The Oklahoma City Thunder fell at home to the Los Angeles Clippers, 110-108. In a closely contested affair throughout, the Thunder led for most of the 1st half, while the Clippers led for almost the entirety of the 2nd half. It was fitting then that a game that was tied at halftime at 50-50 would be decided by 2 points in the end.
Let’s get this out of the way first, since it will be the final memory of this close loss. You knew that Russell Westbrook wasn’t going to pass the ball on their final shot attempt after a made free throw by Jamal Crawford. You knew he was going to take a bad, contested shot. And you knew he was going to miss it. This is the Russell Westbrook experience (and to reflect, it has been the OKC experience forever, including with #35; end-game strategy has never been their strong point).
Aside from that, we just witnessed a very competitive, highly entertaining game where both teams’ strengths and weaknesses were on full display. Just as I believed in OKC’s loss to the Raptors, perspective is necessary for this loss as well. personally think that the Clippers are going to be the biggest challenge to the Warriors this season, and I think LA knows it too. Their offense still runs competently, their defense is vastly improved, and their bench has gotten more experience over a year ago. They’re a good team, and the Thunder have now split two games with them, with both outcomes being decided by a single possession. It is a good thing for this OKC squad to measure up closely against the Clips.
What this game displayed, even amidst the occasional November sloppiness, is what makes the NBA so great. The momentum was constantly shifting back and forth as first the Clippers gave chase, followed by the Thunder until the very end. There were great sequences for the Thunder, such as when their bench kept them in the game early in the 4th quarter, and not so great stretches, where OKC went to “hack-a-DJ” and systematically saw their deficit increase from 2 points to 8 points. (aside - one of the reasons why I hate the hacking strategy is that, even if it ‘works’ by the free throw shooter missing, OKC doesn’t have the patience to come back with good offensive sets.)
One great trait that we did see was that classic Thunder effort to never give up, never surrender. And when it seemed like the game was lost with an 8 point deficit and 3:24 remaining, barely a minute later, the game was tied again at 102. And again after 2 bad sets that resulted in turnovers and a 5 point deficit with under a minute to play, OKC stayed focused and had a shot to tie or win in the end. That’s a good effort with a slightly sad ending against a superior opponent. That’s something to build on.
- The Thunder shot an amazing 16-28 from beyond the arc on the night, which furthers my belief that a good 3-point shooting team doesn’t require an elite long range shooter, but a well designed and purposefully spaced offense that knows how to create gaps for shooters. When that happens, a team will consistently hit the league average and occasionally have nights like tonight.
- The Thunder defense has been on hiatus for 2 games now, admittedly against very good competition. Once again, the middle quarters where their undoing, as OKC gave up 66 points in the 2nd and 3rd, following a similar 68 point total allowed vs the Raptors in the 2nd and 3rd.
- Good/bad: Andre Roberson had another strong offensive outing, knocking down 3-6 from 3-point range and a final box score of 13-9-2 with a block and a steal, not to mention some fantastic defense on Chris Paul. That said, he was part of two critical turnovers late in the game where Westbrook forced tough passes to Roberson in the lane and he couldn’t handle them. It’s bad because those miscues could have altered the outcome, but it’s also good that Robes was part of the climax and Westbrook trusted him enough to put him in a position to score.
- Victor Oladipo. I’m almost afraid to say it, but I’m getting Dion Waiters vibes, and not in a good way.
- Enes Kanter had a brutal game, as Blake Griffin attacked him mercilessly off the dribble, rarely finding resistance. I get why Kanter was in the game late because between Griffin and Jordan, OKC needed rebounders. That said, it was tough to watch and Griffin didn’t really wake up offensively until Kanter started guarding him. I would have liked to see Joffrey Lauvergne for a few minutes to see if he could have played Griffin a little bit better.
- On the flip side, rookie Domantas Sabonis once again proved that he is an incredible asset if used effectively. He finished with 12 points on 4-5 shooting from 3-point range, but more than anything, his effectiveness belies the box score. He simply makes the offense work more efficiently because he has now established he is a threat to score, so defenses can’t leave him alone. This means that he can make quick reads and keep the offense moving, and was critical in the 2nd unit’s performance at the start of the 4th quarter. He collected 2 assists on the night, but again it’s not just about the pass that leads to the shot. It is about how the entire offense flows better regardless of who is on the court with him.
- Knob Creek Rye, in case you were wondering.
I contend that this game, albeit a loss, was a positive step forward against a good team. But that only matters if OKC continues to learn their lessons and apply them the next time out. We wait and see.