Thunder’s Identity Flipped Back onto it in Loss – OKC 98, WAS 116

A 2018-19 Oklahoma City Thunder box score looks a certain way, typically. Not tonight. 

Where big advantages in turnovers and second chance points typically stand, the Thunder faced major deficits. For the game, a 116-98 loss to the Washington Wizards, the Thunder gave up 16 offensive rebounds that led to 22 points and lost the turnover battle 15-9. That all coalesced into taking 13 fewer field goal attempts than Washington, a dynamic that has been extremely rare this season for the Thunder. 

“Every team that plays has a formula for how that team has to win,” Donovan explained. “For us, because we have not been a great three-point shooting team and because we’ve been up and down at the free throw line, part of our recipe has gotta be that we have to take more shots. Part of the way you do that is by offensive rebounding and generating turnovers.”

It didn’t appear that anything was amiss right off the bat, as the Thunder dominated the paint early on through 10 first quarter points from Steven Adams on post ups and early seals at the rim. The Thunder deflected passes to disrupt Washington’s offense, forced missed shots and got into some drive, dish and re-drive offense on the other side of the floor. It was the Thunder’s identity, plain and true and it led to a quick 18-7 lead out of the gates.

That all changed late in the first quarter, when the Wizards ripped off an extended 18-2 run behind a pair of Bradley Beal corner three-pointers over the outstretched arm of Steven Adams, who was switched out onto the shooting guard. While the jumpers got the Wizards going, the scoreboard continued to move due to 5-for-13 shooting on non-paint two’s, a host of second chance points and free throws, while the Thunder kept coughing up the ball in transition on errant pitch-ahead passes and then settling for outside shots. 

“We have to keep our turnovers down,” said Donovan, referencing the 15 the Thunder had tonight. “We have to be a team that tries to get more field goals up each game.”

“We’ve talked about (Russell Westbrook) advance passing and getting it up there. We want him to do that,” Donovan added. “A couple of those passes, to be honest with you, if they were probably a few more inches just a little bit further, they probably would have ended in some dunks.”

Once again, the numbers for the Thunder got completely flipped from its normal identity. Donovan’s club may have shot 40 percent from the three-point line on the night, but only attempted two fast break field goals in the entire first half. While a common refrain this season for the 25-14 Thunder is that the outside shooting has been lacking, a night like tonight is a perfect example of why, if the Thunder or any NBA team doesn’t do the fundamental things right, all the shooting in the world might not matter. 

Some brilliant scoring from Paul George in the second quarter kept the Thunder in this one, and the team even re-took the lead with a strong 8-0 burst right out of the halftime locker room. After that, however, that energy waned. In the second half, the problems from the first were exacerbated, with the Wizards snapping up 9 of its 28 missed shots, meaning the Thunder only grabbed 68 percent of available defensive rebounds over the final 24 minutes, when the nightly goal is 80 percent.

“We have to defensive rebound at above 80 percent every game,” Donovan said bluntly. “If we don’t defensive rebound above 80 percent and we don’t defend the three-point line well and we put teams to the free throw line, we can’t afford those things to happen.”

Washington used runs of 15-2 in the third and 14-2 to start the fourth quarter to stretch this one out to a 23-point advantage. The Thunder gave one last gasp go of it with a quick 8-0 run behind a Westbrook and-on layup, a Jerami Grant wing three-pointer and two Terrance Ferguson turnovers, but during that stretch the Wizards got three shots at the basket on the same possession, and then followed that up with back-to-back buckets from point guard Tomas Satoransky.

Coming off a West Coast road trip that capped a stretch of 12-of-17 games on the road and only a handful of off nights in Oklahoma City over the past month, weary legs may have been a major factor for the Thunder in this one. If it was, the Thunder refused to admit it, but did concede that over the course of an 82-game season that these types of performances are bound to happen.

“We’ve all gotta take responsibility,” said Donovan. “The reality is that the ball was thrown up at 6 o’clock and we had every opportunity to do the things that we’ve done for a long period of time this season defensively and offensively.”

“It’s a long year. We’re going to have games where we kind of have to readjust and come back and be ourselves. It’s just one of those nights,” added George.

"82 games. If you think you're going to play good every night, you got another thing coming," Westbrook said, knowingly. 

Highlights: Thunder vs. Wizards - 1/6/19