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Oklahoma City, by way of Houston, we have a problem.
The Thunder might actually be… good?
Beating the beat up Blazers last night was fun and cathartic, but they’ve been mostly lifeless thus far this season. Jacking up the Jazz in Utah, where they were 9-2 coming into the game, though? On the second night of a road back to back? Without Danilo Gallinari, he whom just happens to have the best on/off splits on this squad? And to win by 14 points, aided by Jazz garbage points that made the score look closer? The evidence is mounting that OKC may truly be a playoff quality team.
Remember, the Jazz were thought to be a contender coming into this season. Yes, they were down the disappointing Mike Conley, but this team still has Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Bojan Bogdanovic. They’re a talented team, and the Thunder just smacked them around like they were the Utah Utes and OKC was the Oregon Ducks.
The Thunder just looked like the better team throughout the night, outscoring the Jazz by 1 in the first quarter, by 3 in the second quarter, and by 13 in the typically dreadful third quarter. Utah only won the fourth quarter, again, due to garbage time.
The Thunder have now completely outclassed three division rivals and playoff hopefuls in a row by double digits. Three straight wins, five wins out of their last six, and tied for 7th in the Western Conference. One loss behind this Jazz team for the 6 seed. Yes, the Thunder are one and a half games out of the same 6 seed the Thunder finished in last year when they had Russell Westbrook and Paul George. And they’ve managed all this with one of the toughest schedules in the league so far. Things will actually get easier.
Okay, so that all sounds good, right? So what’s the problem?
The Thunder weren’t supposed to be this good. Scrappy and competitive, sure. But ultimately, this was meant to be a rebuilding year without a top 20 player that would result in a top 5-10 draft pick.
For this team to drink the champagne of Western Conference Finals success once again, OKC needs elite talent via their own draft picks and they need to trade valuable players such as Gallo, CP3, Adams, Schroder and Noel to contending teams for assets.
But the tempting aroma of the playoffs is right beneath our noses. The Thunder fanbase is starting to get attached to this entertaining, lovable roster of overachievers. Does Sam Presti give in to take a bite of the playoff apple, or does he trade that forbidden fruit in for a bountiful of apple seeds? And if Presti does decide to pull the plug on the playoffs, how will fans react to losing the likes of Paul, Gallo, Schroder, Noel, or fan favorite Adams?
The last two nights have proven that the Thunder can beat any of the mid-tier Western Conference team on the road and crash the playoff party in a year they were supposed to be left without an invite. Whatever Presti decides on that RSVP, half the fans will be unhappy. But it’s a problem that he brought upon himself.
The team he put together is too good.
- Darius Bazley drew the start with Gallo sidelined with a one-week-away-from-being-a-trade-asset bug, I mean, sprained ankle. He only scored 2 points, both on free throws, but the rookie was solid as always on the boards, bringing down 7 rebounds.
- Steven Adams has long struggled, as everyone does, against Rudy Gobert. But Adams was great against the two time Defensive Player of the Year tonight. He scored 11 points on only 4 attempts, grabbed 13 boards and blocked 4 shots.
- And got the first charge of his career against Gobert! Adams looked happier than I’ve ever seen him outside of victorious Fortnite pictures. He told reporters after the game he was so proud that he wanted to be sure we talked about it, screen shot it, whatever we did. This note’s for you, Steve-O.
- That charge led to the worst use of a coach’s challenge I’ve ever seen. It was a clear charge. Plus, Steven was so elated about his first ever, why would Utah try to steal away that kind of pure joy?
- Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell threw the People’s Elbow on Lou Dort, Billy Donovan wisely challenged it, and it of course was upheld. Do you smeeellll what the refs are home cookin’?!
- The Thunder’s three headed point guard attack failed to each score 20+ points for the third game straight because Chris Paul slacked and only scored 16 on the night. Shai got 20 and Schroder led the team with 27. ESPN stat notification: they’ve now had three straight games with all three players scoring 16+!
- I hate to see Terrance Ferguson out of the lineup, but it’s paved the way for the Lou Dort coming out party. In his second game, Dort played 29 minutes of high energy defense on Donovan Mitchell and scored 9 points.
- Between Dort and Bazley, the Thunder’s rookies don’t have that scared hesitancy you see from a lot of rookies on the court. Both look to attack and put up shots, for better or worse, any chance they get.
- This Thunder Playoffs Revenge Tour 2019 has been incredible:
Blazers ✔ Jazz ✔ Warriors ✔✔✔
Someone get Wade and Bosh out of retirement and let’s run that 2012 Finals back.