Daily Thunder’s game coverage is sponsored by Anthem Brewing Company
Preface: If you’d like to skip all the bummer stuff about the Thunder losing and just read about how awesome Lu Dort is, please skip to the last paragraph.
The posts on social media and that have flooded my texts and WhatsApp basketball designated chat rooms have all had the same theme: “How did the Thunder lose to the freaking Grizzlies?!”.
Truth is, there are a myriad of reasons. Some of them big, some of them small. But when you add them all up, you get a 29 point smack down.
First off, the Grizzlies, even without Jaren Jackson Jr., are a talented team. Ja Morant is going to win Rookie of the Year, Jonas Valanciunas is averaging a double double this season, Dillon Brooks averages 16 points a game, and Brandon Clarke is the one who got away.
The oft quoted 0-4 record in the Bubble is a little misleading. The Grizz lost to the Blazers in overtime, and we know now how good Dame and Co. are in Disney play. They lost to the Spurs by 2 points. They did lose to the Pelicans by 10, but it was the one game when New Orleans let Zion play real minutes. And they lost to a full strength Jazz team that was a back and forth contest until the very end. A team isn’t the 8 seed in the West if they’re not talented.
But the Thunder, coming off a 19 point thrashing of the Lakers, might have been a little high on their own supply while believing the Grizzlies were mere cubs. Especially after a 1st quarter in which OKC scored 37 points, hit 7 of 13 3 point attempts and led by 18 points at one point.
The Grizzlies, though, continued to grit and grind like a desperate team still fighting for their playoff lives. And the Thunder played like a team who thought their 3 point shooting was sustainable and kept firing away from far away. Which is fine if those shots are going to Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder, usually Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or apparently on this day, Lu Dort.
Enter Kevin Hervey, Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Deonte Burton, Devon Hall, and Abdel Nader. With OKC shorthanded, the young guns got a lot of run. These lasses are fun to speculate about, but if you have to play the kids big minutes in a competitive game, the results aren’t going to be great. And I’d say combining to go 3-21 from downtown qualifies as not great.
On the flip side, CP3, Gallo and Dort combined to go 8-12 from beyond the arc. That just leaves Shai.
Listen, I still fully believe Shai is going to be a star. One bad game doesn’t change that. If you want to argue his game against the Lakers was bad too, okay, two bad games doesn’t change that. The future All Star, yeah I’m saying it, only scored 10 points on 3-13 shooting including 1-8 from 3. That’s just not his game. He is at his best when he attacks the rim with his silky smooth scoops and knocks down midrange jumpers. But with the Grizz packing the paint and daring the Thunder to launch, Shai tried to shoot his way out of his funk. The funk won.
So to recap, the Grizz are more talented than advertised, the Thunder had to play their end of the bench guys far too many minutes, and Shai had the worst game of his Thunder career. Oh yeah. One more little thing.
In the postgame presser, Billy Donovan said he didn’t want to use it as an excuse. Fine. But I will.
The Thunder badly missed Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder.
The Thunder have been successful this season because they have five great players. CP3, Shai, Gallo, Schroder and Adams. They have two good players in Lu Dort and Nerlens Noel. They have a wonderful mystery in Andre Roberson. But those five guys are the reason the Thunder have surpassed all expectations this season, and two of the five were out against Memphis. Gallo only played 19 minutes. Shai had a stinker. So of the five, Chris Paul was the only one who played well and played over 20 minutes.
I wrote previously in this column that I wasn’t sure how many games OKC could win without Schroder. They’re now 1-2 without him. No Schroder, no dominant 3 point guard lineup. The problem is compounded with no Adams.
Noel is probably a top three backup center in the league. But he’s not strong or physical enough to handle Valanciunas. Nerlens is an elite shot blocker, but he got bullied in one on one post defense against the Lithuanian 7 footer. That doesn’t happen versus our Kiwi 7 footer.
To compound the size issue even further, Mike Muscala is out with a concussion. OKC was forced to play Bazley and Hervey at center. Shocker: the Grizz won the rebound battle 58-36.
The Thunder will likely survive against the Wizards tomorrow without Schroder. Adams is likely returning, and I expect OKC to roll. But maybe not. The fact that a victory against Washington is not 100% in the bag without Schroder and Adams is all the proof we need that those two guys are vital to OKC’s success. (But c’mon, guys, it’s the Wizards.)
That was a lot of words to explain a loss that we’d all just like to forget. Except the end of the first half when CP3 and Gallo scored 6 points in 5 seconds and especially except for Lu Dort.
Lu remains awesome and the best thing so far about the Bubble for the Thunder. Against the Grizz, Dort made 4-5 3 point attempts and scored 16 points on 6-9 shooting. Nice. And his defense, hustle and energy continue to be a jolt of life for this Thunder team. He’s 21 years old and on a minimum contract for the next 3 years. My advice to the little Inside Out memory suckers in your brain: dispose of every remembrance of this game, except for the Lu goodies. Make those core memories.
- The Thunder are now the 6 seed, but if they had won, they would have been the 4 seed.
- With all the teams resting players and playing each other and jockeying for matchups, except OKC to bounce between 4 and 6 for the next week.
- As far as the Thunder’s #1 draft pick, that will be in flux to the very end of the season as well. OKC currently does not own its draft pick, but Indiana could change that scenario.
- Danilo Gallinari was a +4 in a 29 point loss. He only played 19 minutes. Those things may be related.
- Lu Dort out hustled and out jumped 3 Grizzlies for a loose ball and it frustrated them so much they flagrant fouled him. Lu was by far the Thunder’s best player against the Grizz.
- At one point, Nobody on the court for the Thunder right now was old enough to rent a car, and one of them wasn’t old enough to buy a beer.
- What a fantastic final 5 seconds of the first half for the Thunder. Gallo 3, CP3 steal, CP3 3 at the buzzer. OKC deficit went from 9 to 3 in the time it takes me to skip a YouTube ad.
- Chris Paul in postgame: “We’re a totally different team without Dennis. We rely on him a lot.”
- Up next: Thunder vs Wizards on Sunday. Adams should be back. Surely the Thunder can beat the Wiz without Schroder. But wait, do we even want them to?