Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t get back soon enough.
No, I mean really though. It’s starting to look like they really can’t make it back in time for the Thunder to make the playoffs in the brutal-as-ever Western Conference.
Reggie Jackson missed a clean look at a game-winning 3-pointer as the clock wound down, and Oklahoma City fell victim to another tough fourth quarter in a 94-92 loss to the Nets on Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The loss dropped OKC to 3-11 on the year — 2-4 at home — to remain a half-game behind the woeful Lakers as the worst team in the West.
To finish with 50 wins, which will likely be needed to snag the final spot in the West, the Thunder now have to finish the season 47-21 from here on out. And that number will likely slip to 47-20 after Sunday, when the Warriors come to town and will likely send the Thunder to a sixth straight loss. With no return in sight for KD and Russ, a finish with 50 wins would rank as perhaps the most remarkable achievement for the team since it came to town.
It all truly began to unravel for the Thunder about halfway through the fourth quarter. Deron Williams smoked Jackson for a layup to give the Nets a three-point lead to the sound of a groaning home crowd. A visibly frustrated Scott Brooks immediately took a timeout, only for the groans to come again when Lance Thomas missed an open jumper on the next play.
A Thunder foul on the next Brooklyn possession put the Nets in the bonus with 6:12 still to play, and Williams hit both free throws. OKC promptly turned it over, gave up another bucket and took another timeout suddenly down seven. And that’s when you got the same feeling that has come so often at that point in games so far this season: the Thunder again didn’t have enough in the tank.
Oklahoma City still had a run in them, and some good on-ball defense on Joe Johnson from Andre Roberson with under a minute to play gave the Thunder a chance to make something happen. But a miss on the next possession meant the Thunder would soon have to count on the Nets to miss free throws, and when Johnson obliged with only one, Jackson had little choice but to take a 3-pointer for the win with his teammates well-covered on the last possession, and another close loss added to OKC’s early-season troubles.
Jackson, to be fair, played solid basketball for most of the game. He had some defensive lapses, and still hasn’t quite found the perfect balance between finding his own good shots and setting up his teammates, but he had eight assists against only three turnovers and was a part of the Thunder’s best stretches of basketball on the night. Still, he has to be learning that his best as the true focal point of an offense might not be quite as competitive as he thought it was. It will be interesting to see if he can quickly settle into the super-sub role he had performed so well once the Thunder are back to full strength, or if his confidence is shaken, or he tries to press too much to prove his worth after perhaps missing his best chances to do so early on.
You had to feel for Jackson, who sat slumped at center court after the shot rimmed out, listening to the groans from a frustrated Thunder crowd and having to be picked up by his teammates. But he may be starting to realize what the rest of us are: Oklahoma City is running out of time to stay alive in the playoff chase, and it’s happening on his watch.
- Also, Jackson missed two free throws in the third quarter on defensive 3-second violation technicals, and he was clearly upset with himself for doing so. That’s another thing that might keep him up at night following a two-point loss.
- Man, nothing like “Cotton Eye Joe” to get a crowd fired up before a critical offensive possession with 4.1 seconds left in the game. Come on, man.
- The Thunder’s lineup to start the fourth quarter was Sebastian Telfair, Jeremy Lamb, Lance Thomas, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka. Where’s the scoring? That’s where the injuries are really hurting OKC so far — not so much when the current starters are on the floor, but when there’s no way to stagger the rotations really to keep some reliable scoring on the floor.
- That said, Ibaka did show some aggression inside the 3-point line for once, although he still had a rather inefficient 16 points on 17 shots. He took only one 3-pointer. But he had a season-high five rebounds, and he looked more effective for long stretches on the boards than he has in a while.
- Roberson returned to the starting lineup, one game after returning from his injury with seven minutes against Denver. Roberson had his moments, showing some good vision and poise on a couple of possessions to balance out a couple of possessions where he left his feet without anywhere to go with the ball. But he missed badly on both of his 3-point attempts. The Nets defense mostly played way off him, Thabo Sefolosha-style. He’ll need to be better with the ball or with his shot to keep lanes open enough for KD and Russ when they’re back.
- You can really notice how much the defense sags away from Roberson when Anthony Morrow comes on. On one of Morrow’s first possessions, the Nets had to foul him to prevent him from running wide open off of a screen. He finished a solid 3-7 on 3-pointers, much better than most other games so far in his handful of games back from injury. Morrow also found himself in foul trouble, having to sit out a huge chunk of the third and fourth quarters with five fouls.
- It continues to baffle me that the Thunder look so crisp and move the ball so well in early stretches of games, but then get bogged down late. I know the defense gets tighter later in games, but the gap just seems so wide sometimes.
- Nick Collison’s burgeoning 3-point game is paying dividends! I almost blacked out with excitement when he was in the corner and a Net flashed by him trying for a closeout block, only for Collison to put the ball on the floor (slowly) and score on a baseline drive.
- So, Lamb didn’t even make it into the game until the second quarter with Morrow fully healthy and Roberson approaching what could be his full minute load. He did make it into the third quarter though when Morrow had foul trouble (although it was Thomas who initially replaced Morrow when he picked up the fifth foul). He finished 2-6 from the floor.
- Jarrett Jack, of all people, led Brooklyn in scoring with 23 points.
- Kevin Garnett played only 18 minutes in what could be his last appearance in Oklahoma City. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he and Perk shared the court at all.
Next up: Golden State at home Sunday.