In the first 41 games, we saw players barrel down the lane for easy buckets, bomb 3-pointers in bunches and beat defenders backdoor for a barrage of alley-oops.
But those players weren't wearing Oklahoma City Thunder uniforms.
Those plays, made by the Thunder's opponents, defined how leaks and letdowns in the defense marred the first half of the Thunder's season.
A high-octane offense overshadowed many of those deficiencies and keyed victories. But even though the Thunder's record stands at a crisp 27-14, the team's winning formula at the halfway point has created a cumbersome identity crisis.
The team is winning in a way it doesn't want to.
The Thunder wants to win with defense. It has gotten by because of offense.
Only 12 of the Thunder's 27 wins have come by way of holding teams to less than 100 points. In fairness, three other victories extended to at least one overtime period. But the Thunder will start the second half of the year at Denver tonight ranked in the bottom third in points allowed, opponent field-goal percentage and opponent 3-point percentage.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he is pleased with his team's progress but also understands there is a difference between record and level of play.
“I look at both,” Brooks said. “But I like where we are right now. From the start of training camp, the effort and the energy has not dipped. And the focus and the commitment to continue to improve is still there.”
At its best, the Thunder's defense delivered shutdown performances in second halves. Rarely has the Thunder dug in for an entire four quarters. Those other stretches saw players like LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard throw down lob passes with little resistance, Rudy Gay and Aaron Brooks stroll down the lane for lightly-contested dunks and layups and Matt Bonner and Stephen Curry light up the scoreboard from beyond the arc.
“Our defense is still developing and needs to continue to get better,” Brooks said. “But we've done some things on that end where it's better but it hasn't been as consistent as we'd like it to be.”
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