OKLAHOMA CITY – When is Ronnie Brewer supposed to get here, anyway?
It’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around the fact there may not be a more-pressing question for this Oklahoma City team.
But maybe that’s where we are as March approaches and the Thunder defense becomes more invisible than the lenses in Russell Westbrook’s glasses.
Because if Oklahoma City can’t slow this buzzsaw disguised as a Minnesota basketball team it may very well have some issues with, say, the Spurs, Clippers and, if it should come down to it, Miami.
OK, let’s get this out there: Oklahoma City won Friday, topping the T-Wolves, 127-111. But let’s also get this out there: With no one outside of Kendrick Perkins showing much interest in playing defensive basketball, the Thunder might have also discovered a bit more about who they really are.
I believe coach Scott Brooks when he says the top priority for this team is defense. No reason not to, but I also believe we’re at the point where the Thunder are just going to have to accept the reality that they are a highly skilled offensive team with many a defensive flaw.
How flawed? Enough to warrant bringing in Brewer, who isn’t known for his offense and is an extra body, at 6 feet 7, who can guard the perimeter, has tenure as a playoff veteran and could match up favorably with anyone from Manu Ginobili to even LeBron James.
How flawed? Well, tough to say exactly, but the mighty Timberwolves, without their best player (Kevin Love), shot 48 percent. A bench consisting of no recognizable names, other than the diminutive J.J. Barea, scored 59 points and was 16 of 18 from the field in the first half.
“No question that what we have is not broken,” Brooks said. “It’s just not working at the moment. It’s not like a panic situation. We just have to get better. We take pride on the defensive end. We can score the basketball. But we still have to do what we have to do to win games. We have to be a defensive team. We know that. I’m harping on it more than I need to.”
Well, it’s been a bit longer than a moment. Playing good defense for Oklahoma City has become more rare than a Subaru at a Young Republicans meeting. Make it four games in a row the Thunder have allowed 100 or more points and six of the past seven where they have allowed 96 or more and four in a row allowing 46 percent shooting or better. If not for the offense, this would be a four-game losing streak we’d be talking about. Instead, the Thunder shot 57.8 percent and played well enough on offense that everyone can kind of push aside the defensive woes for another time.
No one’s saying to punt the defensive effort, but this team might be better served to keep scoring and scoring. They are averaging more than 106 points, second-best in the league. Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring and Westbrook is seventh.
If offense is what it takes, the Thunder have enough of it and Minnesota doesn’t have enough players – heck, outside of the Twin Cities, it would be hard to find a jury’s worth of people who could name four people on the roster – to keep up with Oklahoma’s City offense.
Friday, Westbrook had a season-high 37 points. Durant had 27 and the Thunder, in need of a third, consistent scorer, got 19 from Kevin Martin and 10 from Kendrick Perkins. All fine, but if the Thunder are going to have more of these games where their defense is more apathetic than aggressive, they are going to have to do a lot more than outscore Minnesota.
And it’s going to take a lot more than Brewer to fix it, so might as well just get better offensively, because there’s no doubt this team can. Serge Ibaka had just six points and seven rebounds. So good the first half of the season, Ibaka has been absent offensively in two of the past three games, scoring just six points against Miami. He had just four attempts Friday. Nick Collison helped out with eight points and even Reggie Jackson can provide some offensive energy, as can Thabo Sefolosha.
So, might as well concentrate on the offense. But when Westbrook and Durant are good like they were Friday, you get the feeling that’s good enough to get back to the Finals.
And when the defense was as bad as it was Friday, it looks like they need to do some changing. Listen, the Thunder needed to win, no matter how they went about it. A four-game losing streak would have been the longest for Oklahoma City since its first season relocating from Seattle, so picking on a depleted Minnesota team probably came at the right time.
But anyone who saw Minnesota’s bench go off like it did has to be more than just minimally concerned.
“We had a tough, little stretch there,” Durant said. “I’m glad we could get out of that little funk we were in and get a W. We still can be a lot better.”
And the Thunder are putting a lot of faith in Brewer defensively – “I put Ronnie in one of the top five guys who I hate to guard me,” Martin said. And “He’s going to give us another good player to use,” Brooks said. But figure this team needs to score to win.
“It was nice to get the win tonight,” Brooks said. “We made a lot of shots. I’m not thrilled at all with our defense. We gave up a 30-point quarter and we’re going to try to figure out ways to get better, but tonight we were really good offensively.”