As NBA seasons develop, patterns emerge. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, a particular trend has kept the current seventh seed in the West from turning their fortune in some heartbreakers.
The most recent game in Indiana is a perfect example. One of the more pressing problems that has haunted the Thunder so far is the third quarter.
After extending the lead to 16 in the first half, the Pacers came charging back in the second half to take back the lead. A valiant effort by Russell Westbrook gave Oklahoma City a chance late, but the early second half collapse proved too much to overcome.
The main culprit? The Thunder were outscored 32-18 in the third quarter.
“The third quarter was not a case where we played good basketball start to finish,” Coach Billy Donovan said at practice today.
This has not been a rare occurrence, it has become rather common. With the season getting closer to the All-Star break, the Thunder’s ability to hold halftime leads and keep up in the second half has been extremely challenged as of late.
The NBA team average for points in a game is 105.3 — when you break that down by quarters, the average amounts to 26.3 points per period. So far this season, OKC has endured 16 third quarters where their opponents broke the 30 point mark.
Again, it is a problem that has plagued OKC all season: In the 2016 calendar year, the Thunder gave up eight 30 point performances and have now matched that amount in the 2017 portion of their schedule in fewer games.
To simply give up 30 points in a third quarter is not a death sentence, but it isn’t something to overlook. The Thunder are 6-10 in games where they surrender a 30 point outburst in the third.
Another example is the most recent game against the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder matched the Warriors in the first half as well as the fourth quarter for the most part. What doomed OKC was a 37-22 blitz by the Warriors in the third quarter.
But you have to be realistic. It is near impossible for a team constructed like OKC is to not have a few hiccups over an 82-game season. Some nights the shots won’t fall, and others the hoop is a mile wide. In a season where every win and loss is magnified higher than in previous regular seasons, the Thunder cannot afford the luxury of sidestepping flaws. Especially when they have been festering as the season progresses.
Looking deeper into the third quarter mess reveals an interesting fact. Going back to Jan. 1, the Thunder has been outscored by 10 points in the third quarter six times. From October — the opening night game — to December, OKC was outscored in the third quarter by 10 points once. It has worsened over time.
The defense is not the only side of the ball at fault. Offensively — especially with the loss of Enes Kanter as well as the Steven Adams absence a few weeks ago — the Thunder has underperformed. OKC has failed to score 20 points in the third quarter six times, however three of those have come in the last 30 days.
It is an oddity to say the least. The Thunder are rarely blown out from the jump. Even with these third quarter collapses, OKC has found ways to climb back into ball games to make it competitive late. The last game against the Pacers is another example of this.
While the team is far from perfect, a roster that has Westbrook, Victor Oladipo and Adams will always give you a fighting chance to win games. It appears the third quarter is the teams most glaring weakness.
Is it fatigue? A lack of focus? Adams can’t pinpoint the cause.
“It’s just one of those things that we need to correct,” Adams said. “To win you have to be dialed in for 48 minutes a game.”
If OKC is going to salvage as many wins in Kanter’s absence, they need to plug the third quarter hole quickly.
Tomorrow night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers — while difficult — would be an opportune time to reverse the dreaded third quarter trend.
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