It’s a strange thing when your team gets beat by 18 and you sort of feel good about it. Because you know it could have been much, much worse.
Though a 108-90 loss isn’t good by any means, we all know it could have been much, much worse. The game was 76-72 with the Hornets leading at the end of the third and we were all thinking the same thing: How in the heck are these guys hanging in this? Damien Wilkins is like 2-41 from the field, Nenad Krstic isn’t scoring and oh yeah, no KD, Uncle Jeff or Thabo. How is it just four heading into the fourth?
And I think Byron Scott was probably asking his team that same thing after the third. Why are these guys only down four to us right now? Anybody? A lot of it was because Chris Paul had to sit for most of the third because he picked up his fourth foul, so that definitely helped OKC stay that close. But once he came back in to start the fourth, the Hornets ratcheted things up and went on a 15-3 run to start the fourth, eventually stretching out to a 20-point lead. Maybe the New Orleans was just pacing themselves, saving their energy to turn it on in the fourth. Or maybe they expected to be up 20 going into the fourth and they collectively though, “Oh crap, we better get going or we’re going to lose to this rag-tag bunch.” Whatever it was, by the end of it, the score looked about like it was supposed to. But OKC made it interesting there for a while.
But like I said, I still feel a little encouraged about this game. It was just a total scrappy effort with guys diving all over the floor, hustling to take charges and doing their absolute darndest to put the ball in the basket. They tried hard. I definitely want to give it up to them for that. They were in the game until the fourth quarter when they all either ran out of gas (hit just 3 of 18 from the floor in the fourth) or the Hornets woke up, but that’s all we could really hope for going into it. I know I didn’t expect to keep it any closer than 20. I figured NOLA would roar out to at least a 15-point halftime lead and maybe the Thunder would close to seven or eight, but then the Hornets would win by 25. I didn’t think there’d be any way that I’d be actively watching and rooting after 36 minutes. But there they were, right in the thing. And that’s saying something when at times, your main offensive weapons are Damien Wilkins and Malik Rose. To be within four going into the fourth is pretty dang good.
The Hornet bench didn’t do all that well and that’s one big reason OKC hung in for as long as it did. When Paul sat to start the second quarter, the Thunder ripped off 11 straight to get back in it. All four New Orleans bench players were minuses tonight with James Posey being a -5, Antonio Daniels a -10 and Sean Marks and Devin Brown checking in with -11’s. The Hornet starters had +29, +19, +28, +29 and +22, so that’s where the damage came from. But the lack of production from the NOLA bench when Paul was sitting was a large reason the Thunder kept it close.
Russell Westbrook obviously had the best game for OKC, going for 24 points and seven rebounds. I know the two assists look a little stinky and yes, in order for OKC to really hang in games like this he needs to have eight or nine. But he probably would have if Wilkins, Chucky Atkins or Krstic could hit a wide open jumpshot every once in a while. Westbrook set people up for a good number of solid shots that they simply didn’t hit. Heck, Earl Watson did too. The Earl only had two assists as well. Malik Rose led the team with five. That should tell you something.
Kyle Weaver was okay tonight, but honestly, he should have looked to score more. With no Thabo, somebody else was going to have to step up. And Lord knows Damien Wilkins was going to try, but Weaver should have looked for more than seven shots. I realize he took what came to him, but he’s a pretty good slasher and gets to the rim relatively well. But he was pretty content to drive and kick to wide open shooters who would subsequently miss. And when that’s happening, maybe you need to just try and take matters into your own hands.
I don’t know what happened to Krispy’s jumper, but it just wasn’t there tonight. He did have another nice back-to-the-basket spin move for a deuce though. And at some point in the remaining 20 games, I want to see Earl Watson make one three pointer. Just one. Every time he sets up to take one I immediately go “Pppsh” and throw up my arms. Just one time I want to have to feel slightly silly for doing that because he swished it. Just once. I don’t ask for much. Oh, and is Chucky Atkins actually shooting the ball, or is he throwing a line drive at the rim? Because man that short is flat.
Back to the fourth quarter though. At some point, I think we all knew it was going to all come crashing down (and it did). The team couldn’t keep up that kind of defensive intensity being that shorthanded and at some point, bad shooters are going to go cold. And they did. (Again, THREE of EIGHTEEN from the field in the fourth. Before that, they were shooting 47 percent. But after, they finished at 40 percent. In other words, bad shooting.) But how many missed opportunities were there? I remember at least four 3 on 2 fast breaks that OKC didn’t finish. There were multiple possessions where the Thunder just made a terrible pass or tried to force something. The chances were there to keep it even closer than it was but when you’re on borrowed time like that, the well is going to run dry sooner than later. And I think we were lucky it was that close for that long.
One thing Scott Brooks did (smartly) was to try and evenly distribute minutes. Robert Swift didn’t travel because of personal reasons (?) and the most minutes anyone had was 35 (Wilkins). Westbrook played 33 and the fewest anyone played was 27 (Weaver). He had only eight healthy bodies and with another game tomorrow, Brooks obviously was doing his best with what he had tonight, but also keeping in mind tomorrow. Maybe Jeff Green will be back and maybe Thabo too, but maybe not. You’ve got to be smart when your bench is short and I think Brooks did a pretty good job with the options he was given.
I’m not exactly sure how the call-ups from the D-League work, but Sam Presti may want to get on the horn tonight if Thabo and Green are out again. Why not give Gary Forbes a crack? Will it really do that much harm to cut Damien Wilkins’ minutes so that Forbes could get a little run? Get a good night’s rest boys, because back at it again tomorrow at home against the Sixers.