After one quarter of play against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Thunder, without Paul George, trailed by 20 points (38-18). It was about as ugly a performance as the team could have had in a quarter. But led by Russell Westbrook (40 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists), OKC clawed its way back. A three-pointer by Russ tied the game with 5.7 seconds remaining — the closest the Thunder had been since the score was 0-0.
Then this happened:
Of course, you knew that. Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds on his way to the game-winning bucket. Thunder coaches and players desperately pleaded for a video review, but officials said the play wasn’t reviewable. The best part is the reason why: Because the officials failed to call Antetokounmpo out of bounds in the first place, there was nothing to review. In other words, because the officials missed the call entirely, they couldn’t go back to fix it.
The league will apparently consider replay changes in the offseason and situations like these (though rare) are a good reason why. As it stands now, replay reviews generally come up to determine whether a call made is correct — there is no mechanism to correct a missed whistle.
Honestly, the NBA will have its hands full trying to come up with a system that would’ve fixed this egregious missed call. The league will have to find a way to reasonably allow coaches or officials to review certain no-calls, namely the objective calls, but not subjective calls (e.g., fouls). Unfortunately for the Thunder, the promise of a solution tomorrow does nothing to fix the mistake from last Friday.
The Big D
The Thunder has been one of the league’s elite defensive teams throughout the season, ranking fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. In yet another loss to the lowly Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder’s defense totally let them down (notably, Andre Roberson was out). OKC posted a team defensive rating of 121.9, the second-worst showing all season. In addition, the team forced just seven turnovers and four steals, allowing the Mavs to shoot 52 percent from the floor. Yet, despite the putrid defensive performance, the Thunder had the game tied at 108 with 1:20 to go — just in time for the defense to again let the team down.
Ignore that Dennis Smith Jr. banked in a three, but what was Russell Westbrook doing on this critical possession?
The Mavericks’ Salah Mejri shows screen but rolls to the basket, and both Westbrook and Jerami Grant stay attached to him, leaving Smith wide open for a triple. Mejri doesn’t even get within three feet of Smith, but inexplicably, Westbrook (as Westbrook tends to do), defaults to a switch. Grant, likely because his man doesn’t actually set a screen, doesn’t think to step up on the shooter. Just like that, a tie game becomes a three-point deficit — a gap the Thunder couldn’t close in the final minute.
Offense Ripped, Defense Clipped
On the second night of a Los Angeles back-to-back, the Thunder’s defense struggled against the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a different story, however, as the defense was good on the initial shot attempts — it was the host of second-chance opportunities that almost buried OKC. All told, the Clippers gathered 15 offensive rebounds for 29 second-chance points, the most second-chance buckets by a Thunder opponent all season. DeAndre Jordan was the biggest beneficiary, as he went 10-15 from the floor, with every single shot opportunity at the rim. Jordan scored 26 points, a season-high.
Thankfully, led by an incredible offensive output by the OK3 and a Westbrook triple-double, the Thunder manage to escape Los Angeles with its second win in two nights.
PG in LA
In the worst-kept secret in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers really want Paul George. In a weird situation, George received applause from the Lakers home crowd and drew oohs-and-ahhs at various points.
On the flip side, the Thunder would really like for George to stay in OKC for the long-term, believing he’s the perfect complement to Westbrook. As a result, Tuesday night’s match-up against the Western Conference’s doormat was a marquee event on the NBA schedule. George, the consummate professional, paid lip service to both teams, calling his reception in Los Angeles “awesome,” but telling ESPN before the game that he would be “stupid” to leave “if we’re trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation.”
Westbrook, though, doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. When asked about courting George to stay long-term, Westbrook said, “Sales pitch is gonna be when we win a championship. Beat that pitch.”
How It’s Going To Go
The Thunder is 2-0 in 2018. With 43 games left, conveniently all in 2018, it seems like a good time to make a wild prediction of the Thunder’s record over those final games.
So here is my prediction:
The Thunder, with the OK3 finally settling into their roles, develop into a top 10 offensive team, while retaining its defensive identity to finish in the top five in defensive rating. While the Thunder never complete that elusive 10 game winning streak, OKC will put together a couple of five-game streaks, and one glorious eight-game run and go 30-13 over the final 43 games to finish with a record of 52-30 — good enough for the fourth seed. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Timberwolves win one more game, and not only take the third seed, but also the Northwest Division crown.
Here is your weekly Russell Westbrook highlight. Enjoy.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN…
With Andre Roberson out, Josh Huestis got the start against the Dallas Mavericks. After the loss, Billy Donovan made a change, going to the rookie Terrance Ferguson in the following game versus the Lakers. Offensively he was assertive, with zero hesitation launching catch-and-shoot threes. Defensively he was diligent, harassing his man and using his length to jump into passing lanes and create turnovers. On the night, Ferguson went 9-12 from the floor, including 6-9 from beyond the arc, scoring a career-high 24 points to go along with three steals.
I almost forgot, in his first career start, Ferguson did this:
Yes, a windmill dunk in the midst of an actual NBA game. Very cool stuff, man.
Ferguson again got the start against the Clippers, and while he didn’t shoot quite as well and struggled some defensively, he still played with the same assertive mentality and put up 11 points (albeit on 4-12 shooting).