Have a wonderful Eve with your families and an even better Christmas Day.
Have a wonderful Eve with your families and an even better Christmas Day.
What is there to say? Everything went as planned. The Thunder hung tough for virtually the whole game, but inconsistent jump shooting and extremely poor execution of course doomed them in the end. A stale stretch in the second quarter and a bad fourth quarter basically summed up the Thunder’s 99-88 loss in Atlanta tonight.
OKC shot terribly (37 percent) all night long and the worst part is, it didn’t really adjust. The Thunder weren’t hitting shots but instead of changing it up and driving to the hoop or trying to get to the line, OKC kept hoisting the jumpers. And they kept not falling. I think the poster-boy for this season is Earl Watson. Unbelievable underachieving, awful jump shooting and pathetic decision making. If there’s one thing that makes me want to put my face in boiling water it’s Earl Watson dribbling up the floor, taking one step inside the three-point line and hoisting a 20-foot jump shot with 18 on the shot clock. And lucky for me, he did it multiple times tonight.
Russell Westbrook did what rookies tend to do: He reverted back and played like he did at the beginning of the season. But as we all know and as we’ve all said (numerous times), that’s the growing pains of a 20-year-old point guard. He wasn’t good tonight, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be good next time out.
And I guess Scott Brooks’ text messages are working. Jeff Green poured in another strong effort on the glass, grabbing 14 boards. Kevin Durant continues to play efficient basketball. Seems like every box score lately is looking about the same for him (in a good way): 28 points, 10-19 from the floor, 2-3 from three, six rebounds. He’s doing his part. Over the past eight games, he’s averaging almost 28 a game. And he’s just 20. I can’t wait to see where’s he at in three months, much less three years. He’s getting better daily.
Atlanta is a top five team in the East and OKC is a bottom two team in the league. It turned out like it should – especially with the game being in Atlanta. Against contenders, this is what Thunder fans have to hope for – staying close and not getting embarrassed. So by all accords tonight, mission accomplished.
Oklahoma City gets a few days off and then returns to action Friday against the Pistons.
Oklahoma City Thunder (3-25) vs. Atlanta Hawks (17-10)
Tuesday, December 23
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
The last time these two got together, Oklahoma City led an undefeated Atlanta squad for about 40 minutes and then a late 18-5 run doomed the Thunder as the Hawks won 89-85.
When the Hawks are focused and are playing hard, they’re good. Like good as in they can play and win with anyone. But they are also the type of team that can potentially come out flat, overlook an opponent and lose. And that’s precisely what OKC fans are hoping for tonight. A lackluster effort from Atlanta enabling the Thunder to stay close for four quarters and maybe squeak one out.
One thing about Atlanta though, is they’re good at home. Like 11-2 good. They’ve played very solid defense this year and when they’re hitting from three, they’re nearly unstoppable. And they do it even better at home.
It’s a weird feeling to be a Thunder fan right now. Somehow, someway, my excitement for the team is beginning to catch a second wind. The expectations are gone and the team’s playing so much better. The wins really haven’t come as a result, but knowing the team will likely be competitive each night makes losing constantly a little bit easier to take. The Thunder’s average margin of defeat has fallen from 13.0 points over their first 16 games to 4.4 in the last 12, but they’re still 2-10 in that span. We knew the team would be bad, but watching it steadily improve and get to the point where it can compete each night is fun. And knowing help is on the way in Nenad Krstic, it’s really fun to watch the building blocks come in to place and see a team built from the ground up.
No expectations tonight, except to be competitive. Hang tough, give yourself a chance. I know some readers and like to poke fun at “improving yet losing.” But with any team, what are you supposed to take out of a game? If the Team A doesn’t have near the talent, the ability or the intangibles of Team B, what are you to hope for if you’re a fan of A? Is it realistic to hope for wins against superior opponents and be pissed if you lose? Or do you stay realistic and hope the team plays as well as it can and stays competitive and if it wins, then that’s just a bonus? Because that’s the mindset of Thunder fans. Play hard, play well and just hang tough. At this point, that’s all we can ask for.
Yesterday included a rather large family gathering from my father’s side for Christmas so a game recap was a little difficult to get to. The holiday season can kind of have that affect on a blog. I watched it this afternoon via DVR and here’s a few quick thoughts:
It’s another loss and it doesn’t look any better on the right side of the column, but playing extremely well and hanging in against one of the elite teams in the league shows how far OKC has come from the totally and completely inept team it once was.
Thank you Nick Collison. What an awesome, gutsy hustle play to give Oklahoma City its first win at home in 47 days. That play really summed up why the Thunder came out 91-83 winners over a fast imploding Toronto squad.
For 48 minutes, the Thunder simply outworked the Raptors. Loose balls, charges, steals, everything – were going OKC’s way. The effort was obvious from the tip and part of that reason was a shakeup in the starting five. Finally, Scott Brooks got Damien Wilkins out of the first five. Playing with him out there for the first eight minutes of a game was like having a dead body being drug around. I was actually planning on doing some research to find out if Wilkins was maybe the most unproductive starter in league history. Also, maybe the Johan Petro experiment is wrapping up. Collison finally got the start at the five and while the group was small, they were also quick, much more energetic and way better defensively.
You look at the box and its got all the symptoms for another Thunder loss. Eleven missed free throws, 18 turnovers, 3-13 from downtown and just 44 percent from the field. But the biggest thing is the Raptors shot a miserable 36 percent from the floor and OKC outrebounded them 54-48. Chris Bosh was held to a 6-18 night and Russell Westbrook played excellent defense on Jose Calderon. Coming in, both teams were giving up over 100 a game, but tonight either both teams played good defense or both teams played bad offense. I think it was a bit of a combination. The Thunder rotated extremely well, the intensity was very high and OKC doubled Bosh some, but Collison and Wilcox really did a nice job one-on-one.
Oh and look out world, because Russell Westbrook’s jumper is coming along. He’s getting more and more confident pulling up and he’s not forcing it to the rim all the time. He went for 19 on 7-12 shooting with eight assists. At times, he really looks unguardable. Kevin Durant didn’t shoot the ball all that well, but still managed 24 and eight boards, but nailed a monster trey with about three minutes left (How about his posterization of Jermaine O’Neal; that was awesome). And Desmond Mason was huge – seven points and 10 rebounds, but his energy and intensity really carried the team tonight. Really, it was just a total team effort – Joe Smith was great, Jeff Green played well even though he was saddled with foul trouble and Wilcox had good minutes.
Rumor has it Bosh refused to speak with the media after the game and got into a small tussle with a PR guy. I guess that kind of stuff happens when you lose to a 2-24 team. But I think the Raps are about one more bad loss away from totally blowing up. They were 8-9 under Sam Mitchell and since he was burned, they’re 2-7, including a loss to the Thunder. And more than anything, they lost because it just looked like they had given up and got out-hustled. Ouch.
Look, I know OKC is 3-24. It’s not good. At all. No matter how you try and mix it. But that’s sure better than 2-25 – one game better in fact. And with the way the Ford Center responded after the win, that little 91-83 win meant quite a bit. My wife, who has no interest in the team whatsoever except for cringing every time she hears “Thunder” because the name bothers her so much, was on her feet urging the team on late. She was joined by 19,000 other people that were begging this team to finally win one in front of them. There’s a reason OKC got tagged for having such great fans. Tonight was a good example of it.
While some of it was half joking, half relief and all happiness, fans were high-fiving, yelling in the streets and honking car horns around the Ford. I know that sounds pretty stupid, but this city is dying, and I mean dying, to embrace this team and make them its own. And tonight was a step towards that. One guy behind me was talking to his friend and said, “You would have thought we just won the NBA title or something. But hey, I’ll take it. This feels good – just don’t remind me of our record.” This group has played better under Scott Brooks and has been in every game except one with him at the helm. Tonight, instead of the traditional folding down the stretch, the Thunder rose up and got it done.
When the Raps cut the 10 point lead to to three for most of the fourth and then finally tied it, everybody in the building had the “Here we go again” feeling. But instead of locking up and kicking the ball away and failing to get rebounds and giving up easy buckets and missing bunnies in the lane and giving away possessions, the Thunder actually did all of the above. It started with Durant hitting that huge three to break a 76 -76 tie. But it was highlighted by Nick Collison’s hustle play – going to the floor against Bosh and wrestling the ball away. But instead of getting a jump ball, Collison kept working and kicked it out. The ball swung around to Westbrook who drove and banked in a jumper to put OKC up by four, 85-81, and basically put win No. 3 in the bag for the Thunder. This may be a little ridiculous to say, but when you’ve only won three games, big moments are few and far between, but Collison’s play is probably the play of the season so far for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City gets a day off before King James and the Cavs come to town Sunday night. Last time the two squads matched up, Cleveland walloped the Thunder by 35.
Toronto Raptors (10-15) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2-24)
Friday, December 19
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 CST TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Can Nenad play tonight? No? Oh, well then nevermind – I thought the might be hope for tonight. Not much chance the Thunder can hang with Toronto’s front line of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal and Andrea Bargnani. Bosh is going to be a near impossible matchup for Jeff Green. Green can stretch Bosh a little on the outside, but Bosh will likely be able to abuse Green in the post.
The Raptors come to Oklahoma City having lost eight of their last 10. Of course, the Thunder has lost their last 22 of 23. And it seems like any time a skidding team comes to OKC, it’s kind of “Get back on track night.” So that will likely be the case.
The Raps are pretty poor defensively so tonight’s game could be a but of a high scoring affair. I’m really looking forward to the Russell Westbrook – Jose Calderon matchup. These are the type of opposing guards Russell was drafted to lock down on. The Raptors entire offense really relies on Calderon. He has to cut and slash into the defense and distribute because the Raptors really don’t have guys that create on their own. Anthony Parker is a nice player but he’s not great at getting his own shot. Jason Kapono is a straight up spot up shooter. Jamario Moon is a straight up athletic freak, but he’s not a good shooter. So if Westbrook can limit Calerdon a little, it may make it tough for Toronto’s line of bigs to get their points.
Even though OKC is 2-24, one thing I’m growing more excited to watch every night is Kevin Durant. As everybody has witnessed under Scott Brooks, he’s just so much more efficient and productive. He’s not forcing anything, but just letting the game flow and makes scoring 25 looks easy. When Jeff Green scores 14, it seems like I notice and remember every bucket. When Durant scores 30, it seems like it came out of nowhere. It is really an enjoyable thing to watch a player that works within the flow of an offense and just scores because the game is coming to him – it’s not nearly as fun watching a guy force the action.
I have a kind of good feeling about tonight’s game for some unknown and totally unfounded reason. But when a team is 2-24 and has lost the last 11 at home, you kind of feel like, “This HAS to be the one.” But then again, I’ve been feeling that way for two weeks. Maybe OKC can keep it close and just have a chance in the fourth. At this point, that’s what Thunder fans have been resigned to hoping for.
From ESPN.com’s Chad Ford: “Former New Jersey Nets big man Nenad Krstic followed Josh Childress’ lead this summer and bolted the NBA for the riches of international basketball. Seven weeks into the season, Krstic is on the verge of coming back to the NBA. Two league sources told ESPN.com on Friday the Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed in principle to sign Krstic to a three-year offer sheet. The deal should be finalized on Monday, according to the sources.
Krstic is still a restricted free agent. The Nets would have seven days to match the deal once they receive the offer sheet. A league source in New Jersey said the chances of the Nets matching what is believed to be a three-year, $15 million offer are slim. The Nets like Krstic but are trying to clear cap space for the summer of 2010 … A Thunder source said that the team has been in pursuit of Krstic for a while and considered making him an offer this summer. After watching him play in Russia, they believed he was finally healthy and would command a large salary next year. With nearly all of the team’s mid-level exception available, they decided to cut off the competition and lock up Krstic now.“
Krstic was having a breakout year in 2006 before an awful ACL injury sidelined him. In 26 games that year, he averaged 16.4 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s just 25 years old and is a solid seven-footer that OKC desperately needs. It’s hard to say if he’s really a good solution to the current problem, but his presence sure won’t hurt. Right now, OKC is getting little to no production from the frontcourt. Having Krstic should open up more mid-range looks for Kevin Durant and Jeff Green and give Russell Westbrook a reliable post-scorer to pass to on dribble drives.
If Krstic is completely healthy and can return to his 2006 form, this is a solid pickup. But if he’s unproductive and not fully-recovered, this could be a major setback dishing out $15 million to someone that’s going to give you as much production as the guys you’ve already got. This piles up more OKC big men, which suggests that someone out of Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Nick Collison or Chris Wilcox will likely be moved.