With the New Orleans Pelicans just a half-game back of Oklahoma City (and in control of their own destiny with the tiebreaker in hand), I’m reminded of an iconic scene from the movie Finding Nemo. If you haven’t seen Finding Nemo, first, GO WATCH FINDING NEMO (just make sure you have the tissue box nearby when things get dusty). And second, SPOILER ALERT.
Okay, so in the climactic arc of the movie, Marlin (Nemo’s dad) and Dory finally survive their epic trek to Sydney when a Pelican named Gerald nabs Marlin and Dory, considering them food. But Marlin won’t allow himself to be eaten without a fight. He’s traversed half the world to reach this point. He’s survived so much and is on the verge of seemingly being reunited with his son. In a powerful effort to survive, Marlin manages to lodge himself in Gerald’s throat, making him choke, and Gerald is forced to spit him and Dory out.
At this point in the season, you may be on the tank train and hope the Thunder lose. You may be praying the heroics of Russell Westbrook fall short. You may be dreaming that the infinitesimally small chance of winning the draft lottery will come to fruition. But don’t kid yourself. You know that the Thunder are going to come out and compete in these final five games.
Yes, the Thunder are like Marlin. They’ve come too far and worked too hard to give up now. Maybe they don’t get the happy ending that Marlin gets, but it sure won’t be for lack of effort.
So, you know what? Let’s go Thunder. Who’s with me?
- Loss against the Dallas Mavericks, 131-135
- Loss against the Memphis Grizzles, 92-100
- Loss against the Houston Rockets, 112-115
THE BEST PLAYER
Russell Westbrook. Russell struggled again this week (though Russ’s idea of struggling is averaging a triple-double, on 30 points per game with 10 rebounds and 10 assists), but it wasn’t because he’s on the metaphorical tank train. The idea of purposefully missing the playoffs has been floated around, but it’s obvious that idea would get slapped six ways by Russell. You think this guy would be interested in an extra couple of weeks of rest? H to the nah. He averaged 40 minutes a game last week, and maybe he was tired, but he still went all out to the bitter end of every crushing defeat. Seriously, “quit” is a four-letter word to Westbrook.
So buckle up, Thunder fans. Whether or not the Thunder make the playoffs, one thing is certain: Russ is going put the Thunder on his back and try to carry this team into the playoffs.
Honorable mention: Anthony Morrow is still sizzling. This week, Morrow averaged 22 points on 53% shooting and 57% from three. His TS% from this last week was 70%, which is super super high, and like really good.
THE BEST PERFORMANCE
Anthony Morrow against the Dallas Mavericks. Morrow had two great performances this week, the first against the Dallas Mavericks (32 points, 6-9 from three), and the second against the Houston Rockets (21 points, 6-8 from three). Morrow got off to a sluggish start to the season, but the pilot light has been ignited. Morrow is now third in the NBA in three-point percentage, trailing Kyle Korver and Eric Gordon.
His performance against the Mavericks gets the nod primarily because he was the team’s leading scorer, and if not for a lane violation by Enes Kanter, may have had a dagger four-point play.
Honorable mentions: In the James Harden-Russell Westbrook duel, both players hit 40 points, but Russ had the triple-double to go along with the points. Against the Mavericks, Kanter scored 30 points on just 13 shots and also grabbed 16 rebounds.
THE BEST PLAY
Games against the Memphis Grizzles are typically slug-fests, where looking good is secondary to just surviving. But Steven Adams lands the play of the week with his follow of a Westbrook missed three. Every time I watch this clip I just want to yell, “boom,” but I don’t because people might look at me weird.
THE WORST PLAYER
DJ Augustin. Augustin averaged 20 minutes per game in the last week and really did nothing to inspire confidence. DJ scored a total of 9 points, had 7 total assists (with 5 of those coming against the Grizzlies), and shot just 25% from the floor and 29% from three. Those numbers are particularly crushing because his defense is a liability.
With all the injuries, Scott Brooks is going small more often and playing Augustin more minutes alongside Westbrook. Part of DJ’s lack of production is the ball-dominant nature of Russ which turns Augustin into more of a spot-up shooter and less of a creator, but the two-man lineup of Russ and DJ (yes, I’m using a two-man lineup) is one of the Thunder’s worst (among lineups with at least 200 minutes) with a net minus-3 points per 100 possessions (comparatively, the Westbrook-Jackson lineup was a net plus-6.2 points per 100).
Dishonorable mention: Mitch McGary as a close second. McGary also struggled this week, averaging just 2.7 points and 6 rebounds in 14 minutes per game.
THE WORST PERFORMANCE
Dion Waiters against the Memphis Grizzlies. I’ve been saying it for weeks now, Dion has most certainly improved and is contributing on a regular basis, but he was back to being inefficient and unproductive against Memphis. His line? Just 8 points on 3-11 shooting, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 36 minutes. In an 8-point loss, a little more production from Waiters could’ve gone a long way considering how many minutes he got.
THE WORST PLAY
What a great comeback by the Thunder against the Rockets spoiled by another curious last-second play. After being down by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City had a chance to tie the game with just over 3 seconds to go. Most perplexing is having the NBA’s third-best three point shooter inbounding the ball with so little time left. Unsurprisingly (though, supposedly the team was expecting a foul before the shot), the inbound set only managed to generate the always exciting “Kevin Durant Memorial Last Second Heave,” a 33-footer missed by Westbrook.
- Against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, April 7 at 7:00 p.m. (TNT)
- Against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, April 10 at 7:00 p.m. (FSOK)
- At the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m. (FSOK)
- Against the Portland Trailblazers on Monday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. (NBA TV)
For more from John Napier, follow him at @ajohnnapier on Twitter.