Wow, that is one hackneyed post title.
Result: Thunder 107, Trailblazers 106
Points: Durant, Westbrook with 28
Rebounds: Camby with 12
Assists: Andre Miller with 11
What the pros are saying:
What I’m saying:
Watching a team compete, even if they lose, is like a breath of fresh air. Maintaining a winning momentum over the course of 82 games is not easy; even the best and most disciplined teams (Spurs, Lakers) will have letdowns. But five games in? Game fatigue shouldn’t yet be a problem, which is why I and so many others were concerned about the Thunders’ lackadaisical effort in their loss to the Clippers. I think it is a simple series of questions that can be asked thus:
Q: “We just got run out of the building by the Clippers. Why?”
A: “Because we didn’t play hard enough.”
Q: “Why didn’t we play hard enough?”
The answer, if players are honest, is: “We didn’t think we needed to.”
That is probably why they barely beat the Bulls and then got embarrassed by the Jazz and Clippers. They were on the cusp of it happening again, but then they started to do the things that teams need to do when they’re playing from behind.
- They cut the deficit to 6 going into the 4th quarter. If they don’t do that, there is no last second heroics.
- They cranked up defensively, especially on Roy and Aldridge.
- They eased up on the three point shooting, down to 15 this game. Durant cut his personal attempts in half, this time making a respectable 2-5.
The Blazers played admirably, especially since they had just lost three key contributors to their team (Oberto, Fernandez, Williams). Once again the Thunder were not completely focused defensively in the first half, allowing the Blazers to shoot a very high percentage (64%) in the first half. However, this time the Thunder kept their wits about them and did not roll over, as they had previously done. After they lost an early seven point lead in the first quarter, The Thunder suddenly found themselves trailing again. Instead of being demoralized this time, they kept their heads in the game and kept things close going into the fourth quarter. A six point deficit is easily undone; a 15 point deficit, not so much.
I think that this is the key factor in the win; the fact that the Thunder realized that there come points in every game, no matter who the opponent, where they have to grind. I immediately think of the winning ways of the Spurs over the past decade. They have become the masters at grinding; that is, whenever important facets of the team concept are failing, they adjust so that those facets are minimalized and others become the focus so that they gain a relative competitive advantage.
I think this is what I saw the most out of the Thunder in the playoffs last year – the willingness to fight, and you have to be willing to do it – you have to not be afraid to fail. This factor was as encouraging as anything I’ve seen in the team thus far. At this point in the season, the win is icing.