LOS ANGELES — There’s an identity crisis in Oklahoma City.
“If we want to be a great team, we’re fooling ourselves,” Kevin Durant, arms resting on his thighs and looking at the ground after his team blew a 22-point lead and lost to the Clippers Wednesday. “If we want to be a great team the way we’re playing, we’re fooling ourselves. We want to win a bunch of games in the regular season, that’s cool, but we’re fooling ourselves with the way we’re playing.”
There was a lot of soul searching after the game as the Thunder kept the locker room closed after the game for longer than normal; and then their stars took their time to gather themselves before addressing the media. It’s to be expected in what is the latest in the line of “worst loss of the season” games for the Thunder — all with Golden State looming on Thursday. Not to mention Durant’s free agency looming this summer.
“What kind of team do we want to be?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan asked. “Because to (win) is going to require a level of sacrifice from every player. I think this is something where you see in the first half what a team like this is capable of, and then can you sustain it? Can you keep playing that way? They do it for long stretches, but then we have these lapses.”
The Thunder were in total control from the opening tip Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Where other teams had struggled with the spread offense the Clippers have run since Blake Griffin went out, the Thunder defense was sharp. Their ball movement was good enough. The Thunder raced out to an early lead and were up by 20 at the half. They kept that lead at double digits through the third.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Thunder’s identity crisis returned with a vengeance — they blew a 17-point lead to start the fourth to lose to the Clippers 103-98.
In that pivotal fourth quarter, too much isolation/hero ball led to bad shot selections, which in turn led to missed shots for the Thunder. Then they didn’t get back in transition which allowed the Clippers to get shots and match-ups they wanted — especially with their second unit. It was the Clipper bench that sparked the 35-13 fourth quarter and the win. Chris Paul had 21 points and 13 assists in the game, DeAndre Jordan had 20 points (including some key fourth-quarter plays at the rim) and 18 rebounds.
The Thunder have lost five-of-seven since the All-Star break, including a couple of heartbreaking come-from-ahead losses. Don’t sell this to Durant as a wake-up call for the team.
“We’ve already lost too many games we’re supposed to win. We can’t just keep talking about wake-up calls,” said Durant, who had 30 points on 27 shots in the game. “We’ve got 20 games left or whatever it is. We can’t have no wake-up calls at the end of the season. We’re supposed to had those. We’ve got to be locked in from the beginning, from shootaround.”
“I’ve said this before, the best thing for this team is adversity,” Donovan said. “We need adversity. It doesn’t need to be easy, in my opinion…. Now here is an adverse situation, what do we do with this in terms of going forward? When we get leads like this, can we sustain playing the right way on offense and defense?”
The adversity keeps coming as the Thunder must take on the Warriors in the Bay Area on Thursday — where the Warriors have yet to drop a game this season.