Thunder storm back but fall short in Houston, 118-116

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Well, that was a pretty awesome game. That had a pretty not awesome finish. A shame for a game like that to be decided on what, as I’ve looked at it close to 75 times, didn’t appear to be a foul.

But the officials called it on Jerami Grant, and Nene made his free throws. So the Thunder were left empty-handed, again, after a big comeback that had them up two with 1:54 left after a Victor Oladipo corner 3. Much like after Milwaukee and Charlotte, the Thunder can look at this game and lament missed opportunities and feel like they let one get away. 

Most will probably focus on Russell Westbrook’s 3-point pull-up, but like I’ve said before, it’s hard to celebrate the makes against the Celtics and then tisk-tisk this one. Sometimes he makes ’em. Sometimes he doesn’t. That’s the Thunder’s plight; they’re going to live and die by how well he plays in those final few minutes.

Sure, they could’ve done some different things. There’s one play that stands out to me, where Westbrook took that awkward running banker… thing, where Andre Roberson had a wide open lane to cut down but instead stood and watched from the 3-point line. If he cuts, Westbrook has him for a likely dunk. But the Thunder are sort of conditioned to stand and watch Westbrook, and don’t help him by making themselves a threat.

It’s a frustrating loss, because that makes OKC 0-3 in January, with all three games toss-ups. It would’ve been nice to have gotten at least one of them. Because this could be a lot of what’s ahead — coin toss games, and the Thunder at the mercy of what happens in those final few minutes.

It’s late, so let’s note.

NOTES:

  • James Harden in three games against OKC: 20.0 points on 16-55 shooting (29 percent), 12.3 assists and 6.6 turnovers. Hashtag, Andre Roberson.
  • How about that block by Roberson on Harden’s apparently wide open 3 with about 30 seconds left. That should’ve been the play of the game.
  • It’s quite amazing how many negative people were in my mentions tonight about Westbrook. He shot a lot, and sure, I guess when he’s making 3s like that it seemingly just enables him to take bad ones, but then again, he was really most of OKC’s offense. Without him making stuff tonight, the Thunder lose this game by 20. He played great. He took some dumb shots, but he played great.
  • I actually had a few people upset Westbrook was coming back in after the bench played well to open the fourth.
  • Speaking of, the bench did a really nice job to open the fourth. Closed the margin and gave Westbrook a real fighting chance to come back.
  • As much as it’s the Westbrook show late, I would like to see a little Oladipo in there. It would be nice to see them playing off each other.
  • Enes Kanter was beastly. He was so good, he got the closing call from Billy Donovan. He was all over the glass and for whatever reason, the Rockets didn’t try to exploit him in the pick and roll.
  • I didn’t like the final play. Donovan said the first look at it where Oladipo called timeout, he thought was open. They ran another set, with Abrines lobbing for Kanter, but it didn’t work. I didn’t like it mainly because there was no conviction from anyone. Westbrook was supposed to decoy, but he totally half-assed his cut across the floor. With 0.7 left, there was time to catch and shoot, and I think I would’ve rather had a flailing 3 than what we saw.
  • Steven Adams shot just 2-6 tonight. Big time shooting slump for him.
  • The Rockets crowd wasn’t very good. Very late arriving, and it never really filled up. For such a marquee game, that was disappointing.
  • Eric Gordon is a big time difference-maker for Houston.
  • Alex Abrines got 17 minutes, but he couldn’t find shots. Again, this is his big issue. He’s got to get himself open.
  • Psst, Cameron Payne had 22 on 8-14 shooting, including 6-7 from 3. Josh Huestis had 23 on 9-12, including 5-7 from 3.
  • I think Donovan really has to find a way to try and feature Sabonis a little more.
  • Sabonis had a play tonight, though, that really showed his inexperience. He caught the ball open in the paint, with Harden collapsing on him, and instead of just powering up through likely contact, he drop-stepped and tried to throw in a lefty hookshot. He missed.
  • The Thunder don’t feel good about these last three. And it means the next few carry some pressure. Home against Denver needs to be a win. Same against on the road against the Bulls. Probably even home against the Grizzlies. And then the Wolves and Kings. Not expecting a five-game win streak, but three of five, at least, is probably necessary.

Next up: Home against the Nuggets on Saturday