Tramel: Thunder defense slipping rapidly against Nets & Rockets. Can OKC snap out of it?
The Thunder played porous defense in the first 11 minutes against the Rockets on Monday night, giving up 38 points. And then the Thunder defense got even worse.
Danuel House Jr. swished a corner 3-pointer. Eric Gordon made a 3-point play off an Isaiah Roby goaltend. Gordon converted a 4-point play, off Hamidou Diallo’s foul from the wing.
Ten points in less than 31 seconds.
Houston beat the Thunder 136-106, with a bevy of remarkable offense. An NBA-record 11 3-pointers in a quarter (the first); 28 3-pointers total, one shy of the league record.
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All of which is bad enough. Except this wasn’t even the worst defense through two games of this homestand. Friday night, the Thunder lost to Brooklyn 147-125, giving up an Oklahoma City record for points allowed in regulation and tying the Nets franchise record for points in regulation.
“I just believe the past two games, for whatever reason, we haven’t started with that same energy and edge that we need,” said Thunder center Al Horford, a long-time defensive stalwart. “We need to do a better job starting and staying consistent with what we’re trying to do.”
The Thunder gave up 51 points in the first 15½ minutes against a Brooklyn team that didn’t even play Kevin Durant. That was downright stingy compared to the 48 points the Thunder allowed in the first quarter against Houston.
That’s a far cry from the decent defense the Thunder had played through much of this young season. OKC has struggled with one of the NBA’s worst offenses, but the Thunder defense has been fine. As recently as last Wednesday, the Thunder held the Suns to 10 points in the second quarter and won in Phoenix.
Safe to say the Thunder is in a defensive slump. And yes, such a thing exists.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Thunder coach Mark Daigneault. “Because so much of defense is predicated on energy and spirit and will.
“The game’s emotional; no one likes to give up 130 points or 20something 3’s, 30 3’s, ever how many they made. We need to find the stuff that we can control. I think slumps are an emotional thing. We try to use process and fundamentals, to really root down and control the stuff we can control.”
The Nets have one of the NBA’s best offenses. So an explosion is understandable. But Houston woke up Monday 21st in NBA offensive efficiency. The bottom third of the league.
Yet the Rockets scored 102 points through three quarters. They made 28 of 52 3-point shots, including 11-of-14 in the first quarter. And that’s with James Harden having been traded to Brooklyn.
Against the Thunder, point guard John Wall, never considered a sharpshooter, made four of five from deep. Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins each made five of nine. House was four of six. Wall’s fellow starters -- Jae’Sean Tate, P.J. Tucker, Christian Wood and Victor Oladipo -- combined to make eight of 14.
“A team making shots like they are, and they’re comfortable early, which I think was the case tonight, it’s hard to get them out of their comfort zone,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “When we do try to pick it up, it’s a little harder to get stops, because they’re already comfortable and already warm . I think that was the case tonight.”
With back-to-back games like this, the numbers get scary. Like this: the Thunder has allowed at least 70 points in three of its last four halves, and the non-70 half was a 63 put up by Houston.
Or this: the last two OKC opponents have combined to make 47 of 97 3-point shots. We haven’t seen defense like this Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes shared a football field in Lubbock.
The Thunder, 13th in NBA defensive efficiency just a few games ago, has fallen all the way to 26th, out of 30 teams, with 110.8 points allowed per 100 possessions.
“It does concern me,” Horford said of the sudden defensive slippage. “We can be much better.”