The Oklahoma City Thunder have had issues with consistency and closing out games in their first 23 games.
There’s been some lack of effort defensively, some lack of execution down the stretch in close games, and it’s seemed to be a season of taking a step forward and another one back. However, the past four games have all been steps forward. Let’s take a look at those four games.
Sacramento Kings: Win 98-95
Although this wasn’t a pretty win, it showed the Thunder can still close out a game despite a bad performance. This was almost a disastrous loss as the Thunder blew a 17-point second-half lead before then coming back from a late seven-point deficit.
Prior to that late comeback, it looked like this was just going to be another disappointing close loss. Six of OKC’s eight losses have been by six points or less, thanks in part to poor late-game execution that shouldn’t happen as often as it does with two superstars on the roster. But in this game, Kevin Durant hit two big shots to avoid what would’ve been a terrible loss.
Durant has been through these types of moments many times, and like any big-time player, he often finds a way to put the misses and turnovers behind him just long enough to hit the shots that are most needed. In recent losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, he was brilliant in both games but missed key shots late as the Thunder lost tight games. Last Sunday, he hit crucial shots despite playing one of the most forgettable games of his career.
Other Game Stats:
- Durant had an ugly triple-double on the night — 20 points, 10 rebounds and…10 turnovers.
- Russell Westbrook had his third triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
- Serge Ibaka had 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds and three blocks.
- DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-20 shooting.
Memphis Grizzlies: Win 125-88
This was Oklahoma City’s best and most complete game this season, by far. It seemed like it could be the touchstone moment; the turning point to the season. Coach Billy Donovan has spent a lot of the first 23 games working through different lineup combinations and rotations, but in this game he might have found the Thunder’s most lethal one. With 6:50 left in the second quarter, Donovan went small with Westbrook, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, Durant and Ibaka together. This group hit eight consecutive shots, all at the rim or open from three. The floor spacing allowed Westbrook to drive and hit a rolling Ibaka or kick to shooters like Durant, Morrow or Waiters.
In the 37-point rout, the Thunder showed what they’re capable of: fluid, beautiful basketball they play that overwhelms good teams with talent, speed, athleticism and playmaking. Westbrook had 16 assists in 25 minutes played, which was one shy of tying his career high. The Grizzlies are a team you’re not supposed to be able to play small against, and the Thunder just blew the doors off this game’s hinges.
Other Game Stats:
- Durant had 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
- Ibaka had 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
- Westbrook had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting with 16 assists and five rebounds.
- Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting (36.8 percent).
- Mike Conley was held scoreless while shooting 0-of-7.
Atlanta Hawks: Win 107-94
In this game, Westbrook and Durant did something they’d never done together before: Each scored 20-plus points and dished out 10-plus assists. And that doesn’t even mention that Durant added 12 rebounds, too, notching his seventh career triple-double. Of the Thunder’s 24 total assists, they combined for 20.
With consistency being a primary issue this season, there was curiosity about how the Thunder would play in this game after their impressive win against Memphis. The Thunder held a lead as big as 17 points in the second quarter, but thanks to some hot shooting from three-point range, the Hawks battled back to get within one with 2:42 left in the third quarter. It was a game the Thunder probably shouldn’t have had to sweat about as much, but be that as it may, the Thunder add another dimension to their offense when Durant and Westbrook create for their teammates.
Other Game Stats:
- Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals.
- Ibaka had 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting with seven rebounds.
- Al Horford and Paul Millsap scored a combined 16 points on 5-of-19 shooting (26.3 percent).
Utah Jazz: Win 94-90
Westbrook made the big plays for the Thunder most of the night, but it was Durant who took over late in the fourth quarter.
Durant scored 21 points in this one, including the last 11 points for the Thunder in the win over Utah. With the win, OKC matched a season high with its fourth straight win. The Thunder now sit at third in the Western Conference at 15-8 and face the Jazz again on Sunday.
Other Game Stats:
- Westbrook had 24 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
- Durant had 21 points and eight rebounds.
Stats in the Four Games:
- Durant averaged 24.5 points, 10 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 58.6/42.1/91.7 shooting splits.
- Westbrook averaged 19.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 10.8 assists on 50/53.9/84.2 shooting splits.
- Ibaka averaged 15 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 54/40/100 shooting splits.
- The Thunder scored 106 points per game and gave up 91.2 points per game.
The Thunder have had two main issues thus far this season 1) Durant missed time again, with the Thunder going 3-3 in the six games he missed because of a left hamstring injury and 2) there’s been inconsistency on their bench, inconsistency on the defensive end, inconsistency in close games and, well, inconsistency overall.
Maybe, though, just maybe, things have finally started to come together for Oklahoma City. The team has been working on some systematic changes under a new coaching staff as well as having a reworked roster. Their slow start didn’t quite reach the point of panic, but there were a few eyebrows raised around the league. Patience can be preached, but there eventually has to be a payoff. They’re starting to click and looking like the team we’re used to seeing.
Now the question is: Are they going to keep it up?