After stumbling out of the All-Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder secured their first win after a three-game losing streak. Most of their problems came on the defensive end in recent games, and the same issue almost led to another let down, but they managed to hold off the Memphis Grizzlies in a 113-107 victory. The Thunder was up 18 points before the Grizzlies stormed back, cutting the lead down to only three points. Kevin Durant‘s late game heroics would ultimately seal the deal.
Russell Westbrook has been efficient since his return to the floor, regardless of what the critics are saying about his contribution to the Thunder’s recent slide. As I said before, most of their issues as of late are directly related to the Thunder’s porous defense in recent games. They gave up a whopping 125-point to the Cleveland Cavaliers in perhaps their worst played game of the season thus far.
Aside for their poor defense, the Thunder’s bench had not been meeting anyone’s expectations out of the break. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb have played equally bad lately, leaving the Thunder in a tight spot as far as bench scoring. With Kendrick Perkins out for at least six weeks, the Thunder has to find a way to play big even with a smaller lineup. Each individual player must increase their energy on the defensive end and buy into whatever it is Scott Brooks is selling.
Even in tonight’s win, the Thunder’s defense played inconsistently for most of the game, before eventually hitting rock bottom in the fourth quarter, where they were outscored by 10-points. Still, OKC managed to get the win, which should serve as a much-needed boost of confidence for this team after an unimpressive month of basketball. Jackson scored 14-points, but Lamb still struggled. Serge Ibaka has been a constant bright spot on the team amidst the inconsistency from several key players.
If the Thunder is going to make a serious run at a NBA championship, Lamb will have to contribute at a higher level. Sources say that the Thunder will sign Caron Butler once he clears waivers on Saturday — a move that should indeed push this team over the hump and get them back to their winning ways. Fortunately, OKC still holds the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, so it is not as if they are in a tight position as the season winds down.
After their win tonight, expect this team to improve as they get used to running with a smaller lineup.