Film Room: OKC Thunder team defense spoils Paul George offensive explosion

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 01: Paul George
DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 01: Paul George /

Film Room breaks down the OKC Thunder recent loss to the Nuggets with a view to how the  defense was the main culprit.

Against their division rivals, the OKC Thunder fought a 20 point deficit to tie the game with 1.4 seconds left. In particular, Paul George led the heroic comeback. But, team defense crumbled when it mattered the most.

Yesterday, Bleacher Report called Paul George a $250 million question, asking whether George was worth a max contract. Tonight, Paul George looked like he was out to shut that question down.

Paul George did all he could to help his team rally from an ugly first half, going an incredible 19-for-26 from the field, good for 43 points..

But, with the team within striking distance, the defense could not quite be as clutch as George was.

This Film Room episode picks apart the game’s last 20 seconds, showing how George was let down by his team’s defense.

Assassin Alert

Down by three with 5.6 seconds remaining, the Thunder needed a three.

Somehow, the Thunder’s half court offense looked like it was trying to make things as difficult as possible for Paul George.

Carmelo Anthony could have been used as a screener-inbounder to at least put some pressure on the defense. Instead, Melo ends up standing so close to the play, George has almost only one option left.

Turns out, it did not matter one bit to PG13. George rejects the Steven Adams screen, only to find Melo cramping on his space. Forced into a tough step back three, George splashed the three like he was shooting into the ocean.

Losing the loose ends

Up by one, the Nuggets give Paul George the Kawhi Leonard treatment, effectively yanking his man out of the play so George cannot disrupt the offense. The results are predictably cringe-worthy.

Just two plays prior, Jamal Murray caught Russell Westbrook jumping the screen and snuck in for a layup. Here, Murray does not even have to bait Westbrook. The reigning MVP gets caught jumping rather than sliding past the screen, and Murray bakes free.

Murray misses the jumper, the ball caroms out and Nikola Jokic picks up two easy free throws. Most of this is down to luck. But, personnel makes a difference too. Carmelo Anthony had one job – box out and snag the rebound. He does not react, and the Thunder are forced to pay for it.

Heartbreak warfare

As Twitter tends to do, Twitter immediately responded to Gary Harris’ game-winner with comments like “Russ fell asleep on defense again”.

That is completely misinformed. As Westbrook explained after the game, his priority then was to protect the paint, even with Harris fading to the corner. Had Wilson Chandler not gone all J. J. Watt, Jerami Grant would have switched and closed out on Garry Harris.

The no-call hurts. But, having All-Defense wing Andre Roberson on the court would certainly have helped too. In a game of communication and adjustments, experience and defensive instinct can be the difference between a win and loss.

Next in line

When the Thunder’s offense is the one carrying them, it certainly signals improvement. Paul George was scintillating, and that bodes well for the Thunder.

More from Thunderous Intentions

The bad news, however, is that the defensive problems are not going to go away anytime soon. With Roberson out for the season, the Thunder are in need for wing help. Terrance Ferguson was drafted into the starting lineup, but he only clocked 4 minutes against the Nuggets.

Digging into the roster, Josh Huestis looks like the key to overcoming the Roberson setback. Every time Huestis is on the court, his defense has been outstanding.

His problem is offense. Huestis lacks Roberson’s smart cutting and Grant’s finishing around the rim. On games like tonight when his shot is not falling, Huestis becomes painfully unplayable.

Paul George flexed his offensive prowess for all the NBA to see in this match. But, lackadaisical defense from his co-stars and Andre Roberson’s absence hurt his team’s chance of securing a memorable comeback.

The good news is the OKC Thunder have an in-house solution. If Josh Huestis can play his way into an offensive groove, Paul George might find his efforts finally starting to pay off.

In the mean time there is no time to ponder the mistakes as the OKC Thunder are back at it immediately as they face a rested New Orleans squad at home this evening.