It’s only November and KD comes back soon. It’s only November and KD comes back soon. It’s only November and KD comes back soon…
Reminders like that and maybe a little Stuart Smalley-style self-affirmation may be about all Thunder fans can turn to after another disappointing loss, this time a 93-90 setback at home to the New York Knicks. With a crucial season now off to a 7-6 start and the Warriors looking invincible, it’s easy to be queasy right now in OKC.
But here’s the thing. The Thunder had the ball with a chance to tie the game as the clock wound down despite shooting 3-29 — THREE OF TWENTY-NINE — on 3-pointers. OKC could have made it to overtime if they had just shot a miserable 14 percent from behind the arc, or won the game in regulation by shooting a still-awful 17 percent from deep. Or turn it around and take one or two buckets away from the Knicks and their white-hot 60 percent shooting on 3-pointers. Sometimes it’s just as simple as one team had terrible luck, and the other didn’t.
That’s a tempting narrative to buy, especially after this game. The Thunder had their customary up-and-down defensive performance, but they weren’t just flat outplayed by the Knicks. The Thunder had some good looks that didn’t fall, and the Knicks had some tough shots that did. And then you have randomness like Lance Freaking Thomas scoring 12 points and going 2-3 on 3-pointers, plus another awful offensive night from Serge Ibaka. Things happen.
And yet … there is the slightly-more-than-nagging feeling that something remains fundamentally off with this squad. Despite all the changes, things feel stale. The defense is not at all coming together. After some flashes of variety early in the season, the offense looks like it always did before Billy Donovan’s arrival. Effort is inconsistent. Kyle Singler continues to look shorn of confidence. Dion Waiters is back to being Dion Waiters more often than not. The second unit, thought of as a strength before the season started, often struggles.
The fact is, with KD out and with only 13 games gone, it’s too early to tell which of the dueling narratives will prove to be the lasting one in OKC’s 2015-16 season. Will the Thunder be more like the Cavs last season and eventually adjust to the changes, gel as a unit and get things right in time for the playoffs? Or is this what we’re going to be getting?
It’s impossible to say. Trying to make the case for one or the other is just venturing into #hottakes territory, and we’re not going to go there.
But it’s certainly true that a feeling I would liken to constipation is as entrenched as it has ever been in the Thunder universe. Ever since Russell Westbrook went down with the Patrick Beverley injury in the 2013 playoffs, there’s just no sense that OKC has gotten a fair shake — a real shot. Serge Ibaka’s injury came the next season, and then last season’s injury nightmare. The fan base and the team has been pointed to this season as soon as it became apparent last season was a lost cause — which has now happened three seasons in a row, all due to an injury to a key player. You could feel a palpable sense of “NOW we’re back” on opening night against San Antonio. It sure as heck felt that way during the 3-0 start to the season and the first half of the Wizards game when KD was doing KD things and the Thunder were choking the life out of the Washington crowd there to serenade their hometown hero. But something always happens to stop the progress. KD’s hamstring and some missed shots tonight. What tomorrow?
Maybe nothing. Maybe Kevin Durant comes back Sunday evening, the Thunder get on a roll, and November’s struggles will seem quaint while OKC and Golden State are battling it out during an epic seven-game Western Conference Finals.
But it’s hard to tell. Never as hard as tonight.
- As Mrs. Daily Thunder pointed out on Twitter, Royce goes out of town and Dion Waiters immediately is inserted into the starting lineup. This is an entertaining thing. But it wasn’t even close to one of the most important narratives of the game. Go figure.
- So, the Knicks went with Jose Calderon guarding Westbrook, which made me laugh when I realized it. This was with Andre Roberson on the floor. And then Westbrook proceeded to act like it was someone other than Jose Calderon guarding him. I was certain Russ would go after Calderon early and often and force the Knicks to switch Aron Afflalo or someone onto him, but Russ let Calderon off the hook. He also floated in and out of the game defensively, often letting Calderon slide by him and try to poke the ball out from behind instead of using his considerable physical advantage to stay in front of him. I don’t get it.
- Kristaps. He was barely a factor other than starting out the game with a 3-pointer. I wonder how many times in NBA history a game has been started by a made 3-pointer coming from a 7-3 player? Anyway, Kristaps Porzingis played 26 mostly uneventful minutes, but I was struck by how fluidly he moves for a guy that size. More like a small forward.
- Even though I knew Sasha Vujacic was back in the league, I was still surprised to see him when he got his four-minute stint in the first half. The fact he was once engaged to Maria Sharapova is almost as inexplicable to me as the Westbrook-Calderon dynamic this game.
- Lance Thomas. Cut by the Thunder last year, 12 fairly large points against them this year. Good for him. But … go away, Lance. That’s enough.
- No Mitch McGary again. I’m not sure I understand it. I realize that I have spent a bunch of time talking about the missed 3-pointers, and McGary wasn’t going to be changing much about that. But with OKC clearly searching for answers and consistency, it’s hard to understand why McGary doesn’t get more of a look. He’d at least be in there moving and making things happen and bringing energy. At some point Donovan needs to see what he’s got in McGary.
- Russ being Russ: Matched up against Porzingis in the corner, Russ opted to shoot a 3-pointer over the man who is a foot taller than him instead of take him to the hoop. And, of course, Russ made it.
- I have no problem with Waiters taking the final shot. It was a tough look, but only tough looks were available at that point. With the way the Thunder were dropping and mishandling passes all night, it would have been plenty risky to try to force a pass. He worked to get off his shot, he got off a decent look, and it missed.
- The Simon Says guy is an underrated halftime show in the world where a Zumba class is occasionally a halftime show.
Up next: Sunday vs. Mavericks.