The consistently quirky Steven Adams — who deadpanned that he ‘cried himself to sleep’ after Game 1 — accurately summed up all that ailed the Thunder in an ugly series-opening loss to the Clippers.
“Just defense itself,” Adams said. “From communication to being engaged to locking up your own man. Pretty much just defense in general.”
Chris Paul’s Reggie Miller impersonation burned the Thunder. Certain schematic tendencies left them out to dry. But of all the Thunder’s issues on Monday night, everything stemmed back to an all-too-familiar area of concern over the past few months — a severe lack of defensive effort and focus.
It’s a franchise that has long preached defense first, calling it the team’s backbone and constantly alluding to it as an ingrained identity. But since the All-Star Break, the Thunder has been inconsistent on that end, giving up a ton of 30-point quarters and, including Monday night, 10 110-point games and five 120-point outings. The Clippers scored 69 points in the first half of Game 1, the most the Thunder franchise has ever given up in a postseason half.
Backs against the wall, OKC comes out swinging, mixing up that rare length, athleticism and competitiveness into a terrifying concoction of defensive force. It’s a turbo on-switch that few are capable of reaching.
But if it’s not a must-win, pride-on-the-line type atmosphere, the energy and attention has sometimes waned.
“Not that surprised,” an unworried Russell Westbrook said at practice on Tuesday. “Sometimes you have a game like that. You just got to be ready to bounce back.”
But that “sometimes” has been far too often for the Thunder lately. OKC flirted with danger in the Memphis series, but showed enough will and talent to escape.
Against the Clippers, though, that’s a potentially deadly strategy. OKC already spotted them one win. Another on Wednesday night and this one could feel over before it even hits Hollywood.