Thunder opponents over that stretch have shot 44.9 percent on contested shots but 49.8 percent on uncontested shots.
A deadly mix of poor ball containment and insufficient effort has allowed teams to generate open shots. Right now, the Thunder is struggling mightily to prevent dribble penetration, which breaks down the team’s entire defense. Opposing guards are slithering into the paint at ease and either finishing once there or kicking out to open shooters. Even when the Thunder successfully keeps the ball out front by trapping the ball-handler in the pick and roll, for example, opponents are now firing passes quicker and forcing the Thunder to scramble out to shooters.
“We just got to figure out how to be better on how we make the second and third efforts,” said Kevin Durant. “Trap the ball, contesting shots and getting back in the paint. It’s difficult, but we can do it.”
The Thunder’s chief defensive philosophy is a sound one – form a shell around the painted area and force opponents to shoot contested shots from outside. But OKC is only succeeding at the first part of that. The Thunder has clogged the paint but hasn’t closed out on shooters.
Most of the Thunder’s last seven games illustrate that.
Sixteen of LeBron James’ 22 field-goals attempts were uncontested
Twelve of Matt Barnes’ 14 field-goal attempts were uncontested.
Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack combined to get 20 of 33 uncontested shots.
Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Mike Miller and Tayshaun Prince combined to get 28 of 35 uncontested shots.
Fourteen of James Anderson’s 16 field-goal attempts were uncontested.
Thirteen of Gerald Green’s 22 field-goal tries were uncontested.
Some uncontested shots are by design. No team can take away everything, and defenses are forced to be selective.
The Thunder, for instance, allowed Charlotte forward Anthony Tolliver to shoot all 12 of his field-goal attempts without a contest. It was a strategy that allowed OKC to focus more on stopping Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson. The numbers show the Thunder tried to do the same against the Suns. Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker combined to take nine of their 10 shots without a contest while the Thunder worried more about Green, Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye.
But the Suns got hot and the game plan backfired.
It’s been the story for the Thunder since the break.
“We just got to get better,” Brooks said. “We just got to get better playing that end of the ball.”
Thunder at Lakers
•When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
•Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
•TV: KOCO-5 (Cox 8/HD 705; Dish 5; DirecTV 5; U-verse 5/HD 1005)
•Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1/AM 640