OK, so this is getting pretty bad.
What I said the other night, I still do very much believe. There were always going to be issues, and the fact the Thunder are having problems with consistency shouldn’t be surprising at all. It shouldn’t have been expected the Thunder were going to maintain a high level of play. But this is sinking to a place I didn’t see coming. I saw the Thunder as a 45 to 50-win team this season. I do not think that’s happening anymore. I thought Russell Westbrook, combined with the talent of Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, plus what I expected to be a solid defensive identity, would be enough.
At least for eight of the last 10 games, that’s just not happening. Specifically, the defensive part of it. Whatever issues the Thunder have, the reason they aren’t winning anymore begins and ends on the defensive end. That’s the problem.
So I wrote all of that when the Thunder went down 11 with about five minutes left in Denver. And really, despite them winning 132-129 in overtime, I feel like it all still holds exactly true. They beat the Nuggets because in the final few minutes and overtime, they started guarding people. Westbrook dominated the offense in the not-that-great-kind-of-way, but it was enough to get OKC to the finish line. And they snapped a three-game losing streak against a plucky Nuggets team that was missing like nine players.
Naturally, it included excruciating moments where you definitely could see the Thunder giving it away. Namely Steven Adams fouling rookie Jamal Murray on a 3 with 8.3 seconds remaining, and the Thunder up three. Westbrook attacked the basket, shocking the world by resisting the 30-foot flailer, but was blocked by Kenneth Faired. Overtime was attrition, with OKC finding enough on both ends.
What’s disconcerting is how standard this kind of game is. It’s almost like this is the Thunder template. They’re in it at halftime, then the game starts to slip a little mid-third, but it tightens with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Then it’s a flurry so they’re down 5-8 heading into the fourth. That swells to 9-12 by the time Westbrook checks back in with around eight minutes left. OKC makes a charge, basically all on the back of Westbrook, and has a chance in the final minute. Lately, they’ve lost those games. Tonight, they won.
But I think that’s a clear sign the Thunder are more average than we (I) thought. When you’re playing from behind constantly, it signals that you’ve got issues. And if you win that kind of game, it’s mostly on heroics and not system, or team ability. The Thunder have an amazing player in Westbrook and sometimes he can do enough to rescue his team.
Still: The Thunder needed this win pretty badly. After losing three straight and seven of nine, the positivity had dissolved and it was starting to feel like there wasn’t a way out to improvement. If anything, it felt like they were regressing. This game isn’t some step forward. But it’s a whole lot better to think about how you need to improve after you still won.
- Good news, the Thunder play again in less than 24 hours.
- I don’t know if the Thunder tried to coast through this one with that in mind, but there seemed to be a lack of intensity through much of the game. Mostly in Westbrook, who telegraphed passes and sort of loafed around.
- Russell Westbrook: half-asses his way to a 36-12-18 line. Only him, man.
- I’m not sure I even want Westbrook to do anything differently, but man, the way he approaches the finish of a close game is something. Tonight was a lot of him generating a comeback, but in overtime, Jerami Grant had a tough layup, and Adams got fouled on putback attempt, but other than that, it was all Westbrook, with basically no passes.
- Donovan is clearly going Morrow over Abrines right now. Morrow made his first 3 the other night, and added two more tonight. His offense was a big spark in the comeback. That’s why he was on the floor, and he paid it off tonight.
- I highly enjoyed Wilson Chandler hacking the crap out of Steven Adams, raising his hand to accept the foul, and yet no foul was called.
- Potential Thunder small forward target Wilson Chandler with 30 and 11 rebounds tonight.
- Joffrey Lauvergne is maybe the Thunder’s top 3-point threat. That’s definitely not a good thing.
- Lauvergne has definitely been a bright spot though. His shooting is a big help, but he’s a solid pick-and-roll defender and he tries.
- Enes Kanter with 19 minutes tonight. If Lauvergne keeps hitting 3s, Kanter is going to become even more of a specialist than he already is. I can’t imagine Kanter is too happy about his current situation either.
- It really appeared the Thunder came in with a mind to feature Adams a bit more. And still, he only took seven shots. I am as big an Adams advocate as anyone, and foul trouble hurt him tonight, but 7 and 5 from him isn’t very good.
- Andre Roberson’s shooting is gross, but his finishing is a lot better and that’s all that really needs to be good. The shooting is never going to be very good, but if he finishes in transition and in slash opportunities, that’s what really helps.
- Domas Sabonis played a nice game. In 28 minutes, 13 points and 6 rebounds, including 3-3 from 3. I’d really like to see more of him offensively. But again, he’s a rookie and you’re looking for signs, and those are definitely there.
- Victor Oladipo had one of his good games, at least offensively — 26 points and 7 assists.
- OKC got whipped on the glass 51-40. I don’t get why this keeps happening.
- You know, if that 3 would’ve went in against the Clippers, and Ibaka hadn’t made that jumper… I’M JUST KIDDING.
Next up: Home against the Pistons on Saturday