When not foul crazy, Thun­der is the NBA’s best de­fense

The Oklahoman - - BEDLAM KICKOFF - Erik Horne ehorne@ ok­la­homan.com

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

THUN­DER

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.”

[PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

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.

[AP PHOTO]

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.

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