You can look at it this way: Second night of a back-to-back on the road against a team that was 15-3 and if Kevin Durant sinks a wide open 3 with 1:13 left and the Thunder down one, we’re talking about maybe the best win of the season.
Or you can look at it this way: The Thunder are now 0-4 in games they’ve been the underdog and played an infuriatingly stupid 48 minutes of basketball, doing the kinds of things that will get you beat in a playoff game. Like having only 11 assists, or allowing 16 offensive rebounds.
Fact is, the Thunder had an excellent opportunity to win this game, despite playing incredibly dumb basketball for the majority of it. They often survive purely off of athleticism and talent, and that’s what they were doing in Portland tonight. Even with elementary offensive execution, shaky lineup choices and critical defensive lapses, with 4:22 left the Thunder are up one. Durant had that clean look at a daggerish 3, and a Kendrick Perkins illegal screen wiped out a possession down one with 37 seconds left.
Which is what seems to be a post-game focus for a lot of people. After playing small for a lot of the quarter, going with what I think is OKC’s best lineup in Westbrook, Jackson, Lamb, Durant and Ibaka, Scott Brooks decided to go back to being big for the final 2:41 of the game. The reasoning was obvious. The Blazers were killing OKC on the boards, and LaMarcus Aldridge was absolutely abusing Serge Ibaka.
So Brooks brought Perk back in the game to try and simmer Aldridge and make someone else beat the Thunder. Personally, I thought it was the wrong move. Because I thought Brooks should’ve had Perk in two or three minutes earlier. If you’ve watched past Thunder-Blazer games, you’d know that Perk has always defended Aldridge better than anyone else on OKC’s roster. For example, last season Aldridge shot 37.8 percent in four games against OKC with Perk on the floor (26.2 minutes per game), and 48.4 percent with Perk on the bench (15.2 minutes per game).
When the Thunder were small, the Blazers put Aldridge on Lamb, which basically meant Lamb camped on the 3-point line while Aldridge stood near him. So the Thunder played 4-on-4, isolating Durant and Westbrook and letting them attack a mostly empty paint. It wasn’t a bad strategy, but one would think when you’ve got an offensive mismatch like that, maybe you run Aldridge off a few curls and see if he can keep up with Lamb. Since it was just going to be Russ and KD iso ball, my thinking was that they could do that anyway with Perk, though of course the paint might not be as free.
(My real preference in that situation would actually be Nick Collison, who has done well on Aldridge in the past and is at least someone Portland would have to remotely consider on the other end. Still, Perk’s done really well defending LMA so the reasoning was there.)
Look, there’s plenty to rip on Perk about and if you actually read the things I say about him, there’s probably far more negative stuff in there than positive. But just blaming him carte blanche simply because he was on the floor and something bad happened is silly. The illegal screen? Not good, but three things about it to consider first: 1) That’s a really dumb play call by the Thunder — and it’s one they use often, but bad timing I thought there — going to Westbrook for 3 on the flare when you’re just down one 3; 2) the foul was probably more Westbrook’s fault than Perk’s because Russ went way to early, leaving Perk out to dry in trying to pick his man; and 3) I’m not even sure it was really a bad screen anyway.
Still even after all that, the Thunder just needed one more stop to give themselves a chance but Durant fell asleep as Nicolas Batum ran the baseline, knocking down the final dagger to put Portland up four. The Thunder just didn’t make the necessary plays that they’ve been making the previous two weeks. And because of it, they lost. They did some really bad things like stagnate offensively, rebound like butt and throw some insane passes, but as we all have learned the past few years with Thunder basketball, they often survive all of those things simply because they’re really good. Durant knocks down a 3, or OKC comes up with one more stop and you’re able to say things like, “The Thunder just won despite playing kind of bad on the road against a team that was 15-3.”
But instead, just like that, the 6-0 homestand and an eight-game win streak is the past, and the present is a one-game losing streak where it was all Scott Kendrick Perkins Brooks’ fault. Ah, isn’t an NBA season just wonderful?
- Steven Adams’ catch and dunk was so good that despite the loss, it’s the top video. I’m going to watch that video until I fall asleep tonight.
- For really the first time I can remember this season, defensive rebounding was a big issue. Has there been another game where it was this bad and I’m just forgetting it? It’s been an area the Thunder have cleaned up significantly this season, but the Blazers just whipped them with second chances tonight.
- Westbrook limped off the floor at the end of the game and while I don’t mean to speculate (too much), my assumption is he was just being Russ, limping around after he didn’t get a call he wanted.
- One more thing on Perk: Some see me as a Perk apologist simply because I’m unwilling to just close my eyes and say everything is his fault. I get that. When you have a player that’s become that unpopular, trying to be reasonable about what they’re doing is equally as unpopular. And here’s the thing: Perk was mostly a waste of space the first 15 minutes of the game he played. Aldridge was scoring on him anyway and it’s not like he was making up for it in other areas. But when you’re Brooks in that situation and you just watched LMA kill Ibaka on multiple possessions, you’ve got to make a decision there, and statistically speaking, Perk was the right one. Again, I would’ve went with Collison until he inevitably fouled out, but that’s me. Making the move to two bigs was definitely necessary, though.
- Something relevant to remember that might be getting overlooked: LaMarcus Aldridge is really, really, really good. Even if a guy’s job is to stop him, that’s a hell of an assumption to make, because sometimes a guy is just unstoppable for a night.
- Brooks hung with his bench maybe a minute or two too long in the fourth quarter, but again, I didn’t hate it. That unit was playing with a lot of energy and on the second night of a back-to-back, giving Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka an extra rest for the final eight minutes was kind of a shrewd move by Brooks. It’s the type of thing that people drool over Gregg Popovich for.
- Speaking of the bench, another strong performance from Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Jackson had 12 in 29 minutes, Lamb 10 in 26.
- Hey, Perry Jones played. Only five minutes and probably because of foul trouble, but still, he played!
- Underrated huge play of the night: With about eight minutes left, Lamb missed (got blocked?) a transition dunk attempt, then Derek Fisher missed the putback, then Damian Lillard drilled a 3 on the other end. Instead of a two-point game, it went to seven.
- Earl Watson: Throwing some dice or, um…
- Some fan was talking trash to KD tonight and said, “Go back to Texas!” At first glance, it seemed KD yelled back, “please shutup” but I think that was someone else. Durant definitely said something though.
- What kind of trash talk is “Go back to [insert place]!” anyway? What does that even mean and how is that supposed to be hurtful?
- Theory: Brian Davis and Grant Long confusing Perk for players all the time is a strategic brainwash move to try and connect Perk with good plays. Because they got Ibaka mixed up with Perk a couple times tonight after mixing him up with KD last night.
- Still can’t believe KD missed that 3. That’s just a shot he rarely misses. At least it seems.
- Tonight was a great example of how you just have to say, “That’s Russell.” He was playing with that dumb chip on his shoulder, going far too much into a one-on-one battle with Lillard and Matthews and ignoring teammates for stretches. But then in the fourth, he hits a big 3, and finishes two great driving layups. At this point, it’s not worth even griping about him. It’s just him. And it’s what makes him great.
- I love the smallball lineups, but I don’t like that Adams is the casualty of it. He needs more than 13 minutes. And needs more than them all being with the second unit. I think he has too much of a positive impact, and should see more time with Westbrook and Durant.
- The officiating felt spotty, and while the Thunder had 23 fouls called on them to Portland’s 16, OKC took 24 free throws to the Blazers 17.
- If you would’ve told me the Thunder turned it over only 14 times tonight, I would’ve called you a liar and slammed a figurative door in your face. Felt more like 30.
- Starting to wonder how much the Thunder really need Thabo. I’m not all in with that thought, but it’s worming its way in currently.
Next up: At the Pelicans on Friday