One word kept popping in my head as the Thunder dragged out the inevitable in the last minute in Minneapolis tonight: gross.
This was just a gross loss. Not particularly telling, really. Just a bad 48 minutes of basketball that produced a deserved result.
I made a note after the first two minutes tonight, and I kind of assumed it would be an afterthough in the end. But now, it kind of appears to have been the writing on the wall. The first two minutes featured four Minnesota offensive rebounds, two missed layups by OKC, a missed free throw and some hilariously lax defense. The tone was set and while Kevin Durant had bright moments and the Thunder had the game in reach with 7:22 left at 84-81, the final seven minutes, the Wolves responded with an 8-0 run that kind of put the game out of reach for OKC.
Here’s how those final seven minutes went: 12 points for OKC, 17 for Minnesota. Honestly, enough points for the Thunder, probably. But OKC couldn’t come up with necessary stops and when they got them, the ball bounced the Wolves way.
Statistically speaking, the Thunder really lost the game at the free throw line. The Wolves hit 22-of-27 to OKC’s 16-of-20. It was a flipped script because obviously, the free throw line is typically an area of strength for the Thunder. The Wolves got in the bonus early in the third and did a lot of work in the paint while the Thunder didn’t attack in their normal fashion.
But outside of the box score, it was simply just the effort. The Wolves outrebounded OKC 46-41 and on the offensive glass 13 to 11, but those numbers don’t tell the story. Because Minnesota whipped OKC on the glass. Nikola Pekovic beasted Perk routinely, and guys like Andrei Kirilenko were just quicker to the ball.
And the bench. Oh man, the bench. Derek Fisher finally made a shot, but apparently he passed his disease to Kevin Martin who started the game 0-6 and finished 1-9 for four points. Reggie Jackson was a bright spot in spurts, but overall the production just wasn’t there (17 total points). The inconsistency of the second unit is a problem, and one that causes real concern. The Thunder are good enough to weather that storm a lot of times, but there are games, most often on the road, where they get bit by it.
One positive out of this mess though was the fact the Thunder went to that smallball crunchtime lineup with Westbrook and Jackson together in the backcourt with a big. Tonight, Scott Brooks (wisely) chose Thabo over Martin to go with it, and Serge Ibaka as his big. The lineup wasn’t necessarily all that effective as it couldn’t save the Thunder from the grave that was already dug, but Ibaka did completely hold his own guarding Pekovic at center.
That’s kind of the question with that lineup is if Ibaka can handle those matchups. And for the most part, he did. He defended Pekovic well one-on-one and even found places to help off and contest at the rim. There were a few rebounds that the Thunder didn’t snag, but I don’t think that was a result of the lineup, and instead more about the effort. So there was at least that, if we’re hunting for bright sides.
Outside of it just being extremely frustrating and painful to watch, and the fact it’s the type of giveaway that could be the difference in the No. 1 and 2 seed, I don’t think there’s much to read into here. It was obvious to me from the opening tip that the Thunder weren’t into this one at all. It looked like they were going about three-quarter speed. Doesn’t excuse it by any means, but it does explain it. You can’t coast to wins in the NBA, especially not on the road.
But here’s the reality: The Thunder weren’t going to finish the season 10-0. They were going to slip up somewhere in there at least once, maybe twice, and really, probably three or four times. They have a history of trying to coast into the postseason, and a history of bouncing back just fine from it.
- Kendrick Perkins played a terrible game. He was in foul trouble the whole way through, but he just didn’t match Pekovic’s intensity inside. He got beat up on the boards and while he defended Pekovic well in one-on-one postup plays, he wasn’t able to stop the second chance opportunities. One play stuck out in my mind: In the second half, Perk appeared to have Pekovic blocked out well and a rebound was headed his way. But Perk was slow off the floor and Pekovic jumped around him to tip it to Kirilenko who laid the ball in for an easy two. That’s the type of stuff that got OKC beat tonight.
- The two games in OKC, Perk played Pekovic wonderfully. The two games in Minnesota, it was the opposite. Weird.
- Another bright side: KD was awesome. He went for 36 on 13-19 shooting, hit 1-3 from 3 and 9-9 from the free throw line. A nice 50-40-90 night. Durant went 8-9 in the first half and made his first shot in the second to start 9-10. He then missed his next four, but hit two of his last three.
- Smart move by the Thunder not to foul more late. Gotta do all you can to preserve that margin of victory.
- And on the 20th attempt, Derek Fisher finally made a shot.
- I wish he would’ve had a toe on the line. Which kind of made me wonder how many of the 19 that Fisher had his toe on the line but we didn’t know it because it didn’t go in. Man, we’ll just never know.
- Here’s the thing about Fisher though: He’s still 1 for his last 22.
- I understand that when the Thunder lose, blame has to be given. It’s the nature of sports. It makes the sting of losing feel better to lash out and point a finger. If you care enough about your team, you’ve said wildly stupid things in the heat of an emotional moment. Do bad, it has to be someone’s fault and that someone has to pay. First, it was Jeff Green. Then it was Russell Westbrook for a while. Then it was Kendrick Perkins. And now it seems to be entirely focused on Scott Brooks. You should know my position — playing Derek Fisher 10 minutes a game is straight insanity — but Brooks’ coaching wasn’t the problem in this game. The team didn’t show up. Simple as that.
- Now, that said, the stubbornness to stick with those type of regular rotations that yield inconsistent results are certainly worth questioning. What’s the saying, insanity is doing something over and over again and expected a different result. That’s sort of where we’re at. But we don’t know if Jeremy Lamb would’ve have provided any kind of bench spark. For all we know, he might’ve gone 0-5 in 12 minutes. But that’s the thing. We don’t know.
- It’s too bad the Thunder weren’t wearing their alternates, because we could just blame those.
- I wonder how Spurs fans react after these kinds of losses. They probably go, “Oh, that stinks. But we know better by now not to read too much into this.”
- Brooks stuck with Fisher far too long to start the fourth. Why did Westbrook only play 32 minutes? Something tells me the Thunder are kind of fine with this result. They just didn’t appear to sell out for this game.
- Minnesota’s guards are so annoyingly floppy. They take bumps and flail like crazy. It’s not just Barea. Rubio, Ridnour and Shved all do it. They aren’t official flops where there’s no contact. They just take a little and really sell it. It’s smart. And coming from a Thunder supporter, I realize this sounds wildly hypocritical.
- J.J. Barea tried to dribble himself through Hasheem Thabeet’s legs. That was amazing.
- This will make you feel better: Thabo, who is shooting over 40 percent from 3 this season, had a wide open 3. And there was someone to his left, arms out, waiting for Thabo to make that extra pass. Cracked me up.
- The Clippers almost bailed the Thunder out tonight and pulled out a win over the Spurs. But since they’re the Spurs, they found a way to win in the final seconds.
- No play on the Thunder was a major minus tonight, but there was just one plus player: Serge Ibaka, a +1.
- With five blocks, Ibaka is on top of the NBA in blocks per game.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Look at Fisher get that shot off!”
Next up: At the Bucks on Saturday.