Barney Fife, that great American bastion of wisdom, had it right more than half a century ago.
“Nip it in the bud!” he told Andy. “You got to nip it in the bud! … Nip it! You go read any book you want on the subject of child discipline, and you’ll find that every one of ‘em is in favor of bud-nippin’… Only one way to take care of it.”
Andy: “Nip it.”
Barney: “In the bud.”
Time for Scotty Brooks to channel his inner Mayberry, and I don’t mean Darnell. Time to nip this Thunder slump in the bud. Time to jolt the Thunder out of the 5-5 malaise of February. Time to get the Thunder to start playing defense and taking care of the ball. Time to make the Thunder remember that games aren’t so much won as possessions are won.
Now, I’m a lot like Barney Fife. I can talk a good bud-nipping. I’m not sure I’m any good at explaining exactly how to do that.
The Thunder lost to Cleveland 114-104 Wednesday night to extend OKC’s losing streak to three games and drop its February record to 5-5, immediately on the heels of a 10-game winning streak.
If you’re an optimist, a 15-5 record over the last 20 games is excellent. But a pessimist would point out that before the 10-game winning streak, the Thunder went 3-5. So that’s 18-10 over 28 games, which is good but not great for a team of the Thunder’s caliber.
And with the Thunder’s first three-game home losing streak since the dismal days of 2008-09, it’s time to make sure this 5-5 slump doesn’t become a 10-10 slump. It’s time to nip it in the bud.
That falls on Foreman Scotty. Kevin Durant said it’s a player problem, not a coach problem, but Durant is wrong. This is in the wheelhouse of Brooks’ job description. Snapping the team out of doldrums is part of Brooks’ coaching responsibility.
I don’t think it’s strategic. I’ve seen no glaring errors in how the Thunder has tried to play.
I don’t think it’s rotational. Brooks isn’t screwing up the minutes. Anytime the Thunder has a defensive lapse, the first place I look is Thabo Sefolosha’s minutes, but Brooks was desperate enough Wednesday night to play Thabo for 30:17, which ranks among his 15 busiest games of the year.
I don’t think it’s communication. In pregame, Brooks stressed energy and defense. Even Durant talked about how much he looked forward to this game after having to wait more than 72 hours since the Clipper debacle.
But whatever the problem, it’s Brooks’ job to snap out the Thunder.
“We don’t feel good right now,” Brooks said. “Sometimes that’s good. No one in our locker room, including myself, feels good about it. We know we can do better … we gotta get better on the defensive end. Not something we can continue to play defensively, like this. In an NBA season, you’re going to have some ups and downs. We just gotta stay together with what we do. Our guys have always done that.”
Slumps like this happen. As I blogged about the other day, the Thunder has had similar stretches over the last five years. But those 5-4 or 4-5 or 5-5 periods haven’t lingered. It’s time to stop this one.
“There’s no question, you’re going to have some games and some moments you wish you did not have,” Brooks said. “That’s not an excuse. You have a job to do.”
I like what Derek Fisher said. In a takeoff of the old win-as-a-team-lose-as-a-team mantra, Fisher said you go into a slump as a team and you break out of a slump as a team.
Thabo called it “sticking together … finding out a few details, a little (defensive) rotation here and there.”
Compounding the situation is the change in personnel. This slump began with Russell Westbrook sidelined. It’s continued with Westbrook’s return and Kendrick Perkins’ absence.
Thabo said it’s not a personnel issue. “We’ve just got to realize, when a guy scores, it’s not a one-on-one matchup,” Sefolosha said. “He’s scoring against the team. We gotta take care of the basket and take care of the paint and take care of our man and be prideful about it and stick together.”
Nick Collison pointed out that it’s really about each possession. You win games by winning possessions. You can’t score six points on a possession. One great stop does not a defense make.
“We need to be engaged every time we try to defend a possession, and we’re just not doing that for long enough stretches,” Collison said. “We’ve got to continue to work at it. Come in with the right frame of mind, and that’s how we turn it around. We haven’t played well enough to win in three games. We have to change it. We have to look at it more like, we have to be ready in the first possession, second possession, and that’s how we turn it around.
“It’s the mentality and focus. We haven’t had it for long enough stretches. We’ll have it on some possessions. Some possessions, four guys will have it, one won’t. It’ll be a breakdown. Sometimes three guys have it, two don’t. That’s just the human element of a season. Gotta try to bring it back, get everybody in the right mindset. Get everybody really engaged to start the game and be able to maintain it through 48 minutes. That’s the only way to really turn it around and be consistent.”
Collison is right. Defense is mostly about mental toughness. Having big, quick, smart people is mandatory, too. But that’s not enough. You’ve got to pick up your hard hat and lunch pail every single trip downcourt. You can take possessions off offensively, and someone like Durant or Westbrook still can score. But you can’t take off a defensive possession, else the opponent will make you pay.
“We’ve got enough people that have been here long enough, that we’ve been through stretches like this before,” Collison said. “Every team, every season usually has a stretch like this, where they don’t play well. Our job is to pull out of it as quickly as we can.”
Yes. And that’s Foreman Scotty’s job, too. To pull his team out of this slump. To nip it in the bud.