During its first three years of the existence, the Thunder perpetually remained hospitable by leaving the door open.
To gain true respect in the NBA, a team must be able to close out opponents by slamming the door shut. Staying open 24/7 only invites heartache.
In Game 6 of a first-round playoff series against the eventual world champion Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, the Thunder led 94-93 with 2:11 remaining. OKC left the door open with five straight misses and wound up being eliminated 95-94 on a Pau Gasol putback with 0.5 seconds left.
In Game 4 against the eventual world champion Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference Finals, the Thunder led by 15 points at home with 5:06 left in the game, was outscored 17-2 the remainder of regulation and wound up losing 112-105 in overtime.
In Game 5 of the Western Finals at Dallas, OKC led by seven points with 5:49 left, again failed to close and was outscored 17-6 the rest of the way to be eliminated in the best-of-seven series.
But as the expedited 2011-12 season blows past the halfway point, the Thunder (30-8) boasts the best record in the Western Conference because it consistently has been slamming doors in opponents' faces.
In its previous seven victories heading into Monday night's contest against the Mavs, Thunder opponents had shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.
“I like it. Thirty seven is my favorite number,” OKC coach Scott Brooks deadpanned.
Dallas managed to shoot 42.9 percent in the final period Monday, but was shut out for the final 2:46 while the Thunder rolled off eight unanswered points for a 95-91 victory.
“We were playing against one of the best passing teams and veteran teams that knows how to play,” Brooks said. “I thought our defense was outstanding.”
When Phoenix (17-20) visits Chesapeake Energy Arena at 7 Wednesday night, OKC will be looking to boost its home record to 17-1 on the season with its 14th straight victory in the refurbished facility.
How consistently the Thunder is able to close out games remains to be seen, but this season has brought a defiant attitude from a once congenial group.
“It's a great thing to be able to raise your level of intensity down the stretch of games and be able to make enough shots to win,” OKC veteran forward Nick Collison said Tuesday. “It seems like we always find a way to pull it out.”
The Thunder is reaping the rewards of acquiring scowling Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins at last season's trade deadline (Feb. 24, 2011).
Perkins dropped 32 pounds and fully rehabbed two ailing knees during the offseason. He seems healthy and (mostly) happy, which can be a wicked combination from OKC's minister of defense.
Perkins admitted he was pleased with how the Thunder closed out Monday's game against Dallas, but wants to see similar execution far more frequently and much earlier in the game.
“You know what, that was good for us, but at the same time we need to start the game like that,” Perkins said. “We need to play 48 minutes of consistent defense. I don't ever care about the offensive end for us because we're going to always score the ball, but defensively we need to do a better job of playing 48 minutes.”
Perkins isn't alone in his thoughts. Teammates and coaches feel the same.
“I'd love to see a game where we can really put in a dominant defensive performance start to finish and get more games like that to where that's more of our habit and we're not always having to rely on the fourth quarter and making great plays down the stretch,” Collison said. “It's great that we've been able to do that, but our overall level of play needs to be higher going into the playoffs.”
Brooks said: “In the fourth quarter, it's always about getting stops. Every coach preaches that, but it's great that we do it and we're pretty consistent with it.”
Thunder vs. Suns
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* The Thunder defeated the Suns, 107-97, on Dec. 31 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder led by as many as 24 points and never trailed in that game. No starter played in the fourth quarter.
* The Thunder has won 13 straight home games and is 16-1 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. This is the second game in a string of five straight at home.
* Russell Westbrook has committed only five turnovers in the past three games.