5 min read

Wednesday Bolts: 4.24.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps the Thunder’s season-ending loss last night in Portland: “Thirty-seven feet. 37. Over 13 feet behind the three-point line. Just inside and to the right of the Portland Trail Blazers logo, with the game clock winding down to nothing, Blazers guard Damian Lillard capped his historic 50-point night with the gut punch this game and series had earned: a 37-foot side-step three-pointer at the buzzer to finish off the Thunder’s 2018-19 season with a 4-1 first round series loss. The final score of 118-115 took a winding road to arrive, but it landed with a splash as the red lights flashed from Lillard, capping a 13-3 closing run by Portland over the final 3:08 and an outrageous shooting performance from Lillard, who went 17-of-33 and made 10 three-pointers. None of Lillard’s makes came on catch and shoots. All of his shots were contested about as well as the Thunder could manage. It didn’t matter. “We gave a really, really good effort. He made some tough shots. You gotta give him credit,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “The night he had, the shots that he made epitomized the last shot of the game. Those are the kind of shots he made throughout the first half. Some of them were really well defended. We worked hard.”

Royce Young (ESPN) with Lillard’s post-game comments about the shot: “After Lillard hit it, as he does, he kept it cool, giving a quick glance and a brief wave at the Thunder bench before his teammates mobbed him. It was a contentious series with the Thunder, highlighted by a tense Game 3 in which the trash talk between the teams percolated. “The game, the series was over and that was it,” Lillard said. “And I was just waving goodbye to them. I think after Game 3, Dennis Schroder was out there pointing to his wrist, they was out there doing all these celebrations and doing all these stuff. We kept our composure and after one win that’s what they decided to do. And we was just like, ‘OK, what we want to do is win four games.’ And then when we win those four games there’s not going to be nothing to talk about. So that’s what that was. There’s been a lot of back and forth, a lot of talk and all this stuff, and that was the last word. That was having the last word.”

NBA players react to Lillard’s game-winner: “In the final seconds of Game 5 between the third-seed Portland Trail Blazers and sixth-seed Oklahoma City Thunder, the score was tied at 115. Damian Lillard went one-on-one with Paul George before letting the clock expire as he drained a 37-foot 3-pointer to give the Trail Blazers a 118-115 win. The win clinched a second-round berth for the Blazers, their first playoff series win in three years. The Trail Blazers’ official Twitter account eloquently summed up what transpired.”

Paul George can live with it:

Haley ‘Shaugnessy (Ringer) on another first round exit for the Thunder: “In select games this season, the Thunder looked ready for the Warriors. They featured a commanding defense and a newly recommitted, sharpshooting MVP candidate. But Oklahoma City’s campaign ended the same way it did the season before and the season before that: zapped in the first round. The faces, names, and handles have changed around Russell Westbrook (and Steven Adams) through the past three years, but the result has remained steadfast. This specific roster has lost just one series, but there’s little confidence the result would be any different if they ran it back next season. What will change during the offseason, and what can’t?”

Brett Dawson (Athletic) on the Thunder’s season of unfulfilled promise: “The shot went in, because of​ course​ it​ had​ to. It had​ been that sort of night​​ and that sort of series for Damian Lillard, and even from 37 feet in a tie game, the thing seemed practically predestined, a buzzer-beating dagger Tuesday that beat the Thunder, 118-115, ended the teams’ first-round playoff series and sent Oklahoma City home for a long and uncertain summer. Paul George later would call it “a bad shot,” and for some people, sure. But Lillard had been the hero all series and the hero won in the end, capping a 50-point night with the shot of his life, then a wave goodbye to the Thunder bench. It was fitting. The whole night had been. This was the Thunder in microcosm, their season played out over 48 minutes. It had all the familiar ebbs and flows and a stretch so excellent that it made you wonder How did these guys end up here? … the sixth seed in a Western Conference where they once seemed poised to make noise. In the end, the Thunder were what they’d been all season, tantalizing in one breath, unsatisfying in the next.”

Royce Young (ESPN) on the next questions being difficult for OKC: “Now what? OKC has the second-highest payroll in the league, a $60 million luxury tax bill, and one playoff win to show for it. They have a 30-year-old Westbrook with $171 million left on his contract. They have George, signed through the 2021-22 season (a player option on the last season). Despite immense disappointment, they have roster stability for the first time in nearly five seasons. They could look across the aisle at the team that just beat them and see a group that endured consecutive first-round postseason sweeps and a 10-game playoff losing streak only to bounce back. A year ago, the Blazers were the team that needed something done, a coach fired, a star traded, some kind of shakeup to fix them. They didn’t react, and they were rewarded. Portland also had the kind of infrastructure and top-tier player leadership to enable that approach. Lillard led them through darkness and embarrassment last postseason. Westbrook’s leadership style is different, and within the walls of the Thunder, might be running thin outside the locker room. The Thunder are known for their rock-solid culture and sustainable method. All signs point to a steady, measured reaction from the front office.”

Bobby Marks (ESPN+) asks if the Thunder need an overhaul: “There will be no shortage of suggestions outside of OKC headquarters about how to fix what went wrong at the end of the season — whether that’s a roster overhaul, a new voice on the sideline or just running it back. When it comes to an overhaul of the roster, keep in mind that Westbrook is entering the second year of a supermax contract that will pay him $38.5 million, $41.4 million, $44.2 million and $47 million annually over the next four seasons. Unlike John Wall, who is considered untouchable in trades because of his Achilles injury and has the same amount of money owed, Westbrook is movable, but the Thunder would be looking at acquiring expiring contracts and draft picks in return. Finances aside, Westbrook has been the face of the franchise. He played a big role in George re-signing last offseason. Entertaining offers for the All-Star would signal a clear rebuild for an organization that has been developed through the draft and trades. It is not in this organization’s DNA to chase cap flexibility for high-profile free agents, and that would likely be the return package for Westbrook.”

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) with three key questions for the Thunder this offseason: “Is Billy Donovan coming back?The Thunder picked up the fifth-year option on Donovan’s contract on Dec. 17, but since then OKC experienced wild inconsistencies. Those start on the offensive end, where Donovan’s “tactical competence” general manager Sam Presti lauded back in 2015 wasn’t always apparent. At the same time, Donovan has been equipped with a team of sub-par shooters or shot creators, not to mention his primary ballhandler (Russell Westbrook) had a career-worst shooting season. The question may come down to if the Thunder thinks the coach it wants is attainable.”

One last turn of the knife: Kanter earned this one.