For 24 minutes, it seemed like the Thunder were cruising towards a disastrous 1-5 start. Then the third quarter happened.
Trailing by 13 points at halftime, Oklahoma City used a historic third quarter in which they outscored the Los Angelas Clippers 39-10 in the opening 12 minutes of the second half, flipping the momentum in a hurry. The 29-point margin represented the largest for a single quarter in Thunder history. Oklahoma City outscored the Clippers 74-43 in the second half as they cruised to a 128-110 win.
It wasn’t the fact that the Thunder dominated the third quarter–it was how they did it. For five and a half games, we have waited to see the Thunder really lock in defensively. There have been spurts, but nothing quite like this. The Thunder forced nine turnovers in the quarter, sparking fast breaks and easy baskets on the other end. Each defensive stop injected energy into the Thunder. The effort and hustle became infectious. As the defense ramped up the intensity, the offense started to click.
Oklahoma City finished the game with 38 points off of turnovers and with 20 assists. Six of those assists came in the first half. Russell Westbrook and Paul George carried the load offensively, combining to score 64 points. Westbrook finished the night with 32 points (13-25), eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals. George, who struggled early, bounced back in the second half, scoring 32 points (9-18), 12 rebounds, and four assists.
Steven Adams returned back into the starting line up and finished with 18 points. Dennis Schröder had 15, and Jerami Grant had 12.
It was a complete team effort by the Thunder and that is perhaps the most encouraging part. This wasn’t a fluke. This wasn’t Westbrook going scorched earth and dropping 55 points. This wasn’t Paul George igniting from deep. This was just effort and hustle combined with a lot of teamwork and a little heart.
For the Thunder, the third quarter is what they thought this season would look like. A hyper-ultra-aggressive defense that in turn sparks a breakneck paced offense, that opens up passing lanes and creates open shots. For 24 minutes, it was the Thunder we’ve seen for a year and some change. Then for 24 minutes it wasn’t.
The Thunder are hoping the final 24 minutes is the new normal for this team.
Three Keys to the Game
The Thunder entered Tuesday night as the 29th best field goal shooting team in the league. The 30th in three-point shooting. Oklahoma City shot 51 percent from the field against the Clippers and hit 52 percent of their three-point attempts, making 9-of-17. Free throw shooting is still something to be desired for the Thunder, they made 71 percent from the line, missing 10 free throws on the night. While the free throw shooting is a serious concern, the three-point shooting is something to get excited about.
Free throws: D
While we mentioned this in the previous one, but it has to be reiterated here. Simply put, free throws can win and lose you games. At this rate, the Thunder will cost themselves some key games if they don’t get this fixed soon. While the Thunder did shoot five percentage points higher than their season average tonight, missing 10 free throws is hard to swallow. Especially when your two mega stars miss half of those.
Stop fouling: D
The Thunder commit the most fouls in the Association. That trend continued tonight. They put the Clippers on the line 43 times. Los Angelas Clippers were in the bonus early and often. To be fair, this game was a little different than most. It was hard to grasp how the officials were calling the game. At one point it was physical and the next it was touch fouls. Regardless, good teams figure out how it’s being called and adjust accordingly. The Thunder did not.
Second Half Defense: A+
This wasn’t a key to the game in our preview, but it would be a mistake not to mention it here. The Thunder turned the entire game in the second half thanks to the defense. From entering the third quarter trailing by 13 to entering the fourth up by 16, it was a masterful performance. One that shows this team, when it wants to, can really cause some problems for opposing offenses. If they could play a full 48 minutes with that intensity, Oklahoma City will become that team everyone thought they could be at the start of the season.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!