There was supposed to be something different about this one. With the sting of last week’s loss, the Thunder were supposed to have something prepared for the Clippers.
Instead, they played almost the exact same game. I say “almost,” only because this one was much, much worse, but in a stupidly similar way. Rather than imploding in the fourth quarter, the Thunder just never came out of the locker room for the second half. Oklahoma City scored 25 total points in the second half. Twenty-five. Twenty, plus five. KD scored 20 by himself in the fourth quarter against the Wolves Saturday. In the third quarter, the Thunder had only 14, all coming via Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. I thought that was bad. And then OKC scored just 11 in the fourth.
What is there to say? It was the worst half of basketball in probably three seasons. The Thunder missed shots, missed more shots, didn’t run anything resembling a decent offense, missed shots, turned it over, missed shots, didn’t execute, didn’t move the ball, missed shots and then missed some shots.
I honestly can’t even put my finger on what changed for the Thunder. It was a painful carbon copy of the fourth quarter of the last meeting, expanded out into a full half. Something just died within the team offensively. The ball stopped, open shots were clanked and things simply fell apart. Russell Westbrook missed his last 10 shots and didn’t score a point after the first quarter. Kevin Durant had 19 at halftime, but scored only five on 1-on-8 shooting the second half. OKC missed 11 free throws. I don’t know what happened. They didn’t show up for the second half. The defense stayed solid enough to keep them in the game for a time, but you can’t expect to score 25 freaking total points in the second half and win.
What’s most disconcerting, is that this was essentially a playoff game. At least in the style it was played. Tough, physical, chippy. Lots of talking, lots of intensity. The Thunder came out strong, playing loose and confident. They went to the break as a team that had corrected the mistakes from last week. And then the wheels came flying completely off the wagon. The Clippers turned things up a notch, and the Thunder didn’t meet them. It’s as disappointing a loss as the Thunder have had all season. The No. 1 seed isn’t all gone, but with five to play and a game behind the Spurs and them owning the tiebreaker, it’s a tall hill to climb.
The Thunder are now 0-5 against the last five playoff teams they’ve faced. Since the streak of wins against the Bulls, Heat, Clippers and Lakers at the end of March, the Thunder haven’t beaten a plus .500 team. It’s no secret — the Thunder aren’t playing that well. They’re not bringing it consistently. This loss exposed all the fears and anxiety Thunder fans have been battling all season long. Turnovers, stagnant offense, bad shooting, jumpshooting, lackluster defensive rotations and poor perimeter defense. The Thunder are a vulnerable team when those things happen. The thing is, will those things happen in four games? Will Durant and Westbrook go a combined 11-34 four times? Will OKC go 5-of-22 from 3? I don’t know, it’s possible. I wouldn’t say probable though.
This may surprise you, but while this game made me want to take a hammer to my face and left me incredibly frustrated and disappointed, I don’t think it serves as an indictment that the Thunder are completely screwed. I’ve tried to say it 400 times, but just like you can’t crown yourself after a blowout win over the Heat, you can’t say it’s all over after a bad loss to the Clippers. I’ve seen this team play too much good basketball this season to completely freak out over a few late season losses. Look at the other contenders. It happens to lots of teams. Losing sucks any way you slice it, especially when it’s that kind of a loss, and the regularity of losses is upsetting, but I don’t know if a big conclusion should be drawn from it.
For those panicking or saying things like, “If they play like this, they’ll get beat in the first round,” you’re right. If the Thunder play four games like that against anyone, they’ll get eliminated. It’s just a question of if that’ll happen. Tonight certainly didn’t go very far in adding confidence the other way, though.
I don’t know if the Thunder are good enough to win a championship this season. We’ll have to wait and see. But they’re absolutely capable of it. There’s been a sense of coasting to the finish line since OKC finished that big week of basketball at the end of March. I just hope they can flip the switch when the playoffs start.
- For the first time in 58 games, Westbrook and Durant both didn’t score in double-figures. That comes up two short of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan for the most straight games doing that.
- Either the Clippers are really lucky, or they’re the first team that’s figured out how to defend Durant and Westbrook. Last game, the duo went 10-35. This time, 11-34. It’s no big secret, but the Thunder are going to have trouble winning when those two guys don’t score well.
- I think Scott Brooks really messed up the third quarter. It was extremely obvious early on that the Thunder’s offense was dissolving. James Harden played an extremely aggressive first half and with him looking to score and create the way he was, it would’ve been wise to throw him into the game after three or four minutes instead of riding Thabo until the usual substitution pattern.
- Ibaka picked up two fouls in the first 1:19, which led to some terrific early minutes by Nick Collison. Then Ibaka came back strong in the third quarter and really was the only reason this thing stayed somewhat interesting in the fourth.
- I think it’s often a copout to say you just missed good shots, but I’m pretty sure all seven of KD’s 3-pointers were clean looks. He doesn’t miss seven straight like that very often.
- Westbrook airballed badly twice. That doesn’t happen very often either.
- I wish I knew why Daequan Cook is playing so little. I feel like he could bail out a few bad offensive possessions from time to time.
- Nick Young went 7-10 for 19 points. That also doesn’t happen very often.
- What a stupid technical foul by Harden early in the fourth quarter. You can’t give away points like that when you’re scoring is such a grind.
- Ugliest successful fast break of the year award goes to the Perk to Ibaka to Durant break that finished in a dunk.
- I like it when Westbrook hits a 3 that’s not in a big moment, but he still does his 3 holsters move. It’s like he just hurries to get it over with because it’s his routine.
- The Clippers PA guy made a mistake that just seems to happen to everybody. After a basket by Mohammed, he said, “Russell Westbrook… correction, Nazr Mohammed.” And Westbrook was even on the bench. Common mistake.
- I wish there was a stat for most tip-offs won. I would imagine Serge Ibaka ranks, high but DeAndre Jordan has to lead the league.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Collison and Griffin doing a wagon wheel of death into the post over there as they had a hold of each and they were spinning. Like an out of control spacecraft.”
Next up: At Phoenix Wednesday.