Thunder's Third Quarter Harmony Sings Motown to Sleep – OKC 110, DET 83

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter |

DETROIT – What some could see as a happy coincidence, the Thunder sees as a mark of professionalism. Last season, third quarters were not kind to Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club. The Thunder was outscored by 1.1 points on average in third quarters last season. After an offseason and training camp full of focus in that area, the Thunder has shown its mettle, and it’s ability to transform a weakness into a strength, and become the league’s best team after halftime.

Coming into Monday’s 110-83 shellacking of the Eastern Conference’s fourth-best team thus far, the Detroit Pistons, the Thunder was outscoring its foes by an NBA-best 3.8 points in third quarters this season. That average will rise significantly after Donovan’s group ripped off a 37-19 third quarter against the Pistons, dominating the flow in every aspect of the game.

“Our guys’ concentration, their focus, their attention to detail, the job that they did on the defensive floor enabled us to get down and score and play well throughout most of the game," said Donovan. ”The third quarter we came out and really established ourselves.”

“We try to play with energy. Defensively, we try to get stops and on the offensive end, just play with pace. I think we did great in the third quarter like we always do and tried to stay engaged,” added point guard Dennis Schröder.

The concentration, focus and commitment was clear coming out of the locker room. Defensively, the Thunder was disruptive in the passing lanes, forcing six turnovers. Off the ball, Russell Westbrook was sprinting to the wing while calling out coverages to Schröder and rushing back into the lane for deflections, and that constant motion was contagious.

“I just feel like, especially coming into this year I made it a focus to defend more at a high level,” said Westbrook. “I take pride in that, defending, and that’s what we’ve been doing all season so that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

 The Thunder’s energy and communication was so pervasive that it forced two shot clock violations and so many late-clock shots that Detroit shot just 7-of-20 from the field and 1-for-8 from the three-point line in the period.

“When we defend at a high level like we’ve been doing all season, it’s easy for us to get what we want and get to our spots,” said Russell Westbrook.

“It’s just one of those things where everybody did their job properly and they were in the spots they needed to be,” said center Steven Adams, who won the upper hand in his battle with Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond, who shot just 6-of-14 and only grabbed 6 rebounds.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Thunder continually attacked the paint in pick and roll and converted extremely efficient looks, shooting 13-for-26 from the field and most importantly, coming away with a shot attempt on every possession. The Thunder turned the ball over zero times in the period, compared to 7 assists, and won the points off turnovers battled 13-0 in the quarter.

“It’s just downhill, depending on the coverage,” said Steven Adams, before explaining that the Pistons’ big men were hanging back deep in the paint on pick and rolls. “They were in a drop, so guys did a god job of attacking them off dribble or even on a switch, then just attacking the paint and not settling to just shoot it over a guy.”

“Russell (Westbrook) and I did a good job of attacking, engaging a big and finding an open teammate on the weak side or for the lob,” said Schröder, who finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

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The Pistons threatened slightly to open the quarter, but a 10-run mid-way through the quarter ignited by a Paul George to Adams hook shot, five straight points from Westbrook and a George three-pointer set off a 21-5 spurt that completely broke the game open. Eventually the Thunder’s lead rose to as many as 35 points, and the Thunder was able to rest its rotation players in the closing minutes.

It was a bit more of a battle in the first half, As the first quarter moved on, the Thunder’s control of the game continued to strengthen as it held Detroit to long range attempts and just one possession, for the most part. Spanning the quarter break, the Thunder went on an 8-0 run and eventually pushed the lead to as many as 15. The Pistons charged back late in the half with an 8-1 run to get it back within single digits as the Thunder racked up four team fouls in the first 2:10 of the second quarter.

On one hand, giving up 18 first half three-point attempts is more than Donovan and company would typically like, but the Thunder contested enough of them to force Detroit into just 4 makes. As a whole, Detroit shot just 34.7 percent in the first half, including just 48 percent shooting in the paint compared to the Thunder’s 15-for-20 mark inside.

On the offensive end it was a bit of a mixed bag for the Thunder as well, as it got into the paint for 30 points and shot 51.2 percent from the field. Donovan’s club was inefficient offensively in other ways, however, giving up 9 first half turnovers and attempting 8 fewer field goals than the Pistons. While the Thunder was up 10 at the halftime break, it seemed like it could have been much more.

“That was on me. In the first half I had five, in the second half I had zero. Easy fix,” Westbrook quipped. The Thunder All-Star point guard finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in 29 minutes. 

Besides the fouls, the Thunder handled the Pistons’ up-tempo second unit fairly well, and did a nice job showing a double team to Blake Griffin on the block and then rushing back out to get in the passing lanes and make deflections. That constant motion by the Thunder was typical for the active Thunder defense, but it was a very rare occasion in which the team intentionally put two defenders on the ball. Even when trying a brand-new strategy, the Thunder thrived.

“What’s good is that we have a couple smart bloody players, who are able to make adjustments on the fly,” said Adams, referencing Westbrook and Paul George. “It’s just identifying what the problem is and where we could attack them but also where we can stop them. That’s crucial. It saves timeouts.”

“That was team defense,” Westbrook said. “That’s something we practiced and we executed the game plan very well and guys did a good job of helping on the block and helping on box outs.”

In the third quarter and beyond it was a runaway for the Thunder. Offensively Westbrook and Schröder used pick and roll with Adams to perfection – literally as Adams started 7-for-7 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free throw line on his way to a gamn-high 21 points and the Thunder managed to get six players into double figures for a balanced attack. It was a strong start to a three-game east coast swing continuing a stretch of 15 wins in the last 18 games for OKC.

Highlights: Thunder 110, Pistons 83


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