By Randy Renner
The Oklahoma City Thunder are all saying the right things, of course they always do. The problems sometimes crop up when you don't practice what you've been preaching.
Defense let the Thunder down on Monday and players and coaches knew that could be a problem Monday night and they worked and worked on solutions. Players knew what had to be done and just couldn't get the job done.
Except of course for seven minutes in the third quarter when everything seemed to start clicking and the Thunder got themselves right back into the game.
“We saw a little stretch where we played better,” said forward Nick Collison, who started Game 1 in place of injured forward Serge Ibaka. “So that needs to be our new normal, and that needs to be how we play for the majority of the game.”
Kevin Durant agreed with his teammate.
"That was our best stretch right there, but we only played seven or eight minutes of good basketball last game. We scrambled around good on the defensive end, we moved the ball on offense and we attacked them."
And the Thunder dug themselves out of a hole and actually took a one point lead with five minutes showing on the game clock left in that third quarter.
For the only time Monday night the Spurs struggled to do much of anything, going just 3-for-12 from the field and turning it over three times. That helped fuel a 17-5 Thunder run.
“I think what we did in the third quarter is what we have to do throughout the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We can’t let them feel comfortable. I thought the majority of that game they were feeling comfortable.”
And the Spurs got comfortable again before the third quarter ended going on a 12-4 run to close the quarter and close the door on any Thunder hopes of pulling the upset.
Still, those seven minutes in the third quarter showed the Thunder they could slow the Spurs down, even in the paint. San Antonio hit just 1-of-7 shots from inside 10 feet during that stretch.
Durant and his teammates think they can build on that.
"The hard thing is to be positive in the tough times but being positive is what we always preach," he told a throng of reporters. "We know we have to be better in certain areas of the game but we also know that we can improve and it's early in the series so staying positive is important for us and for me as a leader I have to always be encouraging to my guys."
In the first seven minutes of the game the Thunder struggled to contain the Spurs and seemed lost at times both on offense and defense, trying to cope with the loss of Ibaka who'd only missed three games in the last four years.
But in the first seven minutes of the second half, everything turned around.
“It was like night and day watching the first quarter and watching the third quarter,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins after a session in front of what he likes to call, 'the truth box,' that's the monitor the team uses to watch game tape.
Still, knowing what's need to be done, seeing that it could be done for those seven minutes doesn't necessarily mean it can happen for 48 minutes, especially when Brooks is having to experiment with his lineups.
After Game 1 Brooks told reporters he would have to, "find lineups that work." And not just for seven minutes at a time.
“I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job,” Brooks said. “No matter who we put on the floor, they have to be able to compete against this team. They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time. You don’t have a possession off. Not one. We can’t hide anybody.”
Except maybe on the bench. Perry Jones didn't come out of hiding until the last couple minutes on Monday night. There's been a growing clamor for Brooks to use the 6-11 forward from Baylor more, maybe much more tonight.
When asked about Jones during yesterday's media session after practiced Brooks used a line he's used many times before when asked about a player not playing.
“There’s only 240 minutes” Brooks said of the playing time available in every NBA game. “You can’t play everybody. It’s not a league that everybody gets an opportunity.”
I understand that during most of the season, but now with Ibaka out and the Thunder looking for someone who maybe provide some at least a threat to alter a shot down low but who can also provide a threat to hit a shot from mid-range or from the perimeter, it would seem that Jones fits the bill.
But obviously his head coach didn't agree, at least with what presented itself on Monday.
No matter who plays the Thunder have to find a way to stretch seven outstanding minutes of basketball from Monday into quite a bit more than that tonight.