There Kevin Durant sat at his locker, still in his full uniform, slumped halfway down in his chair, looking at a statsheet. After rubbing his eyes and shaking his head, Durant crumpled the piece of paper and flipped it into his locker. He then motioned at the Thunder’s PR guy, saying he was ready for his postgame availability.
And virtually every question he was asked, Durant began his response the same way. “I don’t know man,” he would say, holding his arms out, the universal signal for “I don’t know man.”
Because what could he say to explain what happened in Oklahoma City on Thursday night?
“Yeah we get too relaxed. We’ve got to keep going,” Durant said. “When a team is down you’ve got to keep them down. That’s what teams do to us when we’re down.”
If Tuesday’s loss to the Blazers was just really bad, this one is deserving of five or six reallys. I’m searching for a reasonable excuse, non-Russell-Westbrook-is-hurt division, and I can’t find one. The Thunder, once again cruising at home, busted a double-digit second half lead, this one coming to the lowly Nets, to lose on a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater, 95-93.
It seriously has been almost the same thing all three times. This time around the Thunder led by 89-91 with 5:15 left. They weren’t playing all that well necessarily, but certainly appeared to be in control of the proceedings. A methodical 12-0 run by the Nets that featured a four-minute scoring drought by OKC put the Thunder down four with 1:19 left. Kevin Durant hit a shot to cut it to two, then Serge Ibaka finished a deflected pass from KD to tie things up with 5.8 seconds left.
And it’s not that the Thunder’s defense on Johnson was poor or anything. It was simply a fantastic rainbow shot to win the game. Problem is, things should have never ever, ever come to that. The way the Thunder lapsed was just, well, pathetic.
There are the simple reasons, like the offense went to complete crap (16 points in the fourth quarter), or that they turned it over 21 times, or that next to Durant’s 24, the next highest scorer was Perry Jones with 11. Those are the statsheet reasons the Thunder lost, probably the things Durant saw when he crumpled it up and tossed it aside.
But the larger, more blatant reason is harder to define. There’s something missing with this team sans Russell Westbrook. It’s no coincidental that they hadn’t lost two consecutive home games in two years until tonight. In fact, that’s now three losses at home, all games in which the Thunder led going into the fourth quarter. Last season, OKC was 58-5 when leading after three quarters, and 31-2 at home.
What’s going on?
“I think we had 14 turnovers in that 2nd half, seven each quarter,” Brooks said. “We were just making bad plays, uncharacteristic plays. We do turn over from time to time, but some of our turnovers tonight were just unacceptable. We have to do a better job. We have to do a better job of closing out quarters. We have to do a better job of finishing the game.”
A play to point to: At the end of the third quarter, Paul Pierce hit a jumper, then Jeremy Lamb threw away the inbound pass, Deron Williams grabbed it and dropped a halfcourter. Five points in under a second that turned 77-61 lead heading into the fourth quarter into 77-66. That’s why the Thunder lost this game. Not that play specifically, but that type of mental lapse. Yes, it was about the poor fourth quarter execution and the lack of any kind of help for KD, but the Thunder just did straight up stupid stuff. They looked like a 25-win team that doesn’t know how to finish and win. Is that all a Westbrook issue? Or was it just that the Thunder didn’t do anything right when they needed to?
Like Brooks said after the game, everything they did to lose this game is entirely correctable. The turnovers, the bad plays, the stupid mistakes, the mental lapses — all of those things can be easily fixed. But these are the kinds of losses, like the Portland one the other night, that you can’t get back. These are the kinds of losses we all feared would happen when Westbrook’s latest procedure was announced.
But after the way they played against the Rockets, and the first three quarters they played against the Blazers, it looked like for the most part, they were set up to not just survive, but thrive. So much for that. Instead, Durant is left slumping in a chair, searching a box score for answers. Where is the help going to come from?
“We’ll be straight. We lost two in a row and they were two tough games,” KD said. “We need to be better.”
- The tl;dr of this: The Thunder lost a basketball game to a team they definitely should not have lost to.
- I’ve seen a lot of folks pinning this one on Brooks, and while I think he again jumbled it up a bit, the closing lineup he used mostly made sense. I thought playing Perry Jones for 30 minutes in a super small lineup was wise. Only qualm I really had with the closing lineup was the lack of Jeremy Lamb who barely appeared in the fourth. That’s a habit Brooks has. When hanging on to a lead, he goes defensive and tries to get stops rather than scores. Eventually, that catches up to you with 12-0 runs. So Brooks went with Sefolosha for the fourth and basically had OKC playing Save-Us-KD offense for most of the quarter.
- The Nets went with an odd starting five tonight: Williams, Livingston, Johnson, Pierce and Garnett. They were obviously trying to take the Heat approach and smallball OKC’s big starting five, but instead, they had Pierce on Ibaka and Livingston on KD to begin the game. They basically created mismatches against themselves. That said, it was confounding how Brooks stayed with his starting five the first eight minutes of the game despite Garnett standing 15 feet away from Perk on some possessions. Garnett could only have been guarding Perk less if he was standing somewhere in Yukon.
- Bright side: Reggie Jackson’s dollar signs are down to like five instead of 15. Another rough game for him: nine points on 4-13 shooting, five assists and four turnovers.
- I can’t stress how dejected and disappointed KD was postgame. Typically, he showers and gets completely dressed before talking to reporters. Tonight, he still had the whole uniform on. Never seen that. The locker room tonight was entirely different than after the Portland loss. After that one, there was a real “it happens” vibe and everyone was smiling and laughing and felt good. After this one, it was like I walked into The Cure song.
- If you fall for a Thabo Sefolosha pump fake, I have a pyramid scheme I’d like to tell you about.
- The Jackson-Lamb-Durant-Jones-Ibaka lineup is a WRECKING ball of athleticism and length.
- Perk got oddly carried away offensively tonight, taking seven shots. Here’s what’s crazy about that: That’s only six fewer than Durant.
- Should Durant be shooting more? Probably. But at the same time, he has to continue to make the right play and the right pass. He has to continue to trust his teammates. It’s just up to them to come along with him.
- Perry Jones did some positive stuff tonight. Had some rough moments too, but overall played a quality 30 minutes. And I liked seeing him out there getting the opportunity.
- Steven Adams should’ve played more.
- Nick Collison too. Six minutes. Ridiculous.
- Derek Fisher got 23. I’m not endorsing the Thunder to make a move, but one might be necessary so that doesn’t happen anymore.
- Serge Ibaka with his first double-double since Dec. 21 against the Spurs.
- End of the first quarter with the shotclock off, Lamb hoisted a contested 3 with 12 seconds left. Alan Anderson then canned a deep 2 at the buzzer. I think that’s what you call a teaching moment. Then Lamb to finish the third threw the ball away and Williams hit a deep 3. Five points he gave up all on his own right there.
- Said Brooks on Lamb’s mistakes: “One of the things I will tell Jeremy, is one, he didn’t try to do that. He’s never been in that situation in an NBA game. So it’s something we’ll discuss and we’ve done it already and we’ll discuss it more tomorrow so it doesn’t happen again, and it won’t. He’s a cerebral player and he had a bad moment. That’s the bottom line. He had a bad moment. It’s not intentional.”
- What’s weird about this game is OKC shot 50 percent from the floor, hit nine 3s and had 20 assists. Those are typically positive things that lead to an explosive offensive night. But nope.
- Brooks on what OKC needs to do better with KD: “We’ve done a good job all year with that. It’s not like we’ve seen two guys on KD for the first time tonight. We’ve done a much better job of getting to our spots quickly and making quick decisions off that first pass. Tonight it wasn’t the case, but it’s something we’ve done a good job of. And we will watch it and address it tomorrow and get better from it, hopefully, and move on to the next game because a lot of teams are going to do that. Most teams will do that. They’ve done it all year. But like I said, we’ve done a good job with that. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had two bad quarters tonight and then last game with two bad quarters in the 2nd half.”
- Durant on adjusting to teams loading up on him: “I don’t know but I’ve got to figure it out. I’ve got to watch film and see how.”
- Russell Westbrook was in the Thunder’s locker room pregame walking around without any crutches. He was also on the Thunder’s bench.
Next up: At the Wolves on Saturday