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Monday Bolts: 12.24.18

Merry Christmas Eve, friends. These are your Bolts.

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s loss to the Timberwolves: “The Thunder had the looks, but the ball has to cooperate too. Down the stretch it did for the Minnesota Timberwolves, while the Thunder was left looking at some prime missed opportunities to come away with a hard-fought victory on the second night of a back to back. Ultimately, even after displaying remarkable effort and resolve, the Thunder fell 114–112 to the Timberwolves, after Paul George’s heave three fell awry. Head Coach Billy Donovan drew up a pet play to get George the ball at the top of the key with 3.9 seconds to go, from the same spot on the floor where he hit a game-winner in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. The inbounds pass spilled off of George’s outstretched fingers, disrupting any timing or rhythm he might have had and his shot went off track.”

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on controversial calls in last night’s game: “With the Thunder clinging to a two-point lead on the second night of a back-to-back, Jerami Grant skied for a block on Karl-Anthony Towns that left Chesapeake Energy Arena in awe. The next play did, too. Towns pulled Grant to the ground during the block with 42.9 seconds left, and the ball made its way to Minnesota’s Dario Saric in the corner for a 3-pointer that put the Timberwolves ahead by one with 37.8 seconds left in an eventual 114-112 loss. A couple of possessions before, Grant looked to have been pulled down by former Thunder forward Taj Gibson, but was called for a foul on Gibson. Gibson made 1-of-2 at the free throw line. That’s a potential four-point swing that Thunder coach Billy Donovan and the Thunder’s bench weren’t happy with during the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. The foul on Towns would have been his sixth.”

The 48: T-Wolves @ Thunder

Chris Herring (FiveThirtyEight) on whether or not OKC is a true contender: “Nonetheless, FiveThirtyEight’s newly updated projection model really seems to like the Thunder’s chances of becoming Golden State’s most viable challenger out West. Despite the incredibly solid Denver Nuggets’ turnaround, which has them virtually tied for first place, the system gives Oklahoma City a 10 percent probability of making it to the NBA Finals, more than double that of any other Western Conference team. Time will tell whether those projections were merely an overshoot. But for the time being, after a slow start this season and two consecutive first-round flameouts the past two years, the Thunder will gladly take making it onto Santa’s nice list heading into their Christmas Day game.”

Michael Saenz (Sir Charles in Charge) on why the Thunder should trade for Miami’s Wayne Ellington: “As a team, the Thunder are shooting 32.6 percent from deep with only two players (Jerami Grant, Paul George) on their roster shooting about 34 percent from 3-point range. To say that this team could use another deep shooting threat would be an understatement. They desperately need a player just like Wayne Ellington that can come in and get on a hot streak to hit three or four deep bombs in a row. Someone other than George or Westbrook getting hot and taking over the game for a moment would be invaluable. Ellington shot 39 percent and is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range this season. He would fit right into what the Thunder are trying to accomplish this season.”

Zach Buckley (B/R) with every team’s biggest regret of 2018: Oklahoma City Thunder: Overlooking Outside Shooting. “Defend better than anyone else, and you’re bound to give yourselves a shot every night,right? Let’s just say that’s to be determined. For everything the Thunder have, their nearly team-wide shooting shortage might be the worst weakness to have in today’s game. Their 32.6 three-point conversion rate is the Association’s worst. Their 70.5 free-throw percentage is only three spots from the cellar. What’s most regretful about this is Oklahoma City had to see it coming. Of the nine players to log at least 400 minutes this season, only three have a career three-pointer rate above 33 percent. (League-average,mind you, is 35.2).Oh, and that trio includes part-time players Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines. Unless this can be fixed via trade, a wave of regret might rush over the Sooner State amid a brick-filled playoff failure.”

Brett Dawson (Athletic) on Paul George’s experience at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum: “Near the end of his tour, George and his entire family stood in the observation deck that overlooks the chairs of the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, the city skyline overhead. It’s a place, Watkins said, where visitors often let the experience sink in, where they begin to equate the children and parents lost that April morning to their own. Maybe it was too soon to say so, but George told his tour guides, “I already feel like an Oklahoman.” Maybe it’s a reach to say that first meeting played a major part in George’s decision to re-sign with the Thunder. But George stressed throughout his first season in Oklahoma City that he needed to feel at home in the next place he chose to play. And the Memorial was a significant first step.”

Bryan Mears (Action Network) takes a look at tomorrow’s Thunder/Rockets match-up from a betting perspective: “The 17-15 Houston Rockets will host the 21-10 Oklahoma City Thunder in Christmas Day’s second game at 3 p.m. ET. The Thunder have been one of the league’s best teams this year, sitting second behind only the Bucks with a +7.6 point differential. They boast easily the league’s best defense and obviously have explosive offensive potential with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. The Rockets, meanwhile, have been perhaps the league’s most disappointing team, only just recently scraping above .500. Their offense is catching back up to its levels from a year ago, but the defense has been awful, ranking 24th in the league. Despite all of that, the Rockets are 1.5-point home favorites, even with point guard Chris Paul out for this affair.”