The Oklahoma City Thunder shot terribly, and met their demise tonight at the hands of the New York Knicks, 90-93. Russell Westbrook led all Thunder scorers with 34 points, but shot 2 of 10 from beyond the arc. None of Westbrook's teammates were better from three. Waiters was 0-6. Singler and Roberson were 0-3. Augustin and Ibaka were 0-2. Morrow was marginally better, going 1 of 3. But as a whole, the Thunder simply couldn't hit a shot from long range. Accordingly, the Thunder had trouble moving the ball most of the night. OKC's 12 assists tonight is well below their season average of 22.
The New York Knicks were in a very different boat. In fact, the Knicks managed to shoot 60% from three on the night. That includes two makes from Jose Calderon, Aaron Afflalo, Lance Thomas, and Derrick Williams. The Knicks were able to move the ball tremendously, registering 23 assists on 33 made shots. It wasn't even a remarkable night for New York's two stars, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony finished with 25 points, but blew a couple of critical possessions down the stretch. Porzingis was limited to the lowest shot attempts of his career, with 5.
How did the Thunder stay in this game until the buzzer?
Offensive rebounds. Coach Billy Donovan loves to play big. It's extremely rare to see the Thunder with anyone but one of their four core bigs (Adams, Ibaka, Kanter, Collison) playing center or power forward at any time. That principle held true tonight. The Knicks didn't have the size to match up. Once Robin Lopez left the floor, the Knicks were centerless. Accordingly, the Thunder were able to grab a ton of offensive boards. A lot of plays seemed to be set up to take advantage of positioning Kanter, Adams, or Collison down low. But I gotta give a shotout to Dion Waiters and Russell Westbrook as well. Those two were able to grab a couple of wild rebounds that saved possessions.
Basically, the Thunder were playing with a lot of hustle. And when it came down to the final 7 minutes of the game, that caused the Thunder to get all of the momentum. It's hard to run plays and hit shots when everybody is trying their hardest to win. So despite the fact that the Thunder were down 14 with 8:52 to go, OKC managed to come back into the game by forcing easy buckets at the rim. But when it came right down to it, OKC needed a three. There was more than one opportunity for the Thunder to take command.
25 seconds left, OKC down 4. Ibaka bricks a wide open three from the corner.
8 seconds left, OKC down 3. Westbrook pulls up for a three way behind the line, it's off. Offensive rebound to Waiters, he pulls up, shot rattles in and out. Game over.
All three of those dice-y shots are what the Thunder would have needed to overcome their atrocious three point defense tonight. Then OKC could have rolled into overtime with all of the momentum. But Westbrook could only pull off one miracle three tonight, and the ball movement was just too poor.
But it started so well
What I don't understand about a game like this is how suddenly the Thunder's offense can stall out. For the first 5 minutes of the game, the Thunder assisted on five of their six shots. All of the players were trusting one another, and the ball was moving. But then, turnovers became a problem. During the final 5 minutes of the first, Westbrook, Waiters, and Kanter all lost the ball while getting pressured. All three of those possessions led to easy Knick buckets.
The Thunder managed to secure the ball a bit going into the second quarter. But the Knicks were forcing the Thunder to shoot. In the second quarter, OKC took 13 shots outside of the paint, as opposed to only 7 shots inside the paint. Then, turnovers became a problem again. In the third quarter, the Thunder had 7 turnovers. These are the parts of the game where both teams aren't playing their ideal lineups, and I think the Thunder were really struggling to find offense. Westbrook, Kanter, and Waiters were providing all they could. But of the three, only Westbrook can carry an offense on his own. And Waiters and Kanter don't necessarily work well together.
If anything, it's a reminder of how precariously balanced this team is without Kevin Durant.
- Serge Ibaka had a pretty awful game. He didn't get much of an opportunity to play late, but was 0-2 in the fourth quarter. From body language, you can tell that Serge is frustrated with the way he's playing. A couple of blunders stick out to me, like Serge not being ready for passes or forcing the ball inside. Ibaka's defense seemed off as well, even though his matchup (Porzingis) didn't have a great game. In any case, the +/- doesn't lie, and Ibaka had a bad ratio at -10.
- Speaking of +/-, Roberson was the worst on the team at -16. Roberson's ineptitude on offense came to the forefront today. The offense kind of stuck Roberson with the ball and gave him nowhere to go, leading to wasted possessions. Ultimately, though. Roberson really hurt the Thunder with his three missed threes. He's been good on the season, but passed up at least one open attempt in the fourth. Defensively, Carmelo Anthony had the best of Roberson all night. Just get Melo on that block and watch him turn around, or burst past you for a difficult layup. OKC rarely pressured.
- Steven Adams hardly got to play, and I feel like that's a mistake. Adams was a big part of the Thunder's moving the ball early on, and got some really important offensive rebounds. But Nick Collison was having a great game, and it's impossible to fit Collison next to Adams in a lineup.
- Nick Collison, the classic plus-minus king. An absolutely amazing defensive performance. Collison helped trigger a key steal with 49 seconds to go, and blocked an Afflalo shot with 2:47 to go. Really hard to make a case against having Collison in the game, and I feel like he was key in keeping Porzingis off the board.
- I always believe Enes Kanter is a victim of not getting the ball enough. Tonight, Kanter was going against power forwards in the post at times. By all accounts, this should have been a 20 point game for Enes. But the Knicks did a good job of fronting Kanter, and Kanter took a couple of puzzling jumpers.
- D.J. Augustin. 14 minutes, 4 shots, 0 assists, 1 turnover. Get this guy in the pick and roll with Kanter!
- Anthony Morrow was a part of the Thunder's fourth quarter run, despite the fact that he did nothing in it but miss a couple of threes. I do credit Morrow's defense for being alright during that time, though. Despite the fact he gave up some key points to Melo. Okay, maybe it was a bad game for Morrow?
- Dion Waiters. I'm out of words at this point. Perhaps the most symbolic play of the night was when Dion hit a corner three, but had the three voided because he had stepped out of bounds half a second prior. Waiters played with a lot of heart and tenaciousness tonight. Dion had three steals and two offensive rebounds, all of which took effort to get. There was even a dramatic AND ONE that Dion converted with just under two minutes to go, keeping the Thunder in play. But from my eye, Waiters body language and decision making was just bad. Too often I'd see Waiters not get back to his assignment in transition, allowing free points. I also saw Dion give up on offensive possessions if he wasn't going to get the ball, as well as pull up for bad shots early in the shot clock. Waiters just messes up some classical stuff, and I feel like an angry old fart for even pointing it out.
- It's easy to discredit Kyle Singler. Singler only shot 1 of 4, and he didn't post remarkable stats in any other sense. But the shot Singler did hit was a pullup that he dribbled into. And his plus/minus ratio was positive, at +2. I even saw some decent defense from Singler against Melo during the first quarter. So Singler's whole night just ends up being a wash in my mind.
- Russell Westbrook didn't register a single assist after 8:03 to go in the third quarter. Westbrook was pretty offensively effective during those closing portions of the game, but clearly wasn't interested in getting anyone else involved. Given Westbrook's hustle on the boards and steals and how poorly the rest of his team was shooting, it's hard to find fault with anything Russ did. I mean, Russ did score the Thunder's final 9 points, as well as 6 of the Thunder's 12 points before that. Another amazing performance from one of OKC's stars, and it's a shame he came up short.
- KD was on the sideline, and stood up and walked on the court when Dion Waiters got a steal during the fourth quarter. Passion!
- Lance Thomas really wanted to prove that we traded him for the wrong reasons last season. 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting. Some of those were his usual hustle to the rim, while others were the Thunder just leaving him wide open.
- Former Thunder player Derek Fisher was coaching the Knicks, sporting a thick salt and pepper beard along with silk purple tie. It made me think he was some sort of wizard.
- Jose Calderon and Aaron Afflalo were really abusing the Thunder's weak perimeter defense these days. Hard to get by with Waiters, Westbrook, Morrow, and Augustin all being offensively focused players.
- Where was Mitch McGary? Definitely could have used some offense from him. Just super super hard to justify taking out Nick, and impossible to justify taking out Ibaka. Definite power forward overload for the Thunder right now.
- I don't think Cameron Payne has any answers. I'd like to see Augustin in decision making positions just a bit more often.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, whose long range threes will never cease to amaze
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, so classic, so clutch
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, we need his offense
Thunder Plunderer: Carmelo Anthony, the classic triangle scorer
Next Game: Versus the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, November 22nd, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!