The Thunder (42-29) certainly could have used the suspended Russell Westbrook on Monday night in Oklahoma City, as Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat (34-36) took a 116-107 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Though the Thunder starters combined to score 97 points on 52 percent shooting (37% 3P), and led 13-0 less than five minutes into the first quarter, the Heat’s second unit stepped in and changed the game’s complexion entirely. Led by Goran Dragic’s 26 points (6/9 3P) and D-Wade’s 25 (10/17 FG), Miami’s bench outscored the OKC reserves 67-10 (not a typo) and put the Heat in front for good with a 17-0 run late in the opening frame. The loss is the Thunder’s ninth in the last 13 games, and pushes them into sixth place in the Western Conference.
Paul George led the way for OKC with 31 points (9/18 FG, 4/11 3P), nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and two steals. He was joined in double-figures by Jerami Grant’s 27 (10/16 FG), Dennis Schroder’s 20 (7/16 FG), and Steven Adams with 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Thunder starters outscored Miami’s 97-49, but ultimately couldn’t overcome the bench’s poor play despite scratching to within six with a little less than two minutes remaining.
Father Prime. Dwyane Wade gave a throwback performance in his final appearance at the ‘Peake, receiving a standing ovation when he checked in, then casually dropped 25 points and finished as a team-high +18 in his 33 minutes of action. He put Miami’s first points on the board with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, wrapping up the first with 11 points and a +11 as the Heat took control after trailing by 13 early on. In the final knife turn, he didn’t even exchange jerseys with anyone after the game. Didn’t earn it, I guess.
Goran. Like Wade, Goran Dragic came off the Miami bench and ruined a perfectly fine Monday night in Oklahoma City. The Heat were down 11 when Dragic checked in with just under six minutes to play in the first, and he proceeded to shoot 3-of-3 from downtown for 11 points and a +13 by the end of the quarter. His final line: 26 points, 11 assists, five rebounds, two steals, +14. He and Wade had their way with the Thunder defense all night.
The Starters. Despite the loss, the starting five put forth a winning effort. The trio of George, Grant, and Schroder combined for 77 points on 52 percent shooting — which was a very solid outing. George filled the stat sheet with a bunch of everything (31-9-5-2-2), Grant was superb with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and Schroder filled in for Westbrook by dropping 20 points and six assists on 7-of-16 from the field. Steven Adams added a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double and finished as a +4 before fouling out. Terrance Ferguson shot just 3-of-9 from downtown, but still managed a team-high +10 in his 37 minutes. The group scored all but 10 of the Thunder’s points, and none of them finished with a negative plus/minus.
The Bench. Let’s just look at the plus/minus numbers for the Thunder reserves in this one: Patrick Patterson (-6), Markieff Morris (-12), Abdel Nader (-14), Raymond Felton (-11), Hamidou Diallo (-14), and Deonte Burton (-13). The group combined to shoot 4-of-22 (18%) and were outscored by 57 points. The absence of Nerlens Noel (quad) was felt.
Final Thoughts: I attended the game with my fiancee and future nephews, setting up camp in Loud City for the boys’ first live NBA experience. Yeah, the Thunder lost. Russell’s suspension hurt, too. But I was happy with it, you know? The game got kind of interesting late, Grant had 34 dunks (estimate), and we left with smiles on our faces ( + gear from the fan shop). It was a sweet reminder that pre-game intros, chanting in unison, men flying through the air, and a bison firing 3X t-shirts from a fully-automatic clothing cannon — it’s all awesome. The entire experience. The most important thing I’ve done all night (this recap included) was telling a couple first-timers that we stand until we get our first bucket. Tradition is tradition, even if it doesn’t make a great deal of sense. When Steven Adams gave us permission to sit, they said “that was cool” and I remembered I used to think so, too. For as upset as I can get about this team, sometimes you just need to see someone get so Thundered Up they sleep all the way home. The outcome of the game did very little to ruin anything for us.
But from a basketball standpoint, it was hard not to feel like the vibe was all wrong. The crowd wasn’t in it and hit the exits before the game ended. The players appeared completely out of sync, and outside of that 13-0 start, never made you feel like they were actually going to win. People just wanted a reason to cheer. A guy in our section yelled “Fire Billy” six times to my count. It was simply an uninspiring performance from a group in desperate need of some inspiration.
OKC has fallen to sixth in the West with the loss, leading the seventh place Jazz by a half game and the eighth place Clippers by a full game. Westbrook will be back on Wednesday, but the Thunder get the Toronto Raptors (50-21) twice before the week ends. The time for “we’ll figure it out” has past, and the Thunder have 11 more regular season opportunities to inject life into themselves and the people that cheer for them.