THUNDER: Struggling Warriors offer OKC opportunity to get back on track

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Indiana Pacers' Domantas Sabonis (11) puts up a shot against Oklahoma City Thunder's Jerami Grant (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indianapolis. Indiana won 108-106.

Fifth place.

That’s where the Thunder found themselves as Friday’s slate of NBA games began to be played.

And, barring a New Orleans victory over Portland, it’s where they’ll be when they meet Western Conference leading Golden State at 7:30 this evening inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Most of the season, following an 0-4 start, Oklahoma City has been in third place in the Western Conference. If it remains in fifth at regular season’s end, it won’t have home court advantage to begin the playoffs.

Something seemed to change, and drastically for the better only Wednesday night, when OKC put its whole game together after the half to rout a good Brooklyn team.

It continued a defensive template it had set in place against Utah two days earlier and its offense began hitting on all cylinders after the half.

A total carryover from one game to the next appeared to be in place in the second half at Indiana Thursday, when the Thunder led by 19 points … only to collapse down the stretch and fall by a bucket.

That is, OKC had finally found and executed its entire blueprint for success and it was in place for four quarters — the second half one day and the first half the next — before it got torn up.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan thought it was an old culprit that derailed his team.

“We fouled too much,” he said.

Oklahoma City committed 28 personal fouls against Indiana’s 17, and sent the Pacers to the free-throw line for 32 attempts (of which they made 27) while only taking 20 free throws itself (and making 16).

Donovan believed he’d seen it before, against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland.

The Clippers topped the Thunder in L.A. on March 8 by eight points, shooting 46 free throws (and making 31). Oklahoma City beat Portland the night before in double overtime despite allowing the Blazers to attempt 47 free throws.

“We did such a good job of making them shoot and have to score against our defense,” he said of Thursday’s first half. “And we weren’t even making them do that [in the second half].”

Donovan also thought the fouls were a matter of carelessness more than fatigue, even though the Thunder were playing on back-to-back nights at areas about 800 miles apart.

OKC has the advantage of Golden State being dysfunctional of late. The Warriors haven’t won two straight games since Feb. 12 — and have lost 6 of 11, total — though they will be coming off a two-point victory at Houston on Wednesday.

Still, given that, neither the Thunder themselves, nor their fans, will enjoy a victory over Golden State any less.