Following Wednesday night’s 98-94 loss to Denver, Thunder coach Scott Brooks climbed to the customary seat atop the podium inside his postgame press conference, stared down on a group of reporters and declared, "Our defense is back.”
A reporter responded, "What makes you so certain?”
The best the coach could offer was, "I’m just judging by the game tonight.”
Brooks’ comeback characterized the Thunder’s potential crisis. A once staunch defensive squad is now mired in a free fall so fierce that no one is quite sure what to expect from one game to the next. Not long ago, Brooks knew that, no matter what, his team’s defense would show up.
Now, the Thunder has been reduced to an out-of-sync outfit relying on outscoring opponents. Over the past 20 games, the Thunder has given up 102.5 points on 48 percent shooting. It’s a dive that couldn’t have come at a worse time. Oklahoma City has just four regular-season games remaining before the start of its first playoff series.
And in the postseason, any seasoned NBA veteran will tell you, the game slows down and the defensive intensity steps up.
"We’ll get it back,” Brooks assured. "We’ll focus on it.”
Wednesday’s effort was a good start.
Oklahoma City held the high-powered Nuggets to 40.2 percent shooting. It was the first time in seven games the Thunder held an opponent under a 45-percent clip from the field.
But with the two highest scoring teams on tap next — Phoenix tonight and Golden State on Sunday — OKC doesn’t exactly have the best opportunity to fix what’s broken.
"Defense is mostly something that, when you really want to do it, most of the time you can do it,” Thabo Sefolosha said. "We’ve been slipping a little bit, thinking the season was kind of over.