OKLAHOMA CITY — Scott Brooks tinkered with the rotation again and watched as his team slogged through a Sunday night against an Atlanta bunch stocked with new players but not with talent.
Brooks said before the game Sunday, it wasn’t really about scouting reports and schemes, basically suggesting, “It’s us, not them.”
Looks like there’s a lot of truth to what he was saying.
As the Thunder tread lightly through the first week of the NBA season, poking and picking, talking chemistry and dealing with everything from the James Harden trade fallout to carefully analyzing themselves, they also should take a peek in the mirror.
Yikes. Kinda scary.
This team lost to Atlanta 104-95.
At home. In front of a sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena because they couldn’t hold onto the basketball.
OK, OK, give Atlanta credit. That’s what Kevin Durant and Scott Brooks said, but they kind of have to, as it’s the unwritten rule of sports to praise the enemy first before going with the real talk, but Atlanta had no business winning this game. Instead, the Thunder handed it over, playing something that sort of looked like defense at times, turning it over 20 times and getting outrebounded by a team that didn’t even have its best player — Josh Smith — suit up.
“The defensive intensity wasn’t where it needs to be,” Brooks said. “Our defense was good for one quarter tonight.”
That was the second quarter, when the Hawks scored 17. They scored 30 in the first and 28 in the third and 29 in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Thunder was busy kicking it around, turning it over 20 times, including six times in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a work in progress,” Brooks continued. “It’s going to take some time. When you’re in there you have to play defensive basketball.”
Now Oklahoma City is 1-2 on the season and set for a home game Tuesday against another team the Thunder should roll — Toronto. Brooks said his team is trying to figure it out, but why? Shouldn’t this “Work in progress” be a masterpiece in the making instead? What’s it take to stop turning the ball over?
There’s no James Harden, but Kevin Martin has been just as good. He was 8-of-11 Sunday and made six-of-eight 3-pointers, finishing with 28 points. Past that, everything else should be the same.
The Thunder still have the most dynamic point guard in the league in Russell Westbrook and they still have Durant, who went for 22 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and a pair of blocks. They still have defensive wiz Serge Ibaka and still have pieces others don’t.
They also have a ridiculous ability to not value the basketball in the least. A season after leading the league in turnovers, the Thunder have 50 turnovers in three games.
“I wish I could have have a couple of those turnovers back,” said Durant, who had six. “But defensively we have to play harder.”
Generally, it’s the non-established teams, the young ones, the inexperienced ones who have to be prodded to play defense. It looks like the Thunder, coming off of four-consecutive seasons of improvement, will be the same kind of team.
Atlanta shot 49 percent for the game and 50 percent when it counted, in the fourth quarter.
“We know there’s a lot of work to be done,” Brooks said. “They (Atlanta) made a lot of timely shots and they got timely rebounds offensively. We know that there’s a lot of work to be done and we’re going to do it. We still have to figure some things out, and we will.”
Gotta believe that will start to happen pretty quickly but Sunday’s loss to Atlanta has to be bothersome. It took a quarter for Oklahoma City to warm up and the rest of the game trying to wake up. Even a 29-17 advantage in the second quarter was wasted.
“They played well,” Durant said. “Give them credit. We had a lot of breakdowns. We can’t start the game off in cruise mode. We have to go take it. We can’t feel our way into the game. Early on, we sat back and let them do whatever they wanted. That gave them confidence toward the end of the game. We have to do better starting off.”
And finishing, too.
“It’s something to learn from,” Durant said. “We’ll be better the next game.”
Durant is right. His team will be better as soon as they figure out the stuff they should already know.