Of all the crazy, insane, hard to believe things that have happened in the world in 2020, the Thunder coaching staff drawing up a play designed to be a Deonte Burton game winner may be the biggest shocker of them all.
The Thunder third stringers put up a valiant effort to end the regular season on a high note, but fell just short to the Clippers in overtime. It’s a game OKC easily had in hand with double digit leads in most of the time they played their starters sans Chris Paul and Lu Dort. But it’s also a game the Clippers may have easily had in hand had they played their starters.
Though it was one of the more competitive completely meaningless games you’ll ever see, let’s drop the charade that anyone cared about the final score and skip to the good stuff.
OKC fans had three questions coming into the season finale:
1. How is Dennis Schröder going to look after two weeks out of The Bubble?
Straight outta quarantine, Dennis Schröder looks playoff ready. Two-time daddy Dennis didn’t show any lingering effects of waking up at 3am to swaddle and bottle a newborn. He still has the same lightning first step and sped to the rim with ease whenever he wished. And Schröder’s newfound 3-point prowess remains intact, as he connected on all three of his long distance attempts. Schröder scored 17 points on 6-12 shooting. With no rust on his shot nor on his wheels, the future Sixth Man of the Year figures to be a matchup nightmare for the Houston Rockets.
2. Will Darius Bazley score 20+ points for the fourth straight game?
Unfortunately, the Bubble Bazley high we’ve all been on the past week was burst against the Clippers with a reminder that he’s still a rookie. Darius finished with 9 points and 8 rebounds, which aren’t bad raw numbers. But it took him 12 shots to get those 9 points, otherwise known as the Waiters Special. Baze’s problem tonight was finishing around the rim and coming up short on a number of floaters. Despite the down night, there were still positives to be taken. The 20 year old shot 2 of 5 from 3, so his stroke is still on from outside, he blocked 2 shots, and he was a +7, the second highest plus minus on the team behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The body of Bubble Bazley’s work is still a big success.
3. If Lu Dort misses time, who is going to step up in his place?
If the Clippers game was an open audition for the starting shooting guard position, then Hamidou Diallo is going to be cast in the lead role. The slam dunk champ had by far the best game as a Thunder player, scoring a career best 27 points, adding 11 rebounds and–most impressively–confidently knocking down 4 of 8 3-point tries. One caveat: it did take Hami 22 shots to get his 27. His shot selection and frequency still remain highly suspect, and his jump shot doesn’t seem sustainable. But there’s no denying Diallo brings a Tazmanian type energy to the game and makes his presence felt, good or bad.
Andre Roberson was given more minutes to showcase his newfound health and stroke. He bombed from beyond the arc, going an old school Dre-ish 0-6, but Dre’s defensive effort, offensive cutting ability, BBIQ, rebounding and playmaking were all on display. I’m still holding out hope Roberson slides into Dort’s spot if he misses time, but the smart money is on Diallo.
Assuming Schröder still comes off the bench, Abdel Nader is the final candidate to take Lu’s minutes until he returns. But a last minute elbow stinger popped up right before tipoff, so Nader didn’t get his final try out.
Though the final score says OKC lost, for the most part Thunder fans go out on top concerning their three big questions. Schröder looks as dominant as ever. Bazley failed to score 20 again and struggled to get going but a 9/8/2/1 game being considered a bad game proves just how far he’s come this season.
And Diallo is down to (be) Dort.
- The Thunder finish this remarkable season 44-28 and the #5 seed.
- That’s a better record and seed than they finished last year with two superstars.
- OKC, Houston and Utah all ended up with the exact same record. The Thunder have the head to head tiebreakers over both of them. But because it’s a three way tie, the Rockets end up with the highest seed because they won their division.
- Shai only played 14 minutes, but he put up 13 points on 6-10 shooting with 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Shai’s two best Bubble games may have been his final two games, a great sign going into the playoffs.
- Shai scored 11 of OKC’s first 20 points and broke out a Canadian Euro. Or as someone on Twitter suggested to me, the French Canadian. I’m gonna steal that for future use.
- Danilo Gallinari only scored 3 points, all of them free throws, and missed all 3 of his field goals in his 9 minutes. And I am not concerned one iota about Gallo.
- Steven Adams only played 6 minutes, grabbing 4 rebounds and scoring 0 points. Am I the only one irrationally irritated about how these tiny minute games affect our players’ season averages?
- Roberson finally shoots his first two free throws of Bubble play, including scrimmages, and he goes 1-2. 50% is a 3.3% improvement on his career average.
- Hamidou Diallo out here playing like prime Darius Bazley.
- Even Dr. Strange didn’t see “Deonte Burton attempts game winning shot” in any of this game’s 14,000,065 futures.
- If the Thunder really wanted to hit the game winning shot, you know who they should’ve drawn up a play for: Mike Miller Muscala.
- The Thunder traded Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul, two 1st round picks + two pick swaps. Consensus was Houston would contend for a title and OKC would tank and rebuild. Thunder and Rockets finish with the exact same record and meet in the first round of the playoffs.
- Up next: Thunder vs. Rockets. Game 1. Tuesday night at 5:30pm central. Let’s hope both OKC and Houston get good injury news soon on Lu Dort and Russell Westbrook, each team’s best player.