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Slow Starts Digging Thunder Familiar Hole Over the First Month of Games

Inside The Thunder on FanNation logo Inside The Thunder on FanNation 11/28/2022 Ross Lovelace
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Oklahoma City can make matters much easier by tightening up opening quarter defense.

Oklahoma City has been on both sides of down-to-the-wire games over the first 20 games of the season. Until Saturday night’s ugly showing in Houston, the Thunder had done a solid job of staying competitive in nearly every game on the schedule.

If it weren’t for the team’s first quarter defense, though, Oklahoma City would probably have a few more wins added onto the current total. As of Sunday, the Thunder currently sit at No. 28 in the NBA in first quarter defense, allowing an average of 31.4 points per night. OKC struggles to guard the perimeter, trying to key in on paint defense and rebounding, which in turn leads to which open threes for opponents.

After the first quarter, it’s up to the Thunder’s young core to make an inspiring comeback night after night. A season ago, Oklahoma City gave up 29.5 points on average in the opening frame, which isn’t a solid number by any means, but still considerably better than what’s been happening on the court so far this season.

As a young, competitive team, where nearly half of the roster is competing for a future roster spot, the Thunder naturally claw back into games. It’s a team that plays hard and never gives up. But something has to be done about the slow starts, because it’s costing Oklahoma City both wins and energy.

When opponents pour on their first quarter flurry, it forces Oklahoma City to rely heavily on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isolations. He typically spends most of the opening quarter with the ball in his hands, which is obviously good for the Thunder, but can also be exhausting. Last week, the Thunder allowed back-to-back 38 point opening quarters, and the week before that, New York hung 48 points in the first period.

Letting up a massive first quarter takes Oklahoma City out of its game plan early. Denver’s overtime loss last week is a perfect example, as the Thunder simply exerted every bit of energy clawing back and ran out of gas with a lead down the stretch. Heading into the second quarter of that game, Denver held a 38-21 lead, and it took Oklahoma City nearly three quarters to regain the momentum.

Obviously, OKC isn't in win-now mode, so management isn't searching for tradable players to fit holes. But cutting down on slow starts would go a long way for this Thunder team.

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