After an impressive fourth-quarter rally, the Oklahoma City Thunder stumbled in the waning moments vs. the Houston Rockets. On a bittersweet night, Russell Westbrook became the first player since Michael Jordan to amass a seventh-consecutive triple-double. However as a collective, OKC couldn’t expand upon its winning ways.
Several factors contributed to Oklahoma City’s eventual 102-99 home downfall. Yet, perhaps the greatest of these ensnaring influences was both the team’s lack of crunch-time cohesion and curious end-game personnel decisions by Billy Donovan.
With a brilliant basketball mind, normally Coach Donovan is a stickler for detail. Unfortunately, his verdict to not utilize a Steven Adams/Westbrook pick-and-roll to create space vs. the tenacious Pat Beverley proved a crucial element in Oklahoma City’s setback.
Trailing by a single point, it was frustrating to witness Russ’ conspicuous and unnecessary isolation failure against a lock-down defender in Beverely. One has to feel that if a proper timeout and play-set had been enacted preceding Westbrook’s ill-fated deep heave, the outcome would’ve swayed in OKC’s favor.
However, hindsight is 50-50, and perhaps Coach Donovan had his reasons for — as RK Anthony alluded to post-game — allowing things to transpire as they did in crunch time.
With these moments still fresh in memory, WTLC presents its player grades for Friday night’s thrilling encounter against Houston.
Russell Westbrook: A-
Yes, Westbrook garnered a twelfth triple-double on his well-chronicled season. But when most needed, the shadow of Russ’ late-game mishaps superseded a vigorous 27 point, ten assist, ten rebound, three steal effort.
Further, in what has become a defining trait of Westbrook’s “streak,” the mercurial guard committed eight costly turnovers.
The ill-fated confluence of Billy Donovan’s over-reliance upon Westbrook, and then Westbook’s over-reliance upon himself ultimately sealed OKC’s fate in a tightly contested one-possession defeat.
Steven Adams: B
Oddly, Adams’ career-best 24-point showing was of the dual-edged sword variety we’ve become accustomed to beholding from Stache Bro. Enes Kanter. While Adams offered 24 points, ten rebounds, and a block in 29 minutes, the Kiwi also turned the ball over four times and suffered a team-low NETRTG of -16.3.
So pronounced were Adams’ defensive struggles, that his fourth-quarter playing time was limited to a scant 18 seconds.
Andre Roberson: B-
The only knock on Roberson’s night against Houston is his 1-of-4 free-throw travails. Otherwise, the defensive stalwart gave everything expected of him. Throughout his 37-minutes of run, Roberson palpably harassed James Harden while contributing nine points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block.
Further, the third-year swingman connected on 2-of-5 attempts from distance.
Enes Kanter: B-
In a commonplace development, Kanter again led OKC in NETRTG (+18.8). Constrained to 14 minutes, Kanter added 10 points, three rebounds, and a team-best 83.0 DEFRTG to bolster Oklahoma City’s cause.
Anthony Morrow: B-
Morrow continued his standout play by sniping the Rockets to the tune of 5-of-11 from the field, and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. The Thunder’s emergent bench marksman finished with 12 points and a positive NETRTG of 0.8.
Victor Oladipo: C+
While Oladipo couldn’t replicate his season’s watermark 29-point, ten-rebound performance this time opposite Houston, he did offer a few positives. Chief among these were Oladipo’s starting-unit best NETRTG. VO5 also corralled seven rebounds in 38 minutes of action.
Jerami Grant: C
Grant’s four blocks represented a career-best for the lengthy 6’8 hybrid forward. Harvey’s progeny procured OKC’s finest +/- (+5) during an effused 23-minute stint.
Domantas Sabonis: D
Sabonis’ all-around rookie-shortcomings were fully displayed opposite Houston. While logging 24 minutes, Domas was routinely outworked on the glass, as he misfired (1-of-5 FGA) from the field.
In addition, Sabonis’ -7.5 NETRTG and -6 plus/minus was second-lowest for the Thunder.
Unlike Adams, the 20-year-old’s offensive contributions could not overcome an overall strained performance.
Semaj Christon: D-
Christon’s ineffectual output (0-3 FGA, 0 points, -2.8 NETRTG) has Thunder Nation clamoring for Cameron Payne’s return.
This puzzling gaffe may ultimately amount to a minor hiccup along OKC’s 82-game journey. However, again, the breakdown in end-game execution was beyond the realm of early-season “experimental level” tinkering. With a few important perfunctory adjustments, this contest was perfectly winnable.
Unlike last season, this OKC iteration does not have the luxury of devil-may-care stratagem in tight spots. With that in mind, hopefully things will be shored up when the Thunder takes the court Sunday night vs. Boston.