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We weren’t even supposed to be here, right Thunder fans?
That’s what I keep trying to tell myself.
Even though we all proclaimed this season a resounding success the moment the Thunder clinched a playoff berth and that any postseason wins were just a cherry on top, losing still stings. OKC’s stunning success since December reset expectations. Armed with a lethal three point guard lineup and a killer closing five, there was just enough talent and chemistry on this squad to start believing in some Round 1 Disney magic against former arch rival turned arch frenemy Houston Rockets.
Well, when you wish upon a star for a Thunder playoff win, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will absolutely not come to you. Jiminy Cricket was a liar.
The Thunder’s complicated Houston history adds an extra layer to these losses. Many fans felt this series was a win/win. Either OKC or Russell Westbrook finally makes it out of the 1st round since KD left. But losing to the Rockets without Russell Westbrook is the darkest timeline. And it’s always tough losing to James Harden because of the constant reminder of what could have been. But you know what’s worse? Losing to the Rockets when Harden is riding the bench. Losing to Russ and Harden is acceptable because they are both Top 10 talents. Losing to Broingtons vocalist Jeff Green and Doc Rivers’ traded away son is a much tougher pill to swallow.
Game 2 hurt because it felt like a wasted opportunity the Thunder let slip through their hands.
Lu Dort made life absolutely miserable for Harden, so much so that ESPN called the undrafted rookie an elite defender and Rockets reddit called him the best Beard defender in the league. Harden was a -1 in his 36 minutes.
Eric Gordon was 0-10 from 3. Harden was 2-11 from 3.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander bounced back from a rough Game 1 and scored 31 points on 17 shots.
(Side note before we get back to bummer business: the Thunder’s next era is still the most important thing here, and with Shai and Dort’s performances, the future’s so bright that we gotta wear Shaides. Oh man, I need to tweet that.)
If you told me before the game that OKC would have a better field goal and 3 point percentage, Dort would hound Harden into a negative plus minus, Gordon and Harden would combine to go 2-21 from 3 and Shai would be the best player on the court with a game-high 31 points, I’d ask you if OKC won by 15 or 20.
So how the H Town were the Thunder the ones on the wrong end of a double digit loss?
Because the 2020 Rockets turned into the 2004 Pistons at halftime.
“I’ve never seen our defense be this good, ever,” Rivers said today, and Thunder fans have been saying since Tuesday night.
The Thunder led 59-53 at the break. They only scored 39 points the rest of the way.
The Rockets’ small ball is wreaking havoc on the Thunder offense by packing the paint, denying the ball to Steven Adams, swarming to Thunder bigs like worker bees attacking murder hornets, taking away drives to the rim from OKC’s guards, switching everything, having no slow footed big for Chris Paul to matchup hunt and generally taking away all space for OKC to operate.
The remedy is fairly simple: instead of playing Adams and Noel, play guys who can shoot and defend the perimeter.
Eight years after the 2012 Finals, and the Thunder’s kryptonite is still using traditional nonshooting bigs against small ball.
The frustrating thing is that just like Serge Ibaka against the Heat, the Thunder have an antidote at center they just refuse to use. Actually, make that three antidotes.
Danilo Gallinari is 6’10”, one of the most efficient shooters and scorers in the league, scored 29 points in Game 1 and was a +12 in Game 2. He is the Thunder’s ultimate spacer and he has a 5 inch height advantage over PJ Tucker. He’s quicker to guard the perimeter.
Mike Muscala is 6’11”. He shot 37.8% from 3 on the season, and he’s been even better in The Bubble.
Darius Bazley is 6’9”, nice, and has a 7 foot wingspan. He’s leaps and bounds quicker on the perimeter than Adams, Noel, Gallo or Moose. He shot 34.8% from 3 on the season, and he’s been even better in The Bubble.
I love Steven and Nerlens, you love Steven and Nerlens, and Billy Donovan loves Steven and Nerlens. But you, me, Billy, Steven and Nerlens would all love to see the Thunder make it to the 2nd round.
But if we don’t, hey whatever, we weren’t even supposed to be here.
- This loss hurts because the Thunder outplayed the Rockets besides an awful 17-0 stretch in the beginning of the 4th quarter. That was game. And it happened while James Harden was on the bench. Just uncharacteristic play from Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder.
- Some good news came last night: the Knicks dropped to the #8 pick in the draft lottery. Which had Sam Presti busting out his favorite A Tribe Called Quest vinyl and firing up the trade machine.
- I’ve hit the stage where one of my main concerns is that CP3, Schroder and Gallo all retain their tremendous trade value they built up this season.
- Houston was a +14 in Harden’s 12 minutes on the bench. That’s a mathematical formula the Thunder can never solve with a win.
- I hate saying this because my affection for Russ is true and pure, but… it may not be the worst thing if he came back. Worst case, the Rockets still win but Russ gets credit for advancing. Best case, he finally puts a nonshooter on the floor for the Rockets, which would help take some pressure off the Thunder’s defense. And on the other end, well, let’s just say it’s possible that not every single Rocket defender would be so disciplined on rotations and close outs. Love you, Russ!
- Accepting apologies for all knee jerk Shai Gilgeous-Alexander slander in the comments below.
- Steven Adams Game 2 stats: 8 points, 11 rebounds, 74 loose balls jumped on.
- Adams flopping on James Harden and getting the call: *chef’s kiss*.
- Lu Dort checked out with 5 minutes left in the game and the Thunder climbing out of a 9 point hole. James Harden immediately scored 7 points on his next three shots. He had only made 2 shots in the previous 43 minutes.
- Thunder were +7 in Shai’s 37 minutes on the floor and -20 in his 11 minutes on the bench.
- Thunder were +4 with Lu Dort on the floor and all those minutes were matched up 1v1 with James Harden.
- Up next: Game 3 on Saturday at 5pm. Let’s go shooting bigs!