When not foul crazy, Thunder is the NBA’s best defense
The buzzer sounded and it was one of the few times Terrance Ferguson was disappointed on Thursday.
Ferguson grimaced and tapped his chest as if to say “my bad” at the end of a rampant Thunder second quarter. Ferguson was being hard on himself. James Harden has baited far more experienced players into biting on a pump fake during his patented stepback 3-pointer.
But with arms withdrawn, Ferguson pulled up just enough for whistles
to go unblown. The majority of the night against the Rockets in a 98-80 win, the Thunder did what it’s been unable to do all season.
When the Thunder doesn’t foul so much, it has the best defense in the NBA.
“Honestly, I think we were just fouling for no
reason,” Steven Adams said. “It’s a very simple adjustment: Don’t grab.
“We’re smarter than that. I know we’re athletes, but jeez.”
The Thunder proved Adams right against the Rockets on Thursday, sending them to the line only 10 times on 16 personal
fouls, both season lows.
“We all just did a great job of keeping our hands away from James being able to draw those fouls, and when he goes to the basket, just being able to body him up with our
upper body instead of our hands,” Raymond Felton said. “Ferg, P (Paul George), pretty much everybody that had to guard him did a wonderful job.”
Thursday’s high point came after a slew of wild fouling games, even during this seven-game win streak.
Per game, the Thunder is committing 24.4 personal fouls and opponents are averaging 25.3 foul shots a game, thirdand 10th-most in the NBA this season, respectively.
That’s despite the Thunder having the league’s third-best defense, allowing only 102.3 points per 100 possessions.
The NBA’s crackdown on grabbing and contact has affected a Thunder squad that likes to play aggressive defense.
After a six-steal performance, Paul George described himself as a linebacker when describing his ability to read plays and shoot gaps defensively.
“We’ve got guys that can guard and want to guard,” George said.
That desire can get the Thunder into trouble.
Among players averaging 30 minutes a game, the Thunder has three starters in the top 60 in foul frequency — George, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant. Schroder’s had a particularly tough time, joining a handful of guards like Utah’s Ricky Rubio, the Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, and Detroit’s Reggie Jackson as the most foul-prone players in the NBA in a category filled with frontcourt players.
The last time OKC lost, Boston scored 15 of its 27 fourth-quarter points from the free-throw line because the Thunder’s foul frenzy put the Celtics in the free-throw bonus with nine minutes to go. Fouls nearly sank OKC against New Orleans last week, when the Pelicans shot 17 free throws in the fourth quarter. With 35 seconds left, Jrue Holiday was fouled by Schroder while shooting a 3-pointer. Holiday made all three foul shots to cut a seven-point Thunder lead to four without any time running off the clock.
“Coach was talking about it, to show our hands when they’re driving, that they’d tried to get to the free-throw line,” Schroder said after Thursday’s game.
After Thursday’s performance against the crafty Rockets, the Thunder took another step toward correcting its biggest issue on a defense that hasn’t had many.
“One of the things I think we spent a lot of time on in the beginning of the season, certainly with the new rules, is really working on not fouling,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
“We’ve talked about it a long time. That was a great job by our guys.”
Oklahoma City’s Paul George and Dennis Schroder talk with official Leon Wood after George was called for a foul against Boston on Oct. 25 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan talks with Paul George during the second half of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The Thunder won 95-86.