No Russell Westbrook. No Serge Ibaka.
Lots of problems.
The Thunder walked into Salt Lake City tonight having won eight straight road games to take on a bad Jazz team. And it was obvious basically from the beginning of the game: OKC’s defense wasn’t up to its typical standards. The Jazz shot 58.8 percent for the game, and had their way offensively for the first three quarters.
But when it was time for the Thunder to make one little push, to take a swing at actually winning the game, they couldn’t stop Gordon Hayward.
The Jazz scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. Seventeen of them came from Hayward, and in fact, they all came consecutively. He scored 17 straight points on the Thunder.
Great game from him. Awesome performance. But here’s what’s so infuriating about it: The Thunder basically just watched him do it. Hayward made some tough shots and he deserves all the credit for it, but Scott Brooks gets an assist here. There was a moment after Nick Collison made a 3 and the Thunder came up with a steal that they had the lead to five with 4:31 left. Big possession, a chance to make it a one score game. And there Derek Fisher was, launching a 3.
I think we all had the same thought at that moment. Wait. Why is he still in the game?
Scott Brooks has made some iffy lineup choices, but I think this one might be the head-scratchingest of the season. Thabo Sefolosha was holding his hand at one point earlier in the game, so who knows, maybe he was hurt. But if not, why is your so-called stopper not on the floor to defend the guy that’s torching you? Now don’t get me wrong, it was Jeremy Lamb defending Hayward for the most part, and I actually think that was some nice experience for him, but what is Fisher adding for you at this point? You’ve got Jackson to defend Trey Burke, you’ve got KD to check Marvin Williams, or Hayward. Fisher though was on Alec Burks a lot of the time, which made zero sense. Sometimes, even though I don’t like it, you can at least justify the matchup with Fisher on the floor. Tonight, he wasn’t even guarding anyone that made sense.
So when Perry Jones trotted to the scoretable with 2:24 left and OKC down 10, I thought, “Too late, but at least he’s making the change.” But Jones subbed in for… Lamb. WHAT. I can’t. I can’t even.
Look, the Thunder put themselves in a tough spot to win this one early on, playing soft defense. The choice to play Fisher probably — probably — didn’t cost OKC a win. But with the score 92-79 with 9:20 left, the exact same score and almost the same amount of time left against the Wolves when KD went off, I thought they had a good chance. They just had to make the right moves, and the right plays.
And while Durant finished with almost the exact same line — 48-7-5 — he couldn’t find his magic touch from the outside, missing 10 of his 13 tries from deep. The Thunder couldn’t get any stops, so there was never really any hope for a KD miracle. When you’re down nine and the other team keeps scoring, it’s hard to make a comeback, no matter who you have.
It’s just a part of the non-Russell rollercoaster, and for tonight, the non-Ibaka one as well. The Jazz stink, but let’s face it: The Thunder were going to need to play really well to win tonight when word came out Ibaka was sitting. Their interior defense clearly took a hit and to make matters worse, on a night they were playing a bad defensive team — 30th in defensive efficiency coming in — they couldn’t make anything. OKC went just 6-34 from 3 and shot 39.3 percent as a team. Again, Durant was 3-13 from deep, but the rest of the team was even worse going a combined 3-21.
Is it a bad loss? Yeah, probably. Without Westbrook, these are the games the Thunder really have to take care of. Ibaka’s absence clearly had a big impact too, but better play and better choices could’ve salvaged it. It’s not expected to go beat the class of the league without one of your best players, but a winnable game like this, on the road or not, needs to be handled. Especially right now.
- Ibaka missed tonight because of flu-like symptoms. Perry Jones III made his second career start in his place and in 15 minutes had three rebounds. And that’s it.
- Another 30 attempt game for Durant, his second in four days. Before that, he’d only had four total in his career. In fact, 34 attempts tonight is a new career-high.
- Reggie Jackson missed three free throws tonight, all in the fourth quarter. And maybe there was a reason. A Jazz fan behind OKC’s basket was throwing a hat in the air that looked like a basketball during his shot. That’s not allowed. Scott Brooks was some kind of miffed about it, stomping out to midcourt to yell at the officials. He got a tech, but the fan was told to quit.
- Nick Collison just needs to make a 3 in 103 more straight games to catch Kyle Korver. Something to keep an eye on.
- Late in the second quarter, Scott Brooks was clearly searching for some defense, so he went with a lineup of Jackson, Thabo, Roberson, Durant and Perkins. Roberson and Sefolosha had only played four minutes total together this season coming in to tonight.
- Conditioning seems to be a bit of an issue for Jackson. Multiple times tonight he was clearly gassed. He played a career-high 42 minutes.
- Kevin Durant has scored 48 points twice in four days. The rest of the NBA? Zero times in lots of days.
- After Perk took a fifth shot in the first quarter, I started to say that I wished the Thunder would give Adams the ball that much when he’s in. But then I remembered that people are actually guarding Adams.
- When Nick Collison is making jump passes, it’s just a bad night.
- Adams has really improved as a pick-and-roll defender, but he’s still lacking something one-on-one against other bigs.One thing I see: He has his arms to his side too much, so he’s not getting a good contest on a quick move. He’s trying to play a little too much with his chest, probably because he’s trying not to foul.
- When Grant Long talked about Andrew Bynum’s contract, I just had to mute the TV.
- Every now and then, Jackson makes some really bad choices.
- It bothers me how the Jazz basically just added green to their color scheme out of nowhere.
- Fisher’s bulldog defense is lovely and all, but three fouls in 15 seconds just means the opponent is headed for the bonus early.
- I just need to say it again for my own sanity: What exactly was Fisher adding in the fourth that Roberson or Sefolosha wouldn’t have? Or your “utility defender” Perry Jones?
- For a lot of the game, Perk was OKC’s third leading scorer with six points.
- I came away again really impressed by Lamb tonight. He started the game 0-7 from the field (three of those shots were at the end of the shot clock, to be fair) and finished 4-14 for nine points. But he competed on the boards, he busted it defensively and he stayed in the game everywhere else. Excellent sign for a young player, especially a guy that’s supposedly scorer by trade.
- Durant was 7-12 in the first half. Meaning he went 7-22 in the second half.
- I bet Jazz fans are pretty sick of watching KD take free throws. He went to the line 24 times in the season opener, and took 19 tonight.
- Even though OKC lost, props to KD. He could’ve packed it in late third or even early fourth. But he kept going, kept competing, kept trying.
- Still: The game was over with two minutes left. Why was he still in?
Next up: At Denver on Thursday