One week ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder played about how you would expect them to play against a contender in the Western Conference. Facing off in Denver against the Nuggets is rarely easy, especially in a season that was once considered to be a tank-worthy year due to an inability to compete.
At halftime of the game, though, the Thunder trailed the Nuggets by just 3 points, and despite not shooting particularly well (44.4% from the field, 18.2% from three), OKC had forced Denver into 9 first-half turnovers. The Thunder was just one half away from completing a 4-game road trip, the longest of the season, and they looked like they might sneak out of Denver with a win.
Then, the dreaded third quarter hit. Thunder fans know what I’m talking about. Far too often Oklahoma City has had a decent, if not solid, first half, only to come out in the third and fall completely flat. The fourth quarter often carries some redeeming value, but that third quarter peformance…well, it has cost the Thunder a win or two, to say the least.
This third quarter was no different. It started off just fine, and the Thunder was able keep the game close. Midway through the period, it was just a 5-point game, and OKC was still right in the thick of it. But an 8-0 run gave the Nuggets a 13-point lead, which turned into a 15-point lead, before the quarter finally came to an end. The Thunder had been outscored 30-19 in the period, and the 3-point lead was now a 14-point advantage for Denver.
Of course, the Thunder came out in the fourth and valiantly attempted a comeback, cutting the deficit to 5 at one point, but it was too little too late, and the Nuggets were able to pull out an 8-point victory.
Since then, the Thunder has played 3 consecutive games in Oklahoma City, and while the competition has not been the stiffest stretch of the season, the Thunder has seemingly begun to solve the third quarter issues that have plagued this team beyond just this season.
On Monday against the Chicago Bulls, the Thunder trailed by 26 points at two different times in the second quarter, and the half, OKC was trailing by 19 points. The third quarter went much differently this time as the Thunder outscored the Bulls 33-22 to cut the deficit to 8. Of course, OKC would go on to win the game by 4, tying a franchise record for the largest comeback victory in team history.
The Thunder followed that game up with yet another dramatic performance on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Another slow start for Oklahoma City delivered a 9-point deficit at the half, but the Thunder was sticking around, so there was hope. The Grizzlies essentially crushed those hopes by scoring 12 straight points to start the third quarter, giving Memphis a 21-point lead with a little over 9 minutes left in the period.
The Grizzlies expanded that lead to 24 with a little over 7 minutes left in the third, and the game looked all but over. The Thunder did not roll over, however, and despite the awful start to the period, OKC responded to outscore Memphis 28-11 the rest of the quarter, which cut the lead to 7 headed into the final frame.
For the second consecutive night, the Thunder was able to mount a ridiculous comeback as they ended up defeating the Grizzlies 126-122.
That brings us to last night’s game against the Phoenix Suns. The Thunder took control of the game early in this one, and while it stayed close for much of the game, the Suns were never able to get over the hump. At the half, OKC led by 7. The third quarter came along, and OKC gave up a whopping 41 points to Phoenix, but they scored 44 themselves. The Thunder would go on to finish the Suns off with ease, winning 126-108.
Through the Thunder’s first 25 games of the season, they ranked dead last in the NBA in 3rd quarter point differential with a -4.3. For whatever reason, OKC simply could not come out in the second half with the energy or ability to take control of a game.
Over the last 3 games, however, they are averaging a +5.3 point differential, which is 4th in the NBA for the last week. Now, it’s easy to look at the last week of basketball and decide that Oklahoma City has solved its third quarter issues, but that’s not necessarily true.
Last night’s embarrassing defensive output in the third is a fine example. However, something has definitely changed which has allowed the Thunder to play much better coming out of halftime, and at this point, I think it’s safe to say they have figured out some type of solution for those third quarter woes.
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