Um. Um? Um.
I keep staring at this box score here in front of me, and wouldn’t you know it, it keeps saying the Thunder lost 114-104 to the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. What makes it even weirder, is it says Kevin Durant had 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while shooting 10-16 from the floor, Russell Westbrook played his best game since returning, scoring 24 on 8-17 with nine assists, Serge Ibaka had 16 points, 13 boards and four blocks, and as a team, the Thunder hit 13 3s and had 26 assists.
But the damn thing keeps saying they lost. At home. To the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If you’re the kind of person that’s inclined to freak out, this is your kind of day. Even Westbrook didn’t completely downplay it with the whole “Oh, there are 82 games, it’s a marathon not a sprint” thing when even asked a very leading question that basically teed him up for it.
“Sometimes,” Westbrook said. “It just depends on how you lose the games. We’ve got to get our defensive mindset back.”
And you could put the classification of the way the Thunder lost this one somewhere between bad, and season three of Homeland.
Midway through the third, the Thunder led by 12, and appeared to be nearing the point of putting the game completely away. I was starting to hit the oh-man-is-KD-gonna-sit-the-fourth-and-not-get-a-triple-double part of the game. The Cavs chipped into the lead and had it to 76-72 heading to the fourth. Jeremy Lamb hit a 3 to open the fourth, but within three minutes, the Cavs had the game tied up, 81-81, with 9:15 left. Three minutes after that, they’re up four, 93-88, with 6:11 left. That’s kind of when we all went into the “Heh heh, come on now guys, quit messing around here” stage.
A couple free throws from Westbrook, a Thabo layup off a nicely executed set, a soaring Westbrook runout and then a Reaper-esque Durant 3 had OKC back up, 97-95, with 4:35 left. At home, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, that appeared to be the final push needed to squeak out a gross win. Except the Thunder’s defense completed it’s horrific collapse, giving back-to-back 3s to Jarrett Jack and Kyrie Irving, then a driving floater from Spencer Hawes that put OKC down six with three minutes to go. Durant hit a little jumper to get it to four, but the Thunder had cooked themselves. The Cavs scored nine more in the final two minutes en route to a bombastic 42-point fourth quarter.
The last three games, the Thunder have allowed two 40-point quarters, and three quarters with at least 30. The defense has been awful, and there’s really no good explanation for it. Durant was asked about it a couple of different ways postgame, and he just kept shrugging his shoulders and saying he didn’t know.
“I don’t know,” KD said. “We gave up 42 points in the fourth quarter. We just can’t — I don’t know. I can’t even explain it.”
Good news! OKC’s offense looked pretty good again. Westbrook looked very Westbrook-ish, Durant was efficient, and Ibaka was involved. The bench gave little, which is a big reason for the loss, but if we’ve learned much about this Thunder team, defense is much easier to fix than offense.
“It’s more about second and third efforts,” Durant said about fixing the defensive issues. “Energy and effort, knowing the schemes and playing harder. We’ll be alright.”
Said Westbrook: “You’ve got to take individual pride. You’ve got to take individual pride in guarding. Playing team defense and helping your teammate out.”
Still, this is bad. This is the first time the Thunder have lost three consecutive games at home since the 2008-09 season when, you know, the team was kind of terrible. It feels like we should be concerned. The narrative is built. The Thunder are good for a number of weeks, then Westbrook returns amidst “Are the Thunder better without Westbrook?” questions, and then they lose three straight, including this one, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Asked if his frustration is at an all-time high for the regular season, Durant called back on that inaugural season. “Nah. We good. We started off 3-29. Nothing gets worse than that.” As did Westbrook when asked the same thing. “No. We were 3-29 when we first got here. Is that frustrating?” That first season seems to be a theme tonight. Mainly because the Thunder played like they were transported back to 2008 tonight.
Look, I would hope Thunder fans have learned enough from watching the NBA by now that you don’t completely freak and panic about bad losses in the regular season. I get it, though. What fun is it to not live and die with each game and react based on the results you saw? But what do you think, because they lost these three straight that it obviously proves that they’re not a championship level team anymore? That by the time they get into the postseason, that they’re toast? Because they lost to the Cavs at home?
I don’t excuse the loss. Nor does the team. Durant was pissed. Westbrook was more pissed. They should’ve won, and won by at least 10. The team played bad and these are the kinds of losses that might end up biting you if the Rockets or Spurs keep on winning. But lets remember: The Thunder still own the best record in the Western Conference, and have proven they’re a very good team. I had people on Twitter demanding I call the team out after this one. For what? For still being 43-15? I’ve seen too much of this team, and seen them play well for too long to really get all that fussy about a three-game losing streak and a bad loss at home to the Cavs.
But it is kind of funny. I saw these upcoming four games as a chance to get right, a chance to win a few, work out kinks and feel better. I never really considered the possibility they’d lose any of them, especially to the Cavs. And again, looking at the box score, you’d think the Thunder got right. But they couldn’t prevent the Cavs from shredding them, and it cost them a game, and inflicted a heavy helping of fanbase discontent.
This kind of has a similar feel to when the Thunder lost games early in January, blowing fourth quarter leads at home to the Blazers and Nets, then getting beat up on the road in Utah and Denver. After that Nets loss, Durant sat at his locker, looking for any kind of hope. The team was lost without Russell Westbrook on the floor, and needed good things to start happening. That’s when it all clicked, starting with a defensive lockdown in Houston where they allowed just 19 points and started a streak of 10 straight wins.
This is certainly the lowpoint in the Thunder’s 2013-14 regular season campaign. But they haven’t lost four in the playoffs yet. You can officially freak out when that happens.
- Scott Brooks: “You’re going to have some games and moments that you wish you didn’t have. When you play 82 games, 15, 16 games a month, you’re going to have that. That’s not an excuse, because you still have a job to do, and you have to do it for 82 games. And defensively, we’re not getting after it enough. We’re not taking pride in the basketball, we’re letting guys drive around us, we’re letting guys score in transition, not communicating, we’re letting guys get offensive rebounds, we’re letting guys get free throw blockout rebounds. We’ve got to get better defensively. We’ve been a not good, but a great defensive team the last three years and we just have to keep focusing on that end and it’ll turn back around for us.”
- The Thunder are now 0-4 without Kendrick Perkins this season. In those four games, they’ve allowed 114.4 points per 100 possessions. The worst defense in the league — the Jazz — allow 107.5.
- Now, I don’t genuinely believe the Thunder’s defensive slip is directly related to Perk. Because, as we’ve all seen, that’s a bit ridiculous. But I do think there’s something to be said for the Thunder being able to play at full strength, or at least with a comfortable rotation. Not having Perk has offset a bit of the ebb and flow of the rotations, combined with Westbrook’s minute restriction.
- KD asked if he thought Perk’s absence had something to do with it. “No.”
- On that: Westbrook played 30 minutes tonight, five more than his supposed 25-minute restriction. Scott Brooks: “That’s probably one or two minutes over. But it’s something that I have to do a better job with. But that also has no bearing on the game tonight.” Then Brooks went on to talk about how well he thought Russ played.
- Westbrook asked about it, and he just deferred to Brooks and his staff.
- Durant talked pregame, and by the way he sounded, you thought the Thunder were going to come out and blow out the Cavs. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe they expected to.
- Most minutes tonight for Adams since Dec. 19 against the Bulls (27). He was… decent.
- What’s happened to Jeremy Lamb? He hit that big shot to start the fourth, but that was his only make. He went 1-4 and only played 11 minutes. Derek Fisher has played really well, but he shouldn’t be playing six more minutes than Lamb.
- Reggie Jackson, another oof game. Just 3-10, some bad shots and some bad defense. Brooks ended up going with Thabo/Fisher over him in crunchtime, and for good reason.
- Late first quarter lineup: Jackson, Durant, Jones, Collison and Adams. That’s four guys over 6-10 on the floor together. Ridic.
- The Thunder obviously lost this game because Russell Westbrook took one more shot than Kevin Durant. Is that still a thing? I haven’t been paying attention.
- When Matthew Dellavedova gets his hair cut, you think he says, “Give me the Just-Woke-Up-From-A-Nap look”?
- Thunder PA guy tonight: “Into the game for the Cavaliers, No. 8, Matthew Della, Della-de-dova.”
- Is there a Tumblr called “Faces of Mike Brown”? Because if not, there should be.
- Passed Presti in the hall tonight and he was on the phone, walking fast. I can only assume that he was in the process of signing Danny Granger, or maybe Metta World Peace, or maybe Jimmer, or maybe Caron Butler.
Next up: Home against the Grizzlies on Friday