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We’ve been spoiled as Thunder fans.
Last year after OKC traded away Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant, Chris Paul and Co. were famously given .2% chance of making the playoffs. The team responded by being one Lu Dort blocked 3 away from making the second round for the first time since 2016.
Then Sam Presti stopped messing around and traded away anyone old enough to be convinced by CP3 to vote. There was no doubt this time. OKC had officially stopped piloting the playoff plane and transitioned to traveling by tank. All fan expectations were lowered and Fade4Cade was hashtagged.
New face of the franchise Shai Gilgeous-Alexander responded by hitting a game winner in the final moments to start out 1-0. After the first weekend of the NBA schedule, OKC stood solo atop the Western Conference standings as the lone undefeated. The next game, the Thunder led for much of the way against the playoff bound Jazz and only lost on a tough last second Donovan Mitchell banker.
The reviews started rolling in.
“Sam Presti is gonna tank into the playoffs.” – reddit
“OKC is too good to tank with SGA, Dort, Horford and Hill.” – Twitter
“Peep Shai’s drip. #nbaleaguefits. #toosmooth. #fashionking.” – Instagram
“I CANT BELIEVE THEY TRADED AWAY STEPHEN ADDAMS IM CANCELLING MY SEASON TICKETS!” – Facebook
The final game of 2020 is a perfect reminder of what OKC is truly trying to accomplish this season while fighting off expectations and emotional attachments from their successful past.
Steven Adams made his much celebrated but none attended return to his second home away from New Zealand. While Thunder fans online shared in their collective joy of Funaki’s homecoming and collective pain of seeing the second most beloved player in OKC history in a Pelicans jersey, the scoreboard pointed towards the stars of tomorrow and bid a fond farewell to those of yesterday.
The Thunder finally did what most teams that are rebuilding with a core of players barely legally allowed to buy a Hugh Hefner publication do: they got blown out.
The Big Kiwi bagged a 14-10 double double against his former mates. Brandon Ingram said oops upside Isaiah Roby’s head and got ejected but not before he put 20 points in three quarters upside the Thunder’s head. Lonzo Ball flirted with a triple double and also obligatory Zion Williamson reference.
Shai laid his first dud as the new Thunder Alpha with 8 points on only 3-10 shooting. New Orleans hounded him all night defensively, and to SGA’s credit, he whipped some pretty passes out of double teams around the court. He finished with only 4 assists to show for it, but his low 2 turnovers and teammates’ grim shooting percentages reveal hint at a better playmaking night than first glance.
Lu Dort was plagued by foul calls but continued to impress in his limited minutes. In a 33 point blowout, Dort was only a -1, and he hit 2-4 from the 3 point line. Defensive specialists don’t shoot 47.8% on 5.8 3 point attempts per game, so this is either a fluky small sample size start to the season, or Luguentz is not only bilingual but a bi-way player as well.
Al Horford led the Thunder in scoring with 17, Mike Muscala continues to be 7 Foot Steph, Roby seems to have earned a spot in the rotation, Poku hit his first 3 of his career and made the NBA’s first ever pass to a backboard, and Josh Hall scored his first career points.
The tank was strong in this one. OKC was competitive as usual when their starters shared the floor. After the 1st quarter, it was a 4 point game. When Ingram was ejected, the Thunder were within striking distance and Adams and Zion were riding the bench. But instead of taking advantage and pouncing, Mark Daigneault chose to give his young bench extended minutes. By doing so, he ensured a Pelicans win and, in doing so, a Thunder win.
OKC scored 7 points in the 4th quarter. It was brutal to watch. But in a season where the Thunder’s primary goal is to secure a top 5 pick in the 2021 draft, we’re fortunate as OKC fans that it was the first of 16 quarters in which the team was not competitive. There will be many more to come. And weirdly, that’s not a bad thing.
We’ve been spoiled by an entertaining and competitive Thunder so far this season, but the final, ugly game of a nasty 2020 is a friendly reminder:
OKC is going to be really bad in 2021. Happy New Year’s!
- Thunder tankathon status: tied for #3 in the Cade Cunningham race, behind Russ’s Wizards (they’ll start winning games soon RIGHT?!) and Blake’s Pistons (they will not start winning games soon or ever).
- The fake crowd noise went WILD for Steven Adams during player intros.
- Adams got a louder fake crowd noise ovation than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And it made me laugh because I know that Sam Presti probably instructed the DJ to raise each players’ fake fan volume to a certain level. I like it. But still funny.
- The starting lineups for the Thunder and Pelicans include Steven Adams, Zion Williamson and Lu Dort. Come for the basketball, stay for the halftime show when they put on Power Team shirts and rip phone books in half.
- Theo Maledon in a 44 second span: 3 rebounds, an assist and a smooth in rhythm 3.
- Poku threw the greatest and only pass to a backboard I’ve ever seen in my life.
- After hitting the first 3 of his career, Poku is now only 2.8% behind Luka Doncic’s 3 point percentage on the season.
- Ages of the Thunder’s lineup to start the 4th quarter: Maledon: 19 Diallo: 22 Hall: 20 Poku: 19 Roby: 22
- OKC gonna be a popular pick in March Madness brackets.
- Poku blocked Steven Adams at the rim. Adams got his own rebound and scored because he has 300 pounds on Poku, but still!
- The story for this game isn’t former Thunder star Steven Adams, it’s future Thunder star Cade Cunningham.
- Lu Dort on Shai getting so much attention from defenses: “He knew it was gonna be like that before the season. There will be nights it’s tough to score. He’ll just step up next game.”
- Mark Daigneault: “Obviously, not our best night.” He said more, but I thought this Cliff’s Notes version summed it up well.
- Up next: a rematch with the Magic on Saturday night. The first of 5 straight “road” games.