Thunder coach Scott Brooks insists this year's team is not living on last year's laurels. After reaching the 2012 NBA Finals, his players don't think they can get back there simply by putting everything on “cruise control.”
Brooks said he has seen no evidence of such behavior in practice.
“If we didn't practice the way we have, that definitely (resting on laurels) would have seeped in, because when you get comfortable in this league, that's when you're setting yourself up for a fall,” Brooks said.
That fall came Sunday night with a 104-95 setback before a sellout crowd (18,203) at Chesapeake Energy Arena against an overhauled Atlanta Hawks team that didn't even have its best player in forward Josh Smith, who stayed back home with a sprained right ankle.
The Thunder trailed 30-22 after the first quarter and got manhandled 57-44 after intermission. The only good news came in a 29-17 second quarter, which wasn't nearly good enough.
“We had a lot of breakdowns,” said three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant, who had 22 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, two blocked shots and six turnovers. “We can't start the game off in cruise mode. We've got to go take it. Teams aren't going to just let us feel our way into the game.
“We just sat back and let them do whatever they wanted and that gave them confidence toward the end of the game. We've got to be better to start the game off, to start the second half off.”
No telling what the score might have been had Smith played, or what it might have been had new OKC acquisition Kevin Martin not lit up the Hawks for 22 first-half points and 28 overall.
“That was a gutsy performance for our guys, coming here a little short-handed and depleted,” Atlanta coach Larry Drew said. “It was a total team effort. I mean we had everybody that really just contributed.”
Martin shot 8 for 11 from the field, 6 for 8 on 3-pointers and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line. Take away Martin and the Thunder shot just 41.7 percent from the field.
Adding to the OKC mess were 21 turnovers that the Hawks turned into 31 points, but it was at the other end of the floor where Brooks was most upset.
“Really it's not about our offense, even with our turnovers,” Brooks said. “We nearly gave up three quarters of 30 points and that's something that we pride ourselves on. We are a defensive team and 30, 29 and 28 is not good enough for us.”
The Hawks got 23 points and 12 rebounds from center Al Horford, point guard Jeff Teague had 16 points (7 for 12 from the field), five assists and three steals, plus Lou Williams added 19 points off the bench.
“On the defensive end, we've got to play harder,” Durant said.
The Thunder returns to practice Monday and hosts Toronto on Tuesday.
“We still have to figure some things out, and we will,” Brooks said. “We always seem to do that on the practice floor. We have some time. We've got a lot of games at home and a lot of games this month.
“We know there's a lot of work to be done. That area has not changed and they're not surprised by it. We still have a lot of work to get done. After three games, I don't know if we need a wake-up call ... we just lost the game.”