In any close game, there’s three or four key sequences that had they gone your way, maybe you tack on a W instead of an L. And I’m not talking about Chris Paul’s twirling last-second crab travel (I’m not whining – well maybe I am – but watch the video. He picks up his dribble and plants, then continues on toward the bucket and takes step two. Then he stumbles and falls back leaving his established pivot foot, making that a, you guessed it, traveling violation. No, I’m not bitter about this.). And I’m not talking about the two blown out-of-bounds calls that went against OKC. I’m talking crucial moments where the Thunder just didn’t execute properly.
1. [8:27, fourth quarter] The Thunder is up 85-84 and has possession. Earl Watson walks the ball up and swings it to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook dumps to the post where Chris Paul dives in to double Jeff Green. Green kicks cross-court to Watson who is standing open at the three-point line. Now, keep in mind Watson is 0-4 from three for the game and is shooting an *awesome* 28 percent from three. But with 12 seconds on the shot clock, Watson jacks the trey. An extra pass gives Westbrook a wide open look because Antonio Daniels left him to put a hand in Watson’s face. While Westbrook would have a more open look, he also had a clear path to the bucket because Nick Collison had just flashed in the paint and the middle was cleared out. A big time missed opportunity for OKC.
2. [7:55] A series of plays here were costly. The score is still 85-84 after OKC gets a big stop following Watson’s bad jack. Westbrook then drives and gets a decent look with his left hand but just leaves it short. The Hornets board and run a set that gives Chris Paul a fading jumper that misses and Nick Collison ties up Sean Marks and wins the jump ball. Westbrook then makes a beautiful cross and gets to the rim again but misses in traffic. There’s four potential points. James Posey tosses an errant three and OKC rebounds and tries to run. Nenad Krstic is in front of Earl Watson but Earl tries to thread a bounce pass through four Hornet players which result in a wasted possession. So, with the score still at 85-84, OKC has left eight potential points on the floor. The Hornets then convert the turnover into a Chris Paul three to go up 87-85.
3. [3:35] OKC is leading 93-91 with Paul bringing the ball up the floor. He drives hard baseline around Kyle Weaver and Westbrook comes off Rasual Butler to help. Paul is cut off and gets caught in the air. He kicks out across the court to the wing to Peja. Now, OKC’s defense is so scattered here, I don’t even know who is supposed to be on who. Durant is near David West and Jeff Green is near Peja but both collapse right on him. Which obviously, someone has to run at him because he’s a great shooter. But because Russell left Butler and two guys ran to Peja, that left Butler wide open in the corner for three. Peja swings it to him and swish, he knocks it down to put NOLA up 94-93.
4. [1:35] With New Orleans leading 96-95, OKC has possession. Westbrook brings the ball up and passes to KD on the left wing. Obviously, the Thunder’s trying to draw one up for Durant. Krstic comes to set a pick but the Hornets pin Durant on the sideline and he’s forced to kick back out top to Westbrook. Russell hesitates and looks indecisive as he holds the ball. Green comes to set an on-the-ball with three seconds on the shot clock but Westbrook is forced to heave a contested three. Nothing really to fault specifically for OKC, but just a poor possession at such a crucial time. Of course David West then hit a 20-foot jumper to put NOLA up 98-95 on their next possession.
Again, OKC played a fantastic game. I’m not bringing those plays up to nitpick but really just to illustrate the missed opportunities and how close the Thunder were to being on the high side. You learn from this stuff and I’m sure Scott Brooks has those four possessions and many more bookmarked for the team to look at today.