Oklahoma City has moved beyond must win situations directly to desperation mode. Must win would have been defeating a depleted Memphis team on the road Monday night. Desperation is figuring out a way to not lose to the Indiana Pacers for the second time in less than two weeks.
It should be inconceivable to think that a Pacers team, minus Victor Oladipo, would have a chance to beat Paul George and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, but all the Thunder have done since the All-Star Break is cast doubt.
Now the biggest issue OKC faces is, how do they get back to where they were before the All-Star game?
“Every team has a formula of how we’ve got to play,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “For us, I think it’s really simple. We’re a really good offensive rebounding team. Well, we’ve got to be a really good defensive rebounding team because it gets us out on the break – we generate the second-most transition points in the league.”
In Monday’s loss to Memphis the Thunder grabbed 29 defensive rebounds while the Grizzlies snagged 44 defensive boards, and beat OKC off the glass by a total number of 57-41.
So if we’re fouling and we’re taking the ball out of the net, we’re not going to be able to play to our strengths. If we’re giving up offensive rebounds, that doesn’t play to our strengths.”Billy Donovan
The strengths that Donovan is speaking to is the volume of shots Oklahoma City produces. The Thunder lead the league in the number of shot attempts per game. When competing against a team that plays at a slower pace those defensive rebounds come with a higher premium.
That’s where Oklahoma City got in trouble their last time out with India. The combination of fouls and missed rebounding opportunities completely changed the momentum of the game, resulting in a large halftime lead dwindling away to an eventual deficit.
“When you get to this point and time in the season where it can be a three or four-minute stretch, or a few possessions, where it can alter the outcome of a game. And it could be in the first or second quarter,” Donovan said.
As the Thunder’s roller coaster ride through the Western Conference playoff seeding gets ready to come to a close, OKC currently finds itself with the seventh seed. With he ultimate goal of missing Golden State or Denver in the first round, the Thunder are only three and a half games from a top-four seed.
While it is possible, Oklahoma City isn’t in any significant danger of missing the playoffs, due to their large lead over Sacramento, but a five-game home stand should all but make them a lock for the post season.
That’s assuming the home crowd helps them swing the momentum back to doing the things they do best.
“The group knows what we have to do, and there’s clarity in what we need to do, and we’ve just got to do it on a higher level,” Donovan said.