Thunder Need To Get It Right This Time

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Who knows what really happened in Game 2, whether it was just one of those off shooting nights or whether the Thunder didn’t have their full attention on the Mavericks after having blown them out in Game 1.

Maybe Charlie Villanueva got into Russell Westbrook’s head when Villanueva disrupted the pregame dance routine between Westbrook and Cam Payne.

Or perhaps most likely it was just the Thunder’s consistent inconsistencies rearing their ugly heads again.

The Thunder at times have looked like an unbeatable team, so great that not even Steph Curry and the Warriors could do them in and at other times they’ve appeared so mistake-prone and clueless you wonder how in the world they could ever win another game.

Their fourth quarter troubles have been well documented, so has an offense that seems to stagnate late in close games and turnovers that seem to come in unwelcome batches at the least opportune times.

Whatever it is, it is time to figure it out or the Thunder will have the rest of spring and summer to do so.

If you ask Westbrook it’s as simple as playing harder.

“Our effort,” he answered after Wednesday's practice session when asked about what needed to be better in Game 3. “We can control that come out with a great intensity on both sides of the ball. If we play hard we can control that for sure.”

Kevin Durant said this week he has to take better care of the ball, his seven turnovers in Game 2 were probably more hurtful to the Thunder cause than his shots not falling.

And Billy Donovan as talked a lot about how this team seems to need adversity to get it’s mind right.

“I think there’s an opportunity every single day to grow and get better and improve. I really think in these playoffs we can improve and get better as a team and that’s what we have to try and figure out, how do we get better.”

Donovan has preached focus on both ends of the floor since training camp. The Thunder have played with an intense focus enough times to make you think they could be the best team in the league and they’ve played without it enough to make you know they aren’t.

Losing focus at times during the long regular season can be forgiven, it’s understandable that you might not be as focused to play the 76ers on a Tuesday night inside a half-full arena on the road than you would be to play the Warriors at home in a Saturday primetime game in front of some jacked up screaming fans.

But in the playoffs? Focus should be a given, just like effort. There’s too much at stake not to bring your “A” game.

The Thunder did in Game 1 and destroyed the Mavericks, they didn’t in Game 2 and lost.

The biggest difference in the games seemed to be the hustle and determination on the defensive end. It was almost maniacal in the first time and just so-so in the second.

By the time the infamous fourth quarter rolled around everything cratered, even fewer shots fell than had earlier in the game and all of a sudden, the defense which had been pretty solid, gave up points on eight of Dallas' last 13 possessions.

Westbrook admitted the effort needed to be better, which is strange coming from him because on offense he tends to be like the old cartoon character Tazmanian Devil, running around all over the place and doing super human things only cartoons can do.

But on defense he has at times been known to ease off the gas and be late getting back in transition or not fight hard enough to get over screens. He did exactly that a few times when defending(?) Raymond Felton Monday night and Felton made him pay.

Sure you can say if a shot here or there on the offensive end would have gone in the Thunder would be up 2-0 and I’m probably not writing what I’m writing but Donovan has also said many times that winning games can disguise and cover up problems. Losing games shines a light. Losing playoff games to inferior teams shines a bright, intense spotlight.

“Right now as a basketball team we’ve gotta focus on the areas that we did not do very well,” Donovan stressed, “and we need to focus on the areas we need to improve on and we need to play at a higher level right now.”


Randy RennerComment