After losing a tight, competitive game on the road to the Bucks that they maybe probably should’ve won, the Thunder essentially repeated the exercise against the Hornets tonight. With 5:39 left, the game was tied. With three minutes left, OKC was down three. It was going to be about stops and execution, which really just means, can Russell Westbrook make his shots?
He didn’t, and on top of that the Thunder didn’t do a lot of things they needed to. The biggest issue in this one: defensive rebounding. In the critical moments, the Thunder failed to grab three of them, and they resulted in seven big points for Charlotte.
Let’s just talk about this one with 10 notes:
- First, how about Westbrook drilling Sean Corbin with a fastball to the brain? That was interesting. It came after Westbrook didn’t get consecutive calls and the Thunder took timeout. Westbrook pretty clearly didn’t implicitly mean to nail Corbin in the head, but he definitely threw the ball his way out of frustration. Right as Westbrook let it go, Corbin looked away, and it was just an unfortunate thing. Westbrook got a tech, now his 10th after he had two rescinded today, but there is a chance that one could be changed.
- The Thunder played poorly on the defensive end tonight. That was what a lot of this was about.
- I know this isn’t big news exactly, but Westbrook has been taking some bad shots lately. He went 10-31 tonight, which included 2-12 from 3. Now a few of those were late in the fourth out of desperation to engineer a comeback, but a lot of others came early in the game and just weren’t smart.
- Two Thunder starters have combined to score four points in the last two games. Can you guess who? (It’s Domantas Sabonis and Andre Roberson.)
- Steven Adams has really been playing well. He had 18 and 12 tonight, which included 8-10 shooting. Since going 1-9 against Memphis, he’s 21-26 in his last three games. His rebounding is up, his confidence is growing, and he’s finishing. It’s good.
- This is something I’ve mentioned before, but if you want to know the one area it’s clear Westbrook statpads, it’s on free throw misses. He’s always on the block, and almost always rebounds a second miss, with no other teammate making an attempt at it.
- Victor Oladipo has played well since coming back, but he did leave a few finishes out there. That’s been a long standing thing about him — get to the rim, and fail to finish it.
- With about six minutes left, I thought the Thunder were definitely winning this one. The bench played well, and when Westbrook came back, it was a tie game. It was setup for them to close if they could execute well enough and pick up some stops. They got stops — they just didn’t get rebounds. I’m telling you, those couple offensive rebounds for the Hornets swung this game. Some of them were long rebounds off contested 3s, but the Thunder needed to get them, period.
- OK, so the officiating. It has to be mentioned because it was a big part of the game. The Hornets attempted 49 free throws, which is a whole lot. Free throw count doesn’t always tell the story, because that’s something teams want to do is get to the line. But the Hornets unquestionably got some favorable calls. Nicolas Batum took five free throws on plays with literally zero contact, one a 3-point attempt, another on a pull-up. There was a big play under the basket where Spencer Hawes was grabbing Kanter’s arm blatantly to prevent him from a rebound, right in front of Brent Barnaky — like RIGHT in front of him — and it was missed. It was strange. And it absolutely had an influence on the outcome.
- Still, the Thunder didn’t do a lot of things they should’ve to win. Despite it, they had their chances. If they get those rebounds, if they don’t take dumb shots, if they play better in big spots, they win in spite of it all. So the officiating had a hand in it, sure, but the Thunder can’t only point to that. It’s more their fault than anyone else.
- Bonus thought: This January month of death isn’t off to a great start, especially since these were two of the more winnable road games on the slate. But I wouldn’t sweat it too much yet. Yes, that’s consecutive losses, but these were tight, competitive games against Eastern playoff teams. It’s not like the Thunder were outclassed. You can look at both and feel like they should’ve won. It’s not necessarily a sign of good things to come, but I wouldn’t be too discouraged.
Next up: At the Rockets on Thursday