The Thunder lost 122-115 at Phoenix on Sunday despite 38 points from Kevin Durant and 33 from Russell Westbrook. The truth is, the scoring from Durant and/or Westbrook is largely irrelevant to Thunder success. Defense is what matters in OKC these days. And the Thunder’s not playing defense.
The Suns on Sunday night, when the Thunder didn’t stay in front of Goran Dragic and didn’t get out on Gerald Green or P.J. Tucker at the 3-point line.
A 111-107 loss to the Rockets on Friday night, when the Thunder didn’t stay in front of James Harden.
A 128-119 overtime loss at Dallas on March 25. A 109-86 loss to Dallas on March 16. A 128-122 loss at Phoenix on March 6. A 125-117 loss to the Clippers on Feb. 23.
The Thunder’s had some good defensive games, but there have been few solid defensive performances against quality competition since the all-star break. The 106-94 victory over the Spurs last week is a notable exception.
Kendrick Perkins’ return against the Spurs seemed to help, but he sat out against Houston and wasn’t much help against Phoenix.
Maybe Thabo Sefolosha’s return will make a difference. Thabo at least gets in front of, and stays in front of, dribblers, which Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson haven’t been doing, and Derek Fisher didn’t do Sunday night.
Without a renewed defensive intensity, the Thunder’s playoff run will not be long, at least by OKC’s high standards. The Thunder might survive the first round with mediocre defense, but no way does it survive the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Find its defensive identity again, and the Thunder is the West favorite. Keep playing defense like it has for two months, and the Spurs and Clippers become the West favorites.
By the way, this was the ninth time in Thunder history that Westbrook and Durant each scored at least 30 points in a defeat:
March 6 at Phoenix: Westbrook 36, Durant 34
April 6 at Phoenix: Westbrook 33, Durant 38
Dec. 20 at Minnesota: Westbrook 30, Durant 33
Jan. 20 at Denver: Westbrook 36, Durant 37
Jan. 18 at Washington: Westbrook 36, Durant 33
Jan. 30 at Clippers: Durant 36, Westbrook 31
April 25 Denver: Durant 32, Westbrook 30
Feb. 1 at Sacramento: Westbrook 34, Durant 33
Feb. 21 at Golden State: Westbrook 31, Durant 32