The Oklahoma City Thunder were on the second game of a back-to-back and facing a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter. They could have folded, but just as they've done all year, they didn't sit back and rely on excuses and clawed their way back in.
Valiant as it may have been, it still wasn't enough as the Nuggets made enough shots to hold on for the 107-100 win. Denver was led by Wilson Chander whose 3-pointer with 2:27 to play put the Nuggets up 104-98 and made the hole too big for the Thunder to climb out of. Chandler finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds.
For the Thunder, Serge Ibaka bounced back from a recent string of subpar performances, shooting a far more efficient 9-15 from the field for 22 points and 13 rebounds. Off the bench, Sebastian Telfair was on fire, going for 18 points on 7-7 shooting (4-4 from 3-point range). Reggie Jackson had a nice statline with 16 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds, but did it on 5-20 shooting and once again made some questionable decisions in crunchtime with opportunities to tie.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Aside from the fact that I feel like I've written this same recap six times already (Thunder find themselves in a game they have no business being in with multiple chances in crunchtime, only to fall on their faces and come up short)? Well, let's focus on that crunchtime stuff. The narrative for this period seems to be that it is building up the confidence for the bench guys so that when Durant and Westbrook get back, they'll have been through the ringer more than once. They're certainly taking their lumps, but at some point the offense needs to come up with something more than a last-ditch 3-ball attempt (usually from Reggie).
And, to be fair, it was the brutal start to the second half that did the Thunder in, when the Nuggets turned a 5-point halftime lead into a 15-point lead six minutes into the third quarter. Brooks responded to what looked like a total lack of effort from the starting unit out of the locker room by benching all of them. The bench unit brought some life back into the team, and as the regulars found their way back onto the court, they chipped away and made a game of it.
Given the circumstances, we should be happy that they even made it as close as they did after such a rotten stretch of play. Still, OKC is now 3-10 and the frustration of watching the same mistakes over and over can wear anyone's patience thin.
So that's where we sit once more, hoping things change, but also silently accepting the fact that they really aren't going to until the stars come back.
What does this game mean for the Thunder going forward?
Again, the Thunder is 3-10, and all of those "worst-case scenario" predictions for the Thunder's record in the games without Durant and Westbrook are actually looking to be a bit optimistic. I came up with "7-18," and at 3-10, that's looking like a pipe dream.
If anything, this is now two games in which Jackson's hero ball came at the most inopportune time and really proved costly to the Thunder. The first was against Houston and was covered here, and now tonight, with his team down 101-98 with 2:45 to play, he once again panicked after a play broke down and forced a 3. He missed, the Nuggets made a 3 on the other end, then got a stop, then made another 3. 107-98 just like that, game over. It may seem unfair to pick out one play and one guy, but Jackson has made it clear he wants to be the man and he won't get a better opportunity than he has these past few weeks.
If he keeps forcing the issue like he has, and coming up short, he should expect to face the heat for it. It comes with the territory of being the man. Right now, he's failing the test. If that doesn't change, and if no one else steps up to help, either, this could keep getting worse.
Thunder Wonder: Sebastian Telfair: 18 points on 7-7 shooting (4-4 3pt)
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka: 22 points, 13 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb: hit 2 threes (yay!) but only took five shots. Playing with zero confidence in himself.
Thunder Plunderer: Wilson Chandler: 21 points, 9 rebounds
Next game: vs. Brooklyn Nets on Friday, Nov. 21 at 7PM CDT