.

That’s how it can go in the NBA, as major scoring swings in games are a normal occurrence, becoming even more frequent with the advent of teams shooting more and more three-pointers, which are high volatility shots. After an incredible opening salvo, the Thunder experienced just how flimsy leads can be, which is a lesson they’ve learned more than their fair share of times this season, ultimately falling 114-107 to the New Orleans Pelicans. The things the Thunder did well early stopped happening, and a new set of problems popped up as the night developed.

“There’s just not enough consistency in terms of the offensive end and the defensive end,” Head Coach Billy Donovan stated. “There’s just not.”

“We have to do things at a higher level or a consistency level that we’re not doing,” Donovan added. “We have to move the ball on offense at a higher consistency level. When we do that, we’re really good.”

Donovan’s reference to the offense, particularly the ball movement is a pertinent one. In the first half, the Thunder shot 50 percent from the field, including 7-for-17 from three-point range, thanks to 15 assists. In the third quarter, those numbers dipped to 29.4 percent, 0-for-5 from three, and 1 assist.

The Pelicans went small on the perimeter and tried to bait the Thunder into post ups. In the first half, Donovan’s club did it the way it wanted to: Carmelo Anthony read the defense, drew in a double team, kicked out to the perimeter where Russell Westbrook immediately caught the ball and attacked the paint. With a two-on-one with the last line of defense, Westbrook dropped off a pass to Steven Adams for an easy dunk. In the second half, those type of plays stopped happening, and the Thunder took more difficult, contested shots.

The Thunder’s offense is still a work in progress as the team gets adjusted to playing together, but the typically trustworthy defense is what let the team down tonight. The Pelicans shot 51.2 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Thunder by nine, but the most troublesome stat was the free throw line, where New Orleans went 25-for-32.

At the end of the first half, the Thunder put the Pelicans on the free throw line seven times in the final 1:07 of action. Even after bruising Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins was ejected for clobbering Westbrook’s face with an elbow, the Thunder had a hard time with fouls. The Pelicans were in the bonus with 7:52 remaining in regulation, making the Thunder’s job in crunch time doubly as difficult. Ultimately, Donovan’s club was behind the eight ball on the score board and in terms of how they could defend, and it ended up being impossible to overcome.

“Anytime you get a team who has momentum going and get them in the bonus early, they take advantage of that,” Anthony explained. “You start playing a little bit timid because you don’t want to foul.”

“It’s just staying disciplined with that and being aware of the situation at hand,” Adams added. “You don’t want to defend softer. You don’t want to give that up. You still want to be aggressive, but when you’re in that situation it’s more trusting the backside, your helpside, moreso than trying to make a play defensively.”

The Thunder knows it has to kick this recent habit of getting up big and then letting leads disintegrate, but at least it has a blueprint for how it can play when it stays disciplined and focused. It also has veteran leaders who have helped the team stay connected through this adversity. The key is to focus on the actual problems that are occurring on the court, taking hold of them and never letting go until the buzzer sounds.

“To an extent, we understand it’s a game of runs,” forward Paul George noted. “Their runs need to be seven, six. That’s what we have to cut out, these 15-20 point runs that teams go on to build their way back into the game. The game is built on runs. That’s going to happen. but we have to eliminate how much of a run we allow a team to go on.”

“I don’t think at this point it’s figuring it out,” Anthony said. “We just have to do better.”

Thunder highlights:

By the Numbers

6-for-10 – Three-point shooting numbers for Paul George on the night, as he scored 26 points

22 - Points off turnovers for the Thunder on the night, thanks to 14 steals and 19 New Orleans giveaways

58 – Points in the paint allowed by the Thunder in the game

The Last Word

“You can talk as long as you want to, but guys have to take personal pride and understand how important it is to go out and compete and not take it for granted. As players you sometimes go out on the floor and sometimes you take it for granted and don’t realize how important it is to embrace the moment. Each individual guy has to do that every night.” – point guard Russell Westbrook