Thunder rolling on offense, but need to step up defense
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Thunder gave up nine points in the first quarter Sunday afternoon against the Jazz, but c’mon, that’s not who the Thunder really are. It looked pretty cool, though.
You knew that already. Don’t be fooled.
And when the Thunder gave up 31 points to Utah in the second quarter and then 37 more in the third quarter, everything looked familiar again.
Oklahoma City scored a lot Sunday. No problem with that aspect at all in the 116-96 victory. Shot 55 percent, too, so when coach Scott Brooks said the team has taken another step this season offensively, it makes sense, because you can see it.
How good offensively?
Well, Kevin Durant has sat out the fourth quarter the past two games and has still be able to extend his streak of scoring 25 or more points to 38 games in a row.
How questionable defensively?
The 23-51 Jazz shot 52 percent in the second quarter and then 60 percent in the third quarter after making four shots out of 21 in the first quarter.
"We’re always striving to have defensive execution for 48 minutes," Brooks said. "Our defensive numbers have been good all season. In a 48 minute game we want to be consistent with our mindset. I thought the 3-ball hurt us and then we started fouling. Those are areas that we can talk about."
What the Thunder need to talk more about is embracing what they are: A really good offensive team.
Durant and Russell Westbrook and a third piece, maybe Serge Ibaka or Caron Butler, are good enough to not have to worry about defense. Now, certainly the Thunder don’t want to go out and give up 120 points per game, but anything south of that will work.
So, let’s just stop all this, "Defense First" talk.
"We know we need to be a defensive team first," forward Nick Collison said. "Usually, if we don’t have to take the ball out of bounds first, it helps our offense."
OK, we can allow that. As long as they at least mention the offense when talking about the defense, it’s acceptable, because we’re beyond the point now of suggesting this team is going to win any way other than raw offensive output.
Westbrook on the offense: "Obviously the guys are doing a great job of making shots. And Westbrook on the defense: "I feel like we need to start the game off more defensively."
The defense hasn’t been an eye sore of late, giving up just 81 to Sacramento, 95 to Cleveland and 85 to Chicago before giving up more than 119 in overtime games against Toronto and Dallas, but lapses like Sunday’s where Utah goes off for half the game is troublesome.
It’s easier to just look away.
"The defense set the tone in the first quarter," Brooks said. "They shot a low percentage. Nine points in an NBA quarter is hard to do and it doesn’t happen often, but I think it set the tempo right there."
Brooks is right. Defense got the Thunder going Sunday, but the offense has set the tone this season. And again Sunday, even thought it was against the Jazz and it might be easy to overlook, OKC wasn’t exactly inadequate offensively. Durant had 31 points on only nine made field goals, including six 3-pointers. Butler had 15 points off the bench, including five-of-five from the 3-point line and Westbrook and Ibaka combined for 36 points. It was the 12th game in a row the Thunder have made at least nine 3-pointers.
That kind of production, that kind of streak and that kind of consistency has only happened on offense this season. This is not a call-to-arms for increased defensive efficiency or production. That’s not what this team is about, but it sounds good and feels right to suggest so often and so regularly the company line of "Defense wins championships" that you start to believe it.
Believe this instead: The Thunder win a title this year, yeah, this year, if Kevin Durant can keep scoring.
There’s a reason the home fans chant, "MVP, MVP," when Durant goes to the free throw line.
And it’s not because of defense.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK