The Thunder's defense wasn't half-bad last season, but that's only half-good enough in the eyes of coach Scott Brooks. In the first and second quarters of games last season, opponents shot 47.8 percent and 49.7 percent from the field against OKC. That's bad.
In the third and fourth quarters of games last season, opponents shot 43.6 percent and 42.3 percent from the field. That's extremely good.
Overtime was even better, when opponents shot 37.1 percent against the Thunder.
If OKC can maintain its defensive course in the second half and find its path in the first half, a world title might be in the offing.
“Stats don't lie,” said veteran power forward Nick Collison, who has taken 108 defensive charges the last two seasons, more than any other NBA player. “I think the last 11 champions have averaged fourth in field-goal percentage defense. Defensive field-goal percentage means you're making them take difficult shots.”
Last season, Thunder opponents shot 45.8 percent from the field, which ranked halfway down the league list at No. 15.
Chicago, Boston, Miami, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers – all elite teams – occupied the top five spots with opponents shooting between 43.0 percent and 43.7 percent. NBA champ Dallas ranked No. 8 at 45.0 percent.
“The first half (of games), we were really bad,” Collison said. “The thing with us is inconsistency. I think the frustrating thing at times last year was we knew we were capable of being really good defensively, but we didn't have the focus to be able to do it for 48 minutes. So that's going to be the push for this year, to have longer stretches of really good defense and being locked in.
“If we want to compete for a championship, we've got to be one of the best in the league in defensive field-goal percentage.”
At the outset of training camp last week, Brooks shared his team's defensive stats with his squad and no doubt will remind his team whenever necessary. Defensive positioning and slide drills have been in vogue throughout camp.
Brooks sees this quest for better defense as mind over matter.
“I just think we have to do a better job of starting the game off with a defensive mindset,” Brooks said. “As the game went along, our competitive juices took over. We need to start the game off better defensively, but we've always finished the game. The third and fourth quarter, you knew teams were going to have trouble scoring on us. We have to have that approach to start the game.”
Any explanation found for the first-half flop?
“Nobody had one in the room,” Brooks said. “I just think we were ‘feeling the game out' too many nights. We have to improve in that area. It's just all mindset.”
Brooks stressed the importance of defense during the postseason, a time when the defensive intensity always is turned up a notch.
Though the Thunder responded with superb defense in the second half of playoff games, the first-half percentages were still too high for Brooks (see chart).
“I think it (the message) definitely hit home,” Brooks said. “You have to defend every night.”
It's possible the Thunder's offense indirectly affected its defense.
“We definitely improved on the offensive end of the floor last season, but did that take a little bit away (from the defensive performance)?” Brooks said. “You're always trying to find a balance. You want to have a good mixture of both. We have to still realize that defense is most important. Our defense allows us to score. We're one of the best teams in the league in scoring off turnovers.”
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