Have The Thunder Flipped The Switch?
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
After stumbling to an abysmal 4-8 record coming out of the All-Star break and sparking all kinds of questions about what’s wrong with the team all of a sudden there appears to be nothing wrong.
Granted it’s only two games but both were against playoff teams and both were Thunder blowouts, one at home and one on the road.
Both featured solid defense, spectacular offense and very few turnovers.
In other words everything that had been going wrong all of a sudden was going right again.
"I think this team is growing and learning and getting better," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after OKC’s 130-109 blasting of Boston.
"We just need to keep moving. The biggest thing is now I think this time of year is you don't want to do is go backwards. And I think the biggest thing in how you go backwards is the mental part of not coming ready to play. That's how you take steps backwards in my opinion."
Until Monday night the Thunder weren’t just taking steps backwards they were taking strides. They seemed to have lost their focus. Donovan began hinting a few days ago that his team’s overall play had been getting better lately, it just wasn’t always translating into wins.
Monday night that changed and Wednesday night the Thunder showed the consistency that had been eluding them.
"We just have to ride this wave now and see where it takes us," said Kevin Durant after posting his 53rd straight game of at least 20 points. He led the Thunder with 28 while also handing out nine assists and grabbing seven rebounds.
Russell Westbrook also had a big night with 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting overall and he splashed four 3s breaking out of a shooting slump from deep. Backup center Enes Kanter kept up his charge toward a possible Sixth Man of the Year Award by scoring 17 points and pulling down a dozen rebounds.
The Thunder shot 49 percent overall while holding Boston to 43 percent.
"We have confidence in each other defensively," Durant said "We have to stay with each other. Offensively, the first and second units are doing a great job of finding each other and making the game simple."
The game is simple when you can hit your shots and when you take good care of the basketball. The Thunder did both hitting 12 threes while turning the ball over just 10 times. And the bench has been outstanding these last two games, showing more of the promise of earlier in the season when many were calling OKC’s reserves the best group the team has had since moving from Seattle.
The game wasn’t without a shaky moment or two, the Celtics made a run in the third quarter cutting a 20-point Thunder lead down to 13 and then 10. But a Donovan timeout steadied the ship.
"Coming out of the timeout, I was like, 'Hey listen, we've got to take care of the basketball, we've got to run offense and the third thing is we've got to play really good defense and rebound and not allow second shots,'" Donovan said. "If you do those things, that generally stops runs. And I think some of the previous games where teams have made big runs on us, it's been because of those things."
n those previous games the Thunder contributed to opponents’ runs by making silly mistakes, unforced turnovers, wild shots early in a possession, failing to get back on defense.
Wednesday night in Boston and before that on Monday night in Oklahoma City they kept their cool and their focus and that allowed them to keep the leads they might have otherwise given up.
So a couple of solid signs the Thunder may have flipped that switch we’ve all been wondering about.
The road trip continues in Philadelphia on Friday night where the 76ers have won just nine games all season and then finishes the next night in Indianapolis against a Pacers team the Thunder should have been beaten a couple weeks ago in Oklahoma City.
Keep what we’ve seen these last two games going and the Thunder may get some momentum rolling toward the playoffs which begin in less than a month.