The great thing about the nickname “Thunder” is that you can put almost any word with it and it’s almost like a real word. It’s a headline writer’s dream. Especially for a sucky, non-creative one like me. When in doubt I’ll just play off a Thunder cliche (“The Thunder rolls,” “Thunderstorm warning: win in the forecast” “Thundersucking their way to 15th straight loss”) or just put the opponent’s nickname with it (ThunderBulled, ThunderSpurred, ThunderTimberwolved). Ok, so it doesn’t work for everything.
Officially, the Thunder came home. Came home to be greeted by 16,000+ fans that were stoked for preseason basketball. And even though the crowd was ELECTRIC! (more on that later), the team came up short, 90-88 to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The team fought hard til the finish, but honestly, I can’t blame them. These guys are probably more exhausted than David Wells after a morning jog and on top of it played tonight without a full cupboard – even more empty than it has been in the previous games. Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox sat the entire second half and were sorely missed even though Johan Petro continues to evolve into a decent player. Jeff Green sat again nursing his ankle even though he said if it were a regular season game, he’d probably have played. No Swift, no Weaver, no Mo Sene. Granted the Clippers (2-0) weren’t playing with one either, but when you’re as thin as OKC, it’s almost not fair.
The team closed well again in the fourth, outscoring LA by four. That’s a positive. Save the Golden State game, the Thunder (1-4) has been in each game late in the fourth. The lost to Minnesota by six, Sacramento by nine and tonight by two. The signs of a young team. Learning to close is something that comes with experience.
Watching Russell Westbrook tonight was extremely “oh yes! oh no!” He’d make a great drive to the bucket and draw a foul but then would come up short at the stripe. He’d make a great move bringing the ball up the court, but then would lose the handle. The box score only has him with one turn, but it sure felt like more than that. Earl Watson turned it over six times and was erratic at times. John Lucas didn’t do much to help his making the team as he seemed out of control for most the second half.
But one thing about Westbrook: If he continues to play with the type of reckless “I’m going at the rim and you’re not going to stop me unless you grab both of my arms and put your armpits in my face” regard for the rest of the year, he’s going to be wonderful. Especially once he develops the kick-out pass to a currently non-existent deep threat. Westbrook is a work in progress and we have to realize this is just his fifth big league game. Give him time to develop his outside shot, get used to on-the-ball pressure and get used to switching and reading on-the-ball screens. Once he starts getting that stuff down, he’ll be a force.
The fans were good and got loud in the fourth at a few points, but holy crap Grant Long, you don’t have to point out the patrons every time they clap loudly. Both Long and Brian Davis went on and on about how the crowd was ELECTRIC! and willing the team on. While they were most definitely more animated than any other group I’ve seen this preseason, they weren’t ELECTRIC! It almost felt like Davis and Long were contracted to mention the crowd 12 times each during the game to boost morale.
Also, I heard three Thunderstrucks throughout the game. There may have been more but that’s still not a good sign. Growing up rocking out to that AC/DC live album, I never thought Thunderstruck could get old but if I have to hear it six to seven times every single night, that might happen. In moderation guys, please – for the sake of my eardrums.
Overall, more reason to be encouraged. Again, Baron Davis and Tim Thomas didn’t play, but that doesn’t mean the Thunder didn’t play well. The Thunder shot poorly from three again (3-11), from the free throw line down the stretch and turned it over 20 times, but yet only lost by two. Your superstar went 6-18 from the floor and had only 18 points but you only lost by two. Your two best postmen sat the entire second half and you just lost by two. Those are good signs. Petro played his best game this year and maybe ever, netting 12 and grabbing 15. If he breaks out this year, that could be the difference in winning 30 instead of 20.
The club gets a couple days off before putting back on the light blue unis and hitting the road to play Phoenix. (By the way, I dug the way the home duds looked. Much better than the road blues.)