The Oklahoma City Thunder had lost all three games since the return of Russell Westbrook to the lineup coming into Friday night’s contest against the Memphis Grizzlies. The three consecutive losses loosened the Thunder’s vice-grip on the NBA’s Western Conference, meaning they needed to right the ship soon to maintain their positioning in the playoff race.
Westbrook had arguably his best game since his return on Friday night, putting up 21 points, six assists, two boards and three steals while shooting 7-12 from the field and getting to the foul line seven times. However, it was Kevin Durant, to the surprise of pretty much nobody, who really played hero on the night.
As the Grizzlies surged back in the second half, specifically the fourth quarter, it was Durant that put up 30 points in the final two frames to help earn OKC the 113-107 victory of Memphis. Durant finished the night with 37 points, six rebounds, five assists, two assists and one block while shooting 12-24 from the floor, 3-8 from long-range and 10-10 from long-distance.
Though Durant’s heroics are to be expected and admired, there are still lingering issues that will need to be remedied since the return of Westbrook. The Thunder’s offense has remained as potent as ever, but their defense has been problematic.
One of the under-appreciated things about the Thunder this season is the fact that their defense has been phenomenal. On the season they have allowed just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best rate in the league. In the four games since getting Westbrook back, though, the Thunder have conceded 114 points per 100 possessions, making them the 27th ranked defense in the league over that span.
It’s hard to pin their recent defensive issues all on Westbrook, but it is apparent that OKC has had a difficult time integrating the talented point guard into their defense as he shakes off the rust that he gathered while out recovering from his second knee surgery.
While 114 points per 100 possessions is extremely high and concerning for the Thunder, I don’t believe it’s a long-term concern for this team. It feels as if the biggest issue right now is simply that Westbrook isn’t fully back to form, which will come with time. Getting a win on Friday is big for Oklahoma City, but there are more than likely better things and more improvement ahead for this team.