It’s weird. I totally thought the Thunder were going to go 41-0 at home and finish the season on a 56-game win streak.
Coming off an impressive win in San Antonio less than 24 hours before, the chance of hangover for the Thunder against the Raptors on Sunday was high. And for the first 24 minutes, they looked like a team that went on an all-night bender. They were sloppy, lethargic and were playing just plain stupid. But as expected, they finally kicked things into gear again in the third quarter, going on a 22-4 run to go up 11.
At home, the place they were 13-0, against a sub-.500 Eastern Conference team, it had to be game over, right? Not right. The opposite of that, actually.
The Raptors outscored the Thunder 29-14 in the fourth quarter and ended OKC’s home run, 104-98. Wait what?
“I thought when we got up 11, we made some shots, but we built that lead through energy and effort,” Scott Brooks said. “But in the fourth quarter, we could not make shots. And they started getting hot and the tables turned on that.”
Said Durant: “Losses happen in this league. They beat us fair and square. We missed some shots, too. I mean, I thought our defense was good. They got some shots late in the fourth quarter that helped them a little bit, but I thought our defense was good — we were swarming them. They hit some tough ones, but we missed some good looks.”
Speaking of, with 5:31 left and OKC up 93-89, Durant had a wide open look at 3 that clanged long. An offensive rebound by Russell Westbrook was then swung back out to an open Durant waiting at the 3-point line, a patented fourth quarter dagger shot he’s perfected. But again, rimmed out. Those are the types of shots that almost always go down for OKC, particularly at home. Didn’t fall tonight.
“We missed some layups, I know I missed like five wide open 3s,” Durant said. “We missed some stuff at the rim. But their defense, they make you shoot those jumpshots. They gave you those wide open shots and we just got to make them.”
KD did make one, and it appeared to be the only one OKC needed. With 1:39 left, Durant popped a 3 to knot the game at 98-98, likely putting the Thunder one stop away from escaping with a dirty, gross win. We’ve seen this story a hundred times before for the Thunder. They can be so dumb, but then so resilient and brilliant when it matters, just for long enough to win the game. Except they didn’t get that stop. Durant bit on a pump fake from John Salmons which earned two free throws, and now down two, the Thunder had a horrific offensive possession that resulted in a flat-footed Reggie Jackson 3-point attempt as the shot clock expired.
The Thunder then came up with that stop they needed with 34 seconds left. Westbrook wisely pushed the ball hard looking to both catch the Raptors off guard as well as grab a clever 2-for-1, had his layup blocked at the rim by Jonas Valanciunas, and now the Thunder had to play the foul game. Amir Johnson hit two, Durant missed a 3, and it was game over.
It’s only the second loss for the Thunder in 38 days, the other being on the road on the second night of a back-to-back against the Blazers. So that’s two losses in almost 40 days, both on the second night of a back-to-back. An excuse? Yes, but not one the Thunder were willing to invoke after the game. Especially at home. They should’ve won this game. There’s really no good reason to justify it. Other than just by saying, “It happens.”
Or as Durant put it, “Losses happen in this league.” Often times, least when you expect them to.
- The Thunder now have won 17 of their last 19. How long can we use that to sound good. Because if they lost their next three, it’s still 17 of 22, which looks really good. What’s the statute of limitations on that stat? 17 of 25?
- The Raptors shot 4-23 in the third. Then they shot 9-18 in the fourth.
- The Thunder shot 7-19 in the third. Then they shot 5-25 in the fourth.
- KD just didn’t have a good one tonight. He went 5-16 from the floor, 1-5 from 3 and had six turnovers. He still had 24 points because he’s Kevin Effing Durant, and I thought his energized defense was what turned the game in the third quarter.
- One thing this game might’ve revealed: Reggie Jackson is super duper important. He went just 1-11 for six points and didn’t score in the second half. He did have five assists, but he clearly wasn’t near as impactful as he has been lately. What could’ve covered that up would’ve been Durant playing better, but that’s the luxury of having a player like Jackson. You don’t have to count on your stars being great, or even good for that matter. They can get away with 5-16 shooting nights because someone is there to pick them up.
- Perry Jones saw some time in the first half, immediately impacting the game with six points on 3-3 shooting. And then something amazing happened: Scott Brooks put him back in with 4:34 left. Brooks’ explanation: “His length. 6-10, athletic, long arms. He’s the guy on our team that I think of that can be our utility defender.”
- The questionable thing about it, though: Brooks subbed Jones in for Jeremy Lamb, and left Derek Fisher in the game. He either realized the error or changed his mind a minute later, subbing Jackson in for Fisher.
- Something obvious came from this game tonight: I need more Perry Jones in my life.
- Don’t overlook how poorly Serge Ibaka played tonight. Just nine points and six rebounds in 32 minutes.
- Ever since the back-to-back $20,000 halfcourt makes, the quality of the participants has drastically decreased. Coincidence, I think not. I haven’t been counting, but at least half of those have been horrific airballs.
- The Thunder have fallen into a habit of taking FOREVER in the locker room after games to get ready. But tonight, they were ready to go almost immediately. No singing in the shower, no yelling at each other, no taking their time and soaking in a win.
- In the third quarter, Westbrook came over to the scoretable and asked who the “Come on Russssssellllllllll!” lady was. She stood up and waved at him, and he gave a bow looking thing with a big smile on his face. Fun little moment. Would’ve been fun to ask about after the game if, you know.
- Fun moment with Dwane Casey: In the first half, Derek Fisher drew a 3-point foul on Vasquez. As Vasquez checked out, Casey asked him, “Did you get him?” Vasquez gestured that Fisher stuck his leg out. So Casey then went to bust on ref Nick Buchert asking where the offensive foul was. Buchert said Vasquez got him, but then said, “I agree with you, I agree with you, I’ll watch it.” To which a fan nearby said, “He’ll call it for you next time, coach.” Casey then looked over, winked and shook his head. Moral of the story is, Dwane Casey is delightful.
- Another thing about Casey: He coaches harder than Russell Westbrook plays. The guy was non-stop on the bench.
- A small thing, but there was a second left in the first half and Brooks missed an opportunity to sub in Jackson, who is clearly the Thunder’s best heave guy. Again, really minor, but if you want a guy launching one from deep, Jackson is it.
- At one point, Steven Adams had five fouls in six minutes. He ended up making it five more and for the most part, they were high energy and solid. But the fouls definitely limited him some.
- Only 18 minutes for Thabo tonight.
- Westbrook played a really solid game: 27 points on 8-17 with nine rebounds and five assists.
- I wonder how awkward it is for a ref to have to review whether it was a 2 or 3 on a foul call and also see that you completely blew the call. That happened at the end of the first half.
- Ibaka did hit another corner 3 tonight. That’s now three in two games. Please let that be a thing.
- It was a tense pregame Thunder locker room. They very much did not want to talk about the locker room incident — if it’s even worth calling it that — with Joakim Noah. A few quotes…
- Westbrook on it: “If your name’s not up there, you shouldn’t be in here. Including you guys … I’m not going to bring Kevin Love in here, because Kevin Love didn’t play with any of these guys, just because he’s my friend, I can’t bring him in here.”
- Durant on it: “Yes, I do care [about opponents in the locker room]. Unless you play here, or been a part of this group, I don’t think you should go in other team’s locker rooms. I wouldn’t do that, but that’s just me. I don’t know how other guys feel. But I wouldn’t do it. I know you guys love conflict but it really wasn’t nothing to serious. Those guys wasn’t in here throwing punches or anything like that. This is our home so you don’t just walk into anyone’s house.”
- Thabo: “Could be, could be [a cultural difference]. I think everybody is different. I mean, it’s one of the things I kind of understand and definitely respect [Perk's] point of view. I think the media made it bigger than it really was … It was no big deal. It was right by the door but again, it’s a point of view from Perk that I respect and that’s his way of doing things. And I’m definitely fine with that. I don’t think there’s no bad feelings towards it. It something that happened but no big deal as far as the team’s concerned and I’m concerned and Perk’s concerned.”
- One thing the players asked agreed on: If you’re a former Thunder player, you’re welcome in the locker room still. Otherwise, GTFO. At least that’s how I understood them.
Next up: At the Knicks on Christmas