The Oklahoma City Thunder kicked off a unique week in which they play 4 games in 6 days against 2 teams beginning with a 136-106 loss to the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, going up by as many as 26 in the first half and 31 in the second before eventually winning by 30, handing the Thunder their second consecutive blowout loss and largest of the season.
Defense is an Issue
As the old saying goes, “Defense wins championships,” and it’s a good thing OKC isn’t looking to make a run at the Finals this season because the defense has been atrocious, particularly as of late.
After giving up 147 points to the Brooklyn Nets in regulation on Friday night, the Thunder allowed what I’m safely assuming was a franchise-high 48 points in a single quarter to the Houston Rockets on Monday night. Give Houston some credit for knocking down 11-of-14 first quarter three-point attempts, but still…something has to give.
Young teams are going to make a lot of mistakes, and while missed shots and sloppy turnovers are forgivable, lazy defense is absolutely inexcusable. The Thunder picked up their efforts after the first quarter, and the Rockets cooled down a bit from downtown, but when you give up so much so early in a game, it can be really hard to not only come back but to also continue to play with any hope of coming back.
In the end, the Thunder allowed Houston to shoot 28-of-52 (53.8%) from downtown, just shy of the NBA record for made threes in a game. For most of the season, OKC has struggled to protect the paint, and they allowed the Rockets 42 points down low tonight, but giving up 84 points from threes is just unacceptable.
Figure out the First Quarter
Entering tonight’s game, the Thunder ranked dead last in first quarter plus/minus with a -6.2. Tonight’s -24 will obviously make that number even worse, and it’s pretty obvious that this is a deep-seeded issue that needs improvement.
The next worst first quarter team is the Orlando Magic whose first quarter plus/minus is -4.1, a vast difference from OKC. Slow starts are never a good thing in sports, and you’re not doing yourself any favors when you kick off a contest trailing by a considerable amount.
Again, the biggest issue is the defense. OKC allows a league-worst 30.8 first quarter points, allowing opponents to knock down 51.0% of first quarter shots. When it comes down to it, the starting 5 has to come out of the gate with enough energy to keep the other team from scoring, and with a guy like Luguentz Dort on the team, you’d think it would be a little bit easier for the Thunder.
Thunder Unsung Hero of the Game
It’s kind of hard to pick a guy as a hero in a 30-point loss, but I’ve got to give Justin Jackson some credit. Maybe it’s because he’s barely seen the floor this season, and while I’m not really sure why, it’s safe to say that he brings everything he has any time he gets an opportunity.
Tonight, Jackson put together 10 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist in just 11 minutes. He was the only Thunder player who did not record a negative +/-, finishing at a +0.
I’m not sure of his role with the Thunder moving forward, but his expiring contract is small at just $5 million. He likely won’t be in OKC after this season, which makes me appreciate his efforts like tonight even more.
Due to the weird NBA schedule for this season, the Thunder hosts the Rockets again on Wednesday for their second matchup of the season. Hopefully the result will be a closer game for the sake of everyone watching.
Tip-off for that contest is set for 7 PM CT and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio on WWLS 98.1 FM.