And just like that, it's over. A season that began filled with Championship expectations ends in a abrupt quagmire. The Oklahoma City Thunder have beaten the Minnesota Timberwolves, 138-113. But down in New Orleans, the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans managed to upset the San Antonio Spurs, 108-103. The Thunder have finished the season in 9th place, and out of the NBA playoffs.
It's fair to say that the Thunder played themselves out of a playoff seed. OKC dropped a critical game against the Pacers this Sunday, and couldn't manage to upset one of the West's playoff teams down the stretch. Moreover, the Thunder lost three games to the Pelicans directly. And if all that weren't enough, a couple of embarrassing mid-season blowouts against the Knicks and Kings are really painful to look back upon.
All of that aside, OKC was robbed this year. This Thunder team fought to a winning record through a terrible rash of injuries AND a massive roster overhaul. Westbrook learned how to be the team's #1 player in a mere season, while players like Morrow, Waiters, and Kanter gave the Thunder offensive options that they haven't had in years. Even the loss of a playoff savior, Reggie Jackson, and a locker room leader, Kendrick Perkins, wasn't enough to down this Thunder team.
In the Eastern Conference, three teams will sail into the playoffs with worse records than the Thunder. Last year, four teams went to the playoffs in the East with worse records than the Phoenix Suns of that year, whom missed the playoffs. I also remember fondly the Warriors of 2007-08, whom missed the playoffs with a whopping 48 wins. Had the Warriors actually won their final two games that year, they would have still missed the playoffs. With 50 wins!
It's all a load of garbage, and the fans know it. It takes time to break through years of red tape, and I'm sure Mr. Silver will reformat the playoff structure within the next few years. Nevertheless, I am extremely disappointed that, by virtue of geography, key players on our team will be robbed of playoff experience. Losing this opportunity now may come back to bite the Thunder in Spring of next year.
Westbrook and Waiters crush T-Wolves early
I'll be honest. Like most of you, I only watched the first quarter of this game with any interest. There was definitely a lot of fire and passion from the Timberwolves, as guys like Wiggins, LaVine and Martin got decent shots. But once Minnesota turned to anyone outside of those three, they just couldn't get much. OKC had Minnesota outgunned. Dion waiters was taking immediate advantage of Kevin Martin's charmin-soft defense, nailing jumper after jumper. It was somewhat vindicating, given how frustrating K-Mart's play was in his time the Thunder. Russell Westbrook also joined in the festivities, mainly scoring in transition.
The Spurs disappoint us
I saw a bit of the Thunder slogging it out in the beginning of the second quarter, up by 20 points. But it wasn't long before I was in a complete panic watching what was going down in New Orleans. The Spurs just couldn't defend the rim, and Tyreke Evans was going off. The Spurs were managing every possession very well, but the Pelicans just seemed to have all the momentum in the world. Even Norris Cole stepped in and helped in the second quarter, keeping the Spurs down by 16 points going into the half.
The third quarter saw the situation get worse. The spurs could only tread water, fighting tooth and nail to get something near the basket. The Pelicans' long arms were destroying San Antonio's ability to move the ball, and Davis and Asik were making life miserable in the lane. With 40 seconds to go in the third and the Spurs down 17, the game appeared all but over.
But then, a Spurs miracle. Back to back threes from Ginobili, who was ice cold all night, and the lightning-quick Patty Mills. The Spurs went into the fourth down just 11. The Pelicans had lost their momentum, and began to commit a few fouls. The Spurs took full advantage, got in the paint, and pulled the game to within 6 with 7:58 to go.
At this point, pop went to hack-a-Asik. Asik went 3-6 at the line, and the Spurs scored 3 points on the 3 possessions they got out of it. Asik was shortly benched, but the Spurs didn't go to the paint enough after that. Kawhi Leonard took 3 bad mid-range shots, while Ginobili fired up a bad quick 3 in transition. Meanwhile, all the Pelicans needed was a few clutch plays and decent free throw shooting. The Spurs had just dug themselves too big of a hole, and wanted to tease OKC fans everywhere. Ugh!
As the Spurs game ticked into the final seconds and every last possibility of playoffs was drained from my brain, I switched back to the Thunder game. Jeremy Lamb and Mitch McGary were jacking up shots in virtually open gym. Nancy Lieberman was nearly in tears. Brian Davis was eerily upbeat, the eternal optimist. And Scott Brooks provided parting words to the media, looking dejected but expressing pride for his team.
Whats on at WTLC this off-season
The Thunder won't be in the playoffs this year, but some former Thunder players will! Here at WTLC, we'll keep an eye on Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, James Harden, and Jeff Green as they all progress with their respective teams. We'll also keep an eye on what the Thunder players do over the off-season, including any potential participation in the Summer League or International Tournaments. We'll have plenty of analysis of any off-season moves as well. You'll also see some regular season review mixed in here and there, as we try to make heads or tails of what just happened.
This has been easily the craziest season in my 7 years of writing about this team, but it's also been the most fun. Having a winning team for so long makes you forget how enticing it is to battle from night in to night out. Hats off to the gritty 2014-2015 Thunder, who never gave up.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, who set a Thunder record for points in a half.
Thunder Down Under: Dion Waiters, who will eventually work out
Thunder Blunder: Anthony Morrow. Under 50% on a night like this?!
Thunder Plunderer: Andrew Wiggins, with 23 Points, some sick moves, and more defense than Kevin Martin
Next Game: In the Summer League, at a FIBA competition, or in a charity game. Basketball never stops!
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!