Thunder in the news: OKC bad habits and inconsistency prove costly

Relying on talent instead of building proper consistent habits costs OKC Thunder much more than one loss.

At some point the losses to lottery teams and bad habits was going to come back and bite the OKC Thunder in the — seeding. The loss to the San Antonio Spurs punctuated these issues and factored predominantly in the aftermath.

First of all, the absence of sticking to a consistent focused effort in clutch time led to the Spurs outscoring the OKC Thunder 26-18 in the final frame. As has been the Thunder’s clear habit, the team reverts to relying on Russell Westbrook to take over in critical moments. The problem with this stance is it also means the ball and players don’t move, focusing instead on Russell watching.

System – what system?

While some will point directly at Westbrook is that truly a fair burden for RW to carry alone?  Rather, it points to the lack of a system in OKC.  Let’s face it – it’s much more difficult for a team to generate intensity and energy when the emphasis falls on one player. Again, lack of ball and player movement grinds the Thunder offense to a halt.

I get it, Westbrook has bailed out OKC on numerous occasions, often with great success. But, with the offensive arsenal in place is that the best use of them? Ask yourself one simply question. If Gregg Popovich is coaching OKC last night, does the final two minutes come close to resembling the calls which occurred?

Utilize OKC talent to reap benefits:

If you answer absolutely not, then consider the situation including what Donovan should be doing.

Presumably adding two stars with experience carrying their previous squads should equate to “options”. Granted Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are more familiar (and garnered their success) in isolation situations. Yet, surely the one aspect of these three stars working in concert would be for the opposition not to know who is taking the shot. The only way that advantage can be utilized is via player and ball movement.

Consider what an opposing defense has to deal with when the Thunder successfully employ this practice. If you’re having trouble remembering such situations go back and look at the two wins versus the Warriors and Raptors. In these games the Thunder were at their very best. OKC utilized their talent in combination with ball and player movement. The result was a lethal, unstoppable offense.

Regressing back to Russell watching and iso-ball won’t cut it versus the top squads.

Master Class:

Arguably, the Spurs were the perfect team at possibly the worst time (or best depending on whether you believe there is ample time to correct the issues) to drill this point home. Furthermore, the Spurs serve as the definitive example of systems and consistency paying dividends.

There is no guesswork when it comes to the Spurs system. And, while the aging stars on the Spurs may not beat the OKC Thunder equivalent talent one on one, in a game situation San Antonio’s system beats OKC’s apparent lack of a system 99 times out of 100.

Entering the night OKC had an opportunity to capture the tiebreaker over the Spurs leading the season series two to one. So, while the teams split the series it is the Spurs who hold the advantage because they won where it mattered. Versus teams in the Western Conference and specifically against lottery teams. With one additional win and two fewer losses it pushes San Antonio ahead in the next level of breaking ties Conference Record.

Lack of consistent system|taking care of business proves extremely costly:

Which again, comes back to a simple inconsistency of the Thunder – – besting teams you should beat. Of the 11 lottery teams the Thunder lost to, six came against squads in the west (Kings, Mavericks x 2, Suns, Lakers x 2). In comparison the Spurs lost three games to west lottery teams (Mavericks and Lakers x 2). With half the amount of lottery team losses that factor alone gave the Spurs the edge, and subsequently breaks the tie. This is why the Spurs with a mirror record rank fourth to start the day and the Thunder slip to fifth.

With six games remaining for both squads the Thunder have to take care of business and rely on hoping the Spurs lose enough games to fall beneath the Thunder. This because the Spurs also own the Divisional record advantage (and cannot be caught in this area).

Thunder Nation may feel an OKC Thunder round one series versus the Spurs would favor OKC. In this regard let me point to one other clear problem…. Steven Adams kryptonite is LaMarcus Aldridge. Adams guards big paint centric centers with equal aplomb as mobile athletic stretch fives. However, for whatever reason his nemesis seems to be Aldridge. That alone is reason to want to avoid the Spurs — let alone a Spurs team who still might welcome “number 2” back to the court.

First Meeting, November 19:  Spurs 104 – Thunder 101

LaMarcus Aldridge: 26 points, 9 rebounds (5 offensive), 1 assist, 8 of 14 from field (57.1%) and plus/minus of plus +6

Steven Adams: 16 points, 8 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 blocks, 6 of 8 from field (75.0%) and plus/minus of minus 8.

Second Meeting, December 3: Thunder 90 – Spurs 87

LaMarcus Aldridge: Did not play

Steven Adams: 19 points, 10 rebounds (4 offensive) 1 assist, 3 steals, 1 block, 8 of 13 from field (61.5%), plus/minus of plus +13.

Third Meeting, March 10: Thunder 104 – Spurs 94

LaMarcus Aldridge: 11 points, 7 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 assist, 1 steal, 5 of 16 from field (31.3%) and plus/minus of minus -4.

Steven Adams: 8 points, 1 rebound (1 offensive), 1 steal, 4 of 8 from field (50.0%) and plus/minus of plus +3

Final Meeting, March 29: Spurs 103 – Thunder 99

LaMarcus Aldridge: 25 points, 11 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 assist, 2 blocks, 9 of 19 from field (47.4%) and plus/minus of minus -8. Notably – Aldridge was less than 100 percent due to a knee contusion.

Steven Adams: 10 points, 13 rebounds (5 offensive), 1 assist, 5 of 11 from field (45.5%) and plus/minus of plus 10.

Very few times this season is it possible to point to a player who stymies Adams, but clearly Aldridge does. So, don’t hope for this matchup Thunder Nation.

As for the game and a deeper dive, Wil Harrington provided the roundup and player grades. Tonight offers a whole new ball game with the Nuggets in town and the Thunder in desperate need of a victory. Jeremy Lambert serves up the pregame preview. Not just to maintain fifth or move up to fourth. Rather, to change the Thunder’s current slide where they’ve lost three of the last four games.

Moving Forward:

Clearly with six games remaining this is the absolute worst time for the OKC Thunder to be struggling. Most perplexing is the Spurs looked like the team who had three days off and OKC like the team on one day off.

The positive takeaway is there is time (albeit limited) to take the  poignant lessons learned Thursday and apply them immediately.

Unfortunately playing on consecutive nights and against a desperate squad isn’t the ideal scenario to right the ship. Nor is the Sunday’s third game in four nights against another squad dialed into winning (Pelicans) and presently sitting a half game back of OKC.

However, with the Rockets clinching first overall neither Houston or Golden State have anything further to gain. This should mean neither squad will risk injury just to hold a psychological edge over OKC.

And, if the Thunder do what they should have all season with teams of lesser talent the last two games (Heat/Grizzlies) should also offer the perfect fodder to fine tune and capture victories.

To reiterate from an earlier post -“fasten your seatbelts (Thunder Nation) it’s going to be a bumpy ride!”