The Los Angeles Clippers stormed back from a 17-point deficit to open the fourth quarter with a 35-13 surge in the final period and knock off the Thunder on Wednesday. Afterward, the team's leading scorer made it clear the level of play isn't good enough right now, per Royce Young of ESPN.com:
They made plays, we didn't. They were disciplined, we weren't. We want to be a great team. We're fooling ourselves. If we just want to be a great team, the way we're playing, we're fooling ourselves. We want to win a bunch of games in the regular season, that's cool, but we're fooling ourselves with the way we're playing.
Head coach Billy Donovan added, "I think the biggest thing is, the decision we have to make collectively as a group from an accountability standpoint is, what kind of team do we want to be?"
The comments come with Oklahoma City currently sitting third in the Western Conference with a 42-19 record. That leaves Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. with a 1.5-game edge over the Clippers for the third seed despite Wednesday's defeat.
Yet, the sentiment of top teams questioning themselves may speak to a larger issue: the pressure placed on everybody else by the outstanding play of the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and, to a slightly lesser extent, the San Antonio Spurs.
The Warriors, who the Thunder face off with Thursday night, are 54-5 and threatening the league record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Spurs aren't far behind with a 51-9 mark with about a quarter of the regular season to go.
Those eye-popping records are putting a lot of heat on other title contenders. Last week, LeBron James questioned the mental toughness of his Cleveland Cavaliers, the Eastern Conference leaders, after a loss to the Toronto Raptors, as noted by Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com: "When you lose the way we lost, mental mistake after mental mistake, those hurt more than anything when you can play better mentally. People get so caught up on the physical side of the game. We lack mental right now, and we've got to continue to get better with it."
Normally, when a team is winning around 70 percent of its games at this point in the season, it's on cruise control. But when the defending champs are winning at nearly a 92 percent rate, other teams know the bar must be raised in order to seriously contend for a championship.
That's likely why players like Durant and James are willing to speak so openly about their teams' deficiencies. They know the margin for error will be extremely thin once the postseason arrives.