Hold it. Put that candle stick down. Don’t throw it across the room. It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be all right.
I know you’re frustrated. I am too. What’s happened to Oklahoma City’s defense? What’s happened to Kevin Durant in the second half? What’s happened to the Thunder’s ability to close games?
My theory? They’re tired. They’re worn down. Heck, I’m tired and I haven’t done anything but sit on a sofa and blabber on about the game. None of these guys have ever played in important games in late April (except Nick Collison). They’ve never had to play this hard in Game 81. They’ve never really been on the road in an atmosphere like that. For the youngest team in the league, I see tonight as much a learning experience, as playoff preparation, as you can get.
But that doesn’t excuse everything. This team is too good to mentally fall apart like they did letting Jerryd Bayless go coast-to-coast to end the third. This team is too good to let Marcus Camby erupt for a season-high 30 points. Russell Westbrook is too good to go 31 minutes without an assist. Kevin Durant is too good to go 3-13 in the second half. They’re better than that. But when you’re playing in an atmosphere you’ve never been a part of, at a time you’ve never had to focus and play this hard, things you don’t expect to fail, do.
Again, I see this as a great teaching tool for Scott Brooks heading into this weekend where the games get a lot more important. Everything won’t be easy. And if you want to win, you’ve got to fight. Don’t believe me? Let’s watch that tape from Portland again. Bigger games are yet to come and if OKC is going to lose a game and learn from it, I’d rather it be Game 81 rather than Game 85 against the Lakers.
I don’t think there’s anything to read into with KD’s poor play in the second half these last two nights. I know some will and start all that “not clutch” bullcrap. The Blazers did a great job denying the ball and never let Durant get into a comfort zone. He had 21 in the first half on 5-7 shooting and just nine in the second on 3-13. This is after a 5-19 second half against Golden State last night, but I think it has to do with Durant being beat up. KD can score and he can do it when he’s been guarded well. He just didn’t get it done these last two nights and he’d be the first to tell you that. It honestly doesn’t worry me one bit. Remember, he’s never been in this situation and he’s just 21 years old. Give him a chance to learn.
- After taking nine free throws in the first half and getting booed every time he drew a foul, Durant took only one free throw in the second half and it came on Nate McMillan’s technical. I think Kevin Garnett has gotten into everybody’s brain.
- What an atmosphere in Portland tonight. Their fans were a little edgy with all the booing, but they affected the game. That was the Blazers’ 112th consecutive sellout. They’re the model for the Thunder fanbase. They were all in their seats before tip-off and we’re active and loud throughout. OKC’s fans are awesome, but not THAT awesome. But I think we’ll get to that point really soon. We’re both one sport pro towns and we love our teams. They’ve had a lot of practice at this.
- Nick Collison played 20 minutes and didn’t grab a rebound. That seems almost impossible.
- One awesome thing: James Harden over Martell Webster. Heavens to Betsy. It’s a positive thing to see Harden coming around a bit here at the end of the season.
- Boy, tough night for Russell Westbrook. Zero assists, 5-14 shooting, five turnovers and he doinked a fast break dunk. Let’s just forget about this one.
- How many times will Westbrook lose the handle when gathering with two hands to go up at the rim? I’m kind of getting tired of that.
- Brian Davis said something about chicken salad and after Harden’s dunk said something like, “A-tisket a-tasket, there’s a defender in my basket!” I Googled that and it happens to be a nursery rhyme. I think the announcing crew is even a bit fatigued too. Maybe he has a bet or something with a friend that he’s going to work in as many nonsensical things as he can. That would explain it.
- This game was decided by Portland’s 10-0 run to start the second half. They came out and threw a punch and the Thunder didn’t counter. They let the home crowd back in it and got all momentum rolling for them.
- Points by half for the Blazers: In the first, 43. In the second, 60.
- Two impressive things I noticed: 1) Eric Maynor was running the offense much better tonight so Scott Brooks stuck with him for extended minutes in the fourth. And more impressive? Russell Westbrook was on the bench cheering on Maynor and not sulking, even after the tough night. I do wish Brooks would’ve hung with Maynor a little more the last five minutes seeing how it turned out, but Westbrook has earned those minutes.
- The Blazers have awesome, passionate fans. But man, they can be mean. In the Daily Dime chat, they were on a full-on assault. You get a lot of wild comments in there, but when Portland took the lead late, you would have thought I pulled a Tonya Harding on Brandon Roy’s knee. I’m not going to be That Guy and judge an entire fanbase based on one Internet chat where some folks said some dumb things, but dang.
- Portland took 16 more shots than OKC tonight (80-64). This is a night after the Thunder chucked 104 shots against Golden State. OKC is just falling into the trap of playing their opponent’s game. Last night, they ran with the Warriors. Tonight, they slowed it down with the Blazers (85.0 pace). I don’t think the Thunder really has an offensive identity to start with, but letting your opponent consistently choose the flow of the game will give you problems.
- You know what? I’m secretly kind of excited to play the Lakers. It’s a nothing to lose situation for OKC. Granted, it’s a little bitter because if the Thunder gets that call against Utah, maybe we’re looking at the four-seed and home court, but again, who thought we’d be here anyway?
Obviously, Oklahoma City lost this game on its own with the bad execution and lack of ball movement (just 11 assists), but give a ton of credit to Portland. After getting news that Brandon Roy may miss the postseason, they needed someone to step up for them. Camby was huge. Andre Miller was excellent. Nicolas Batum chipped in some offense. They fought and scrapped and made plays to win. They won this game, and they did it with little help from the officials in the first three quarters. At one point, OKC had taken 33 free throws to Portland’s nine. Now, that number flipped to 36-27, meaning Portland went on a 18-3 run at the line down the stretch, but they held it together when they felt like they couldn’t get a call. Props for that.
This means the Thunder gets the eight-seed and will play the Lakers. I’m fine with that. We didn’t think we’d be here six months ago anyway and in early December when the team was playing well, we were all saying things like, “Making the playoffs and getting swept would be incredible. Heck, I just want 40 wins.” Now here we are looking at 50 and we’re upset at settling for the eight spot. My, how expectations can change over the course of a season. This season has been the step, the jump, the leap, this team needed to take. Remember, it’s a process. It just so happens the Thunder’s ahead of schedule. And we’re getting a fun, fantastic season as a result of that.
Next up: The regular season finale against Memphis Wednesday.