Thunder Rumblings

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Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday's loss to the Clippers

by Darnell Mayberry Published: February 23, 2014

Can’t all Sunday games be at noon…

  • Maybe there weren’t enough “De-Fense” chants today. Maybe that piped-in chant wasn’t pumping through the PA system loud enough. Because the Thunder sure didn’t get the memo, and ultimately OKC played one of its worst defensive games of the year, allowing an opponent season-high 125 points to the Clippers on Sunday afternoon.
  • Five Clippers had at least 18 points. All of them were starters. The Clippers bench accounted for only nine points. Darren Collison had seven of those. In other words, in a game of 9-on-5, the Thunder, the team with the nine, the team playing on its home court, lost.
  • “I think it’s obvious we have to get back to playing defensive basketball,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks following his team’s second straight defensive dud, which resulted in the second straight home loss. “We are a very good defensive team, but we didn’t play like that tonight. We gave up 44 points in a quarter. That’s usually, at times, a half.”
  • That’s right. The Clippers scored 44 points in the second quarter, which I shouldn’t have to tell you is an opponent high for any period this season. L.A. made 16 of 21 shots, raced to 13 fast-break points, rode Jamal Crawford for 15 points in the period and out-shot the Thunder, 16-3, from the foul line.
  • Clippers coach Doc Rivers: “They’re an excellent defensive team, and the way we scored against this team is really impressive for us. I don’t think we had a quarter under 26 points.”
  • They didn’t.
  • A part of that second-quarter free throw discrepancy was Scott Brooks choosing to employ the intentional foul strategy against DeAndre Jordan. It worked, but was it the right call? The Thunder was ahead by four (52-48) midway through the second when the Thunder went to the strategy. Jordan missed three of his first four, and the Thunder scored after each of his first two trips to the line. So OKC gained three points, bumping its lead to seven. Again, in that stretch, it worked. After the Clippers scored on the next two trips (one coming off an offensive rebound), the Thunder went back to the strategy. This time, Jordan again split the pair. Here’s where you could argue whether the move really worked.
  • After the final intentional foul on Jordan, the Clippers went on to outscore the Thunder 18-10 to end the second period. So the purpose of the strategy — slowing the Clippers offense down — didn’t really work. A four-point Clippers deficit before the foul game began turned into six-point Clippers lead at halftime. So, right call? Depends on your viewpoint.
  • Again, I think the decision worked out in the immediate. You can’t argue with the initial three points the Thunder gained. But there were two real issues I had with hacking Jordan. The first was Russell Westbrook delivered both fouls. You don’t do that with your star player. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t considered an issue since Westbrook’s on a 26-minute restriction. But you never know how things will play out. For instance, Westbrook picked up his third foul with 1:52 left in the second quarter, 3 minutes, 5 seconds after initiating the Hack-A-Jordan strategy. It forced Westbrook to sit the final two minutes and watch a two-point lead turn into that six-point deficit.
  • The second issue I had was the timing of the move. Why on earth would you do that in the second quarter? If you can’t stop them at that juncture, score with them, which the Thunder, especially on this day, was more than capable of doing.
  • But my biggest beef with pulling that move midway through the second quarter is the message it sends to your team and your opponent. It sounds an alarm for everyone to hear, and everyone knows what that alarm means: “we can’t stop you.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Thunder players said it deflated them, while Clippers players claim it boosted their confidence. Because that sure is the way it looked. Even though the Thunder struggled to stop the Clippers before going to that strategy, things didn’t change for the better afterward, and they might have gotten worse. Before the decision, the Clippers went 8-for-11 with six free throws and two turnovers in the first seven minutes. After the call was made, the Clippers went 8-for-10 with four free throws and zero turnovers in the final five minutes. They scored 20 points in the first seven minutes and poured in 24 in the final five minutes.
  • Here’s Brooks’ explanation for going to the move: “It’s a strategy you can use against Jordan. His free throw shooting is not one of his strengths. Sometimes you can break the rhythm of the team. I thought it helped us during that moment.”
  • But here’s perhaps the most interesting thing about it. Brooks did it midway through the second quarter when the Thunder was ahead but refrained from doing so in the fourth, when OKC was putting the finishing touches on a 15-point comeback and wrestling away momentum. About that, Brooks said “I felt that our defense and our rhythm of the game was going our direction. So there are times when you have to go with how you feel. We tied the game up and we took the three-point so at that time it was not necessary to give them an opportunity to make a free throw.”
  • The intentional foul strategy has always been and will always be a topic of discussion and sometimes great debate. And much of that is because it’s such an obvious entertainment killer that you can’t help but feel strongly about it.
  • The Thunder’s transition defense was awful tonight. It started early, much like the Miami game, but thankfully improved late. The Clippers had 14 transition points in the first period and 13 in the second. They finished with 34.
  • “We were getting beat,” Brooks said. “Too many transition points early gave them a comfort zone. And when you have a comfort zone it’s tough to shut the team down.”
  • Thabo Sefolosha had a pretty cryptic message when asked what the biggest issue beyond the defense has been in these last two games. “If you don’t have nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all,” he said. “So I’m not going to say anything. We believe in one another and we got to keep playing the way we know how to play. And we’re going to be back on the winning track soon.”
  • Just before answering that question, Sefolosha stressed the importance of the Thunder “being on the same page and communicating a little bit more.”
  • Matt Barnes scored 24 points. Matt Barnes. The same Matt Barnes who was 0-for-5 in his eight minutes before finally doing something right and getting himself and Serge Ibaka kicked out in the first meeting. Six of Barnes’ eight field goals were 3s.
  • Not often Kevin Durant scores 42 points with 10 assists and loses.
  • If you or anyone you know thinks the last two games have killed Durant’s chances at MVP, go watch another sport.
  • I thought Steven Adams, starting in place of Kendrick Perkins, rebounded extremely well to start the game. He had four boards in, like, the first five minutes. But he played just 16 minutes as both teams started playing small.
  • I thought Perk looked like one of the Five Heartbeats in his orange suit. Now, “I got nothing but love for you baby” will be in my head all night. Thanks a lot, Perk.
  • Westbrook on Adams: “He did a good job. Steve’s got to play with confidence, play hard and play his role. He’s a rookie…He’s gotten thrown into the fire now. He’s just got to be ready to play. It takes time. I mean, I’m still learning my position as I get older and older. So it’s going to take time for him as well.”
  • Westbrook clearly still rusty and probably will be for a while. He scored 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting but added five rebounds and six assists against three turnovers. Most shocking to me is his jumper isn’t nearly at the level it was before this latest surgery. That part alone isn’t shocking. The level at which it has dropped is, because when he returned the first time, his jumper was still wet while his finishing ability at the rim was what troubled him. Through two games, it’s almost the opposite.
  • That last Portland game feels like a long time ago when I think about Jeremy Lamb.
  • Chris Paul sprained his right thumb on Friday at Memphis. He was clearly protecting it in all that he did today…and he still finished with 18-8-12 and one turnover in 39 minutes.
  • Derek Fisher played some great defense on Paul and Crawford late. He bodied up against Paul (which everyone outside of Oklahoma probably considered something called “fouling”) and he ripped Crawford real good once. I think I heard Brooks say to himself after one of Fisher’s defensive possessions on Paul “That’s how you play defense.”
  • Fish also is still scorching from 3-point range. It’s just incredible what he’s doing shooting the ball right now, especially since he’s taking a ton of bad shots. I mean, dude is jacking. Early in the clock, late, on isolations, off the dribble, off offensive rebounds, off ball screens, from way downtown, it doesn’t matter. He’s letting it fly. He made his first five 3s tonight before missing his final two.
  • The best thing about Fish’s irrational confidence? No more toes on the line.
  • Fish explains: “I think we started playing better as a team during a lot of the first part of this (New Year). I think offensively we started finding the right way to play, and I think it made the game easier for a lot of us. And unfortunately, Russell went out at Christmas and so there are more minutes, more opportunities. Basketball a lot of times is a rhythm game. Sometimes, the more you’re out there the more you get a chance to get into the flow of the game and shot-making becomes a little bit easier than playing five or six minutes and then you’re coming out and not getting a lot of opportunities. I think a combination of those things. My teammates have trusted me in those situations, and I like rewarding my team when I get an opportunity.”
  • On a serious note, some of Fisher’s 3-point makes are what makes me even more concerned about this team’s 3-point shooting. I think anybody expecting him to continue to hit shots at the rate he’s hitting them, especially the way he’s hitting them, is in for a rude awakening at some point. No way is what he’s doing, and again, the way he’s doing it, sustainable. I may be wrong. But I doubt it.
  • Durant broke out the sky hook tonight, and, boy, was it a thing of beauty. DeAndre Jordan didn’t know what hit him.
  • Jared Dudley kill anybody else’s fantasy squad? No? Maybe it’s just me.
  • Know the lady who screams “Come on Russsssssellll” during Westbrook’s free throws? I spoke with her during the game today. Sweet lady named Susan. Jenni Carlson will have a story on her for Wednesday’s paper. Be on the lookout for that.
  • I’d like for you to read my conversation with Ralph Lawler, the longtime Clippers play-by-play man.
  • I also spoke with Westbrook, Durant and Fisher after the game about Jason Collins today becoming the first openly gay athlete in the four major North American team sports. If you’re interested, you can read my story here.
  • Up next: Cleveland on Wednesday.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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