Missed it by thaaaaat much: Thunder comes up just short against L.A.

BOX SCORE

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

After a game like that, you tell yourself not to be sad. You tell yourself to look at the improvement. You tell yourself to look at a young, evolving team hanging with the NBA champs and taking them to the brink. You tell yourself that your team played its heart out and gave everything it had.

You tell yourself these things. But it doesn’t make you feel any better. In the end, it just sucks to lose. Especially when you’re that close to a big time win.

The Thunder took the Lakers to overtime, but came up just short, 101-98. And it’s not like the chances weren’t there. They were right there. The ball in your possession with 25 seconds left in a tie game. That’s what you want. Down one with 30 seconds left and a stud scorer waiting to take the shot. You want that. But both times, it didn’t work out for Oklahoma City.

The ball went to Kevin Durant both times and both times, KD came up with all air. It’s not like Durant was having an off night again – he scored 28 points on 10-24 shooting. He had a good night. Without him, OKC isn’t in the position it was. But what’s weird, is that Durant went 0-8 from 3. He’s actually 2-20 from deep on the season and has missed his last 13. I don’t know what the deal is, but it’s clearly a mental thing. Like I wrote in the last postgame, sometimes you just want the ball to go in so bad, that it just won’t. All you need to break out of it is to see it go through one time. Don’t worry about KD. He’ll be fine. And think about this: The Thunder’s hanging tough with their super-stud player not playing up to his potential. And we all know he will soon. So in a backwards way, this is encouraging.

One thing though: KD had 20 points at the half and only eight the rest of the way. He didn’t take a shot in the fourth until his attempted game winner. Of course you’d love the ball to go to your star and it’s a bit curious, but no complaints here. The Thunder was scoring because of hustle and ball movement. OKC didn’t need Durant to try and take the game over. It was all about scrapping and clawing and just getting the ball in the bucket. If Durant was a part of that, so be it. But I don’t think it was a matter of KD not wanting the ball or being passive or anything. It was just kind of the way it worked out.

Even if OKC had won the game and even if KD had hit the game-winner, the MVP of this game was Thabo Sefolosha. You see the box score and see Kobe went for 31 on 9-22 shooting. Maybe you’d assume Thabo just did decent work on The Mamba. But Thabo absolutely tormented Bryant tonight. He stripped him, blocked him, frustrated him, pushed him, pulled him and in general, just pissed him off. You can’t say enough good stuff about the way Thabo played tonight. He had four steals, hit two gigantic 3s and just made play after play after play. His strip of Kobe toward the end of regulation almost was the biggest moment of the night. If only KD could have knocked down a shot.

But you know what’s funny? As AWESOME as Thabo was, he finished as a minus-16 on the night. Yep, the only reason OKC was even in this thing was a big negative in plus/minus. Plus/minus has it’s value and I’ll always say that, but this kind of illustrates its flaws. Thabo was on the floor when the Lakers jumped out to an early first quarter lead and that put his plus/minus out of whack early. James Harden was in during the comeback. And while Harden made some big time shots and plays, he finished as plus-16. But in reality Thabo was far more valuable. Funny how that works.

As good as OKC played and as big a win this would have been, it’s pretty clear the Lakers weren’t at full strength. Kobe was a bit under the weather. No Pau Gasol. And in general, L.A. was just sloppy. The Lakers turned it over 24 times and made a lot of dumb plays. The Lakers outshot OKC 52 percent to 43 percent, but the Thunder got up 15 more shots than L.A. A lot of that was just because of effort.

A couple quick hits:

  • Again, Etan Thomas was excellent. The big man finished with nine points and 11 rebounds and was just mean in the post. Doesn’t matter if he’s all alone on the glass – he’s swinging wildly when comes down with the ball. He had three huge blocks and did a much better job on Andrew Bynum than Nenad Krstic. I’m tempted to say he should be starting, but when Krstic is on with his jumper, he’s a huge part of the offense. Tonight, the jumper really wasn’t hitting and that’s why Thomas saw 32 minutes and Krstic just 14.
  • Through four games, Jeff Green has been the most consistent player for the Thunder. He had another nice line – 18 points on 6-12 with five rebounds. And he’s doing a nice job defensively as Lamar Odom had just 13 points and eight rebounds.
  • How about that charge James Harden took on Kobe? Harden read it perfectly, saw exactly where Kobe was going and stepped in and took it. Beautiful play.
  • Kevin Durant finished with seven turnovers. Russell Westbrook six.
  • However, Westbrook played a really nice game. His energy sparked the team down the stretch in the fourth. He had 12-6-7 on the night and while his turns aren’t awesome, he really played a big game.
  • Durant logged another 45 and Green 44. I fear these minutes are catching up to these guys.
  • How about Lamar Odom airballing a free throw with a chance to seal the deal in OT? I like how he looked at his hands afterward as if the ball slipped or something. Riiiiiiight Mr. Kardashian.
  • Etan Thomas has played so well, he’s actually cut in to Nick Collison’s minutes. Collison only got 14 minutes and had just three boards and no points.
  • You tell me OKC is 2-2 with an OT loss to the Lakers heading to Houston and I’m taking it.

A thought on the last possession of regulation: I know it wasn’t good. It wasn’t at all what you want. The ball goes to Durant with 10 seconds left at the top of the key. You want that. You want the ball in KD’s hands at the end. But he took too much time getting himself steadied and decided to launch from 30-feet. He caught all air and now it looks really bad. But the thing is, I think that’s poor design. I think you want Westbrook driving and creating there. Durant isn’t much for creating his own shot off the dribble. You want KD taking the shot, but I like him being set up rather than being relied on to make it himself. If he nails it, we all celebrate and go home happy. But he didn’t and now it looks stupid. Just the way it is.

There is much to take from this game. All you could have hoped for coming in was a chance going into the fourth. And OKC held a two-point lead. Sure, winning would have been awesome. Losing sucks. But considering where we’re at and where they’re at, I think this is something to build on. Durant will be better. Westbrook is getting better. The team is beginning to find an identity on the defensive end. They’re gelling and believing. The good times are coming and while maybe the Thunder didn’t get it done tonight, we’ll look back on this one later this year and point to it as a major step in the maturation of this squad.

Next up are the Rockets Friday night in Houston. Don’t worry kids, we’ll get ’em next time.

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