Can The Thunder Find Themselves In Time?
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
We all knew there would be rough patches, new coaches, new players, different roles and there were. That 7-6 start to the season was mostly attributed to all of the above.
But as All-Star Weekend approached the Thunder got on a big time roll, winning 16 of 18, and all appeared to be cool in ThunderLand.
Until it all went sideways.
Not just basketball...LIFE. And who knows, maybe all the personal tragedies this team has been through lately are the reasons for the lack of focus and silly mistakes on the basketball court.
It was hard enough to stay focused in on whatever game came next when Ingrid Williams died and Monty needed time away and then came another shock with Aubrey McClendon’s death and then Dion Waiters’ brother Demetrius Pinckney.
Assistant coach Mo Cheeks has been away for hip surgery, Dion’s not sure when he’ll be back and Monty has made the solid life decision to put basketball coaching on hold while trying to figure out how to raise his kids alone.
The players and coaches will tell you these things aren’t the reasons for the Thunder’s problems and maybe they aren’t but you can bet they’ve had an impact.
I don’t care how often Billy Donovan talks to his two lead assistants on the phone, not having them in practice (though Mo is beginning to be more involved there now) and especially not having them on the bench during games is a problem.
Since the All-Star break the Thunder have had issues across the board and up and down the court. Turnovers have been the biggest issue. OKC has committed 132 turnovers in their eight losses since the break while their opponents have turned it over just 83 times.
With Saturday night’s loss in San Antonio the Thunder have dropped 12 games where they held the lead going into the fourth quarter. That is a shocking number for a team that’s capable of contending for a championship.
Against the Spurs turnovers became an issue in the fourth quarter and so did bad decisions and poor shooting. The Thunder normally high-powered offense has sputtered the last two games scoring just 96 points against Minnesota (the third worst defense in the NBA) and 85 against the Spurs (the best defense).
OKC’s 3-point shooting, which has been decent most of the season has been in dramatic decline and over the last five games the Thunder are shooting just 24.6 percent (28-for-114) and if you narrow that down to bench players to numbers fall off a cliff (4-for-42, 9.5%).
In San Antonio the story was much the same with the Thunder missing 16 of their 18 threes and shooting only 38 percent overall. The OKC defense was actually pretty good, even great at times against the Spurs allowing San Antonio to go 4-for-24 from beyond the arc.
One of those threes was probably the turning point in the game though. Danny Green, who’d gone 0-for-9 on the night, was left alone by Russell Westbrook when Russ attempted to steal the ball from LaMarcus Aldridge but Aldridge saw Westbrook coming and made a quick pass to the wide open Green who knocked down the shot.
“My fault,” Westbrook said after the game.
That shot broke a tie giving the Spurs a lead they would not give back.
“Just gotta make better decisions, Westbrook admitted, “and that starts with me.”
But it certainly doesn’t end there. Everyone, players, coaches, management, they’ve all made curious decisions as the season has gone along.
And now time for a correction is running out and the Thunder seem to be losing ground not gaining, dropping more games in three weeks than the Warriors have all season or the Spurs have since the beginning of December.
Now even Westbrook, who has never admitted concern before, is.
“Should be (concern) we gotta find a way to get wins,” he said. “4-8 is unacceptable for our team we gotta find a way to get it together.”
The schedule, which did them a lot of favors earlier, is doing them none now. The Portland Trail Blazers who are making a run toward fifth place in the conference standings will be here Monday night then the Thunder have games coming up at Boston and Indiana.
And with just 16 of the regular season’s 82 games left to play, there’s not much time left to find answers to questions that have lingered since training camp.