If the Thunder fan base–increasingly hyped about the seventh seed and angst-ridden about likely looming trade activity–needed a reality check, tonight serves as a good one. A lot of familiar elements dotted Game 25: clawing back into a game they seemed at once overmatched in (they were down 16 midway through the first quarter but headed into the half down just three), forgetting how to basketball in the third quarter (Denver won that frame 30-19), and coming up respectably short on the road against a quality team.
This game wasn’t an aberration. We know who the Thunder are. They are not near the level of Denver, a team frustrated by winning two-thirds of their games this season. The Thunder could eke into the playoffs, and if they do, they would have little hope against a team as good or better than the Nuggets. They would play the majority of postseason games on the road, where Oklahoma City sports a .308 winning percentage on the year.
Even at their best, there’s no evidence that the team is much more than fun. The last 10 games have vaulted them from 5-10 to 11-14 and the seventh seed, but the Thunder have a net rating of just +1.8 over that stretch. That’s good for sixth in the Western Conference, a fine number for a bottom-rung playoff team. It’s much worse than last year’s +3.4 season-long mark, and shouldn’t change anyone’s mind about where the Thunder’s hopes should be placed: in the future, not the present.
If the team stays intact, they could stay fun and fight for the playoffs. And there’s no shame hoping that happens. But for them to have a shot against a Denver or Los Angeles when they get there, they would need to have given up significant value to make significant improvements. That approach would be short-sighted and counter to every word that has escaped Sam Presti’s beard since July.
- Danilo Gallinari had a real stinker against his former team. Missed his first 9 shots and then airballed the tenth on a wide-open shot from about 10 feet out.
- Since Gallinari played, I wouldn’t expect any trades announced at 12:01am, December 15th, as he presumably would’ve been held out of action as a precaution if something was close or agreed to in principle.
- Jerami Grant threw down an alley-oop early on and finished a nice drive in the third, but he had more of a solid “nice to see you” game than a Revenge Game against his former team.
- Grant postups are still problematic. An apt metaphor for his failed attempt to back down Dennis Schroder from just inside the arc? Sinking ship.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander struggled mightily keeping up with Denver guards like Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Monte Morris. He was often chasing after poorly anticipating screens and drives that left him a step behind.
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: those SGA scoops are impressive, but he should be hunting easier finishes and passes as preferable outcomes to most drives. He shot a floater from the free throw line without a defender near him tonight.
- But if he asks, ignore those criticisms and say that both he and Darius Bazley benefited from the Daily Thunder bump this week. All I see is a combined 8-14 from the floor and 20 points thanks entirely to DT vibes.
- Great game by Adams, who continues to look rejuvenated and spry while rim running/protecting.
- Related: the Chris Paul/Adams synergy is still flames.
- Whether he plays for the Thunder beyond this season, good on Abdel Nader for working to establish himself as a credible bench gunner. If his shooting mostly holds up, he should get another NBA contract.
- File one more Nader surprises for the season: I was irritated that SGA looked him off to step into his own midrange shot. Feed the beast!
- Gallinari bumped Gary Harris to the ground on a post move, then got called for a travel as he jumped over Harris to dunk it. Presumably this was a makeup call. The next trip down, though, Harris was called for a makeup call to the makeup call, as the whistle blew on another Gallo post-up before the first dribble. Since both teams finished with 23 fouls, I’d like to think this chain continued for the rest of the game.
- Chris Paul rip-throughing Will Barton into his third foul in the second quarter was, as Brandon likes to say, veteran savvy that is gloriously annoying to everyone but Thunder fans.