Tuesday, neither a career-night from Russell Westrbook nor the comforts of home could remedy the Oklahoma City Thunder's recent ails.
Following an exhaustive 48-minute showcase underscoring Oklahoma City's discord, all eyes shifted to the ease by which Portland manufactured baskets.
Last night, while each team found offensive opportunities, a thriving Trail Blazers entity used nine finely-synced performers to reach 126 points.
Conversely, as his supporting cast struggled, Russell Westbrook’s (58 points/39 FGA) skillful ball-domination kept OKC competitive, until the moment his shot betrayed a tense charge, thus magnifying Oklahoma City’s recent pratfalls.
Though, in contrast to OKC’s previous meeting vs. Portland, on this occasion little backlash emerged regarding Westbrook’s assumed responsibility for his ineffective cast.
In essence, this lack of narrative encapsulates the very pith of OKC’s season low.
Minus Russell Westbrook’s career-night, these are four additional elements to OKC’s hard-luck encounter opposite their playoff-aspiring Northwest rival.
- Lack of ball movement/Shot creation:
Versus Portland, Westbrook amassed nine of his team’s 15 total assists. No other OKC starter, or reserve, demonstrated an ability to create offense.
A quick boxscore glance might lead one to associate Russ’ 39 FGA’s with this conundrum. However, Westbrook’s shot attempts became necessary in light of his teammate’s deficit to manufacture clean looks.
Following a trade to alleviate this scenario, still, outside of the six-time All Star, Oklahoma City’s roster is virtually dependent upon Westbrook for scoring opportunities.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of OKC’s decline is the team’s complete eschewing of once sustaining defensive principles.
Last night, Portland toyed with Oklahoma City’s non-existent fortifications. A shortened Trail Blazer reserve unit notched 47 points, as, overall, Terry Stotts’ crew ended with 126 points and 55/47 FG/3PM shooting.
Repeatedly, Portland chose a spot on OKC’s home floor, and left their mark. Whether it was from inside, outside, or the mid-range, the Blazers had no difficulty placing points upon the board.
Meanwhile, the Thunder has surrendered 115.5 ppg to its past four sub .500 foes. When adjusted, Oklahoma City’s defensive collapse represents the league’s worst number by +1.2 ppg.
- Second Unit mishaps:
In addition to contributing just 25 points, OKC’s reserve unit was -46 plus/minus against Portland. Jermai Grant (1-of-3 FG, 3 points, -18 plus/minus) led the way.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma City’s bench took much off the table during a pivotal contest in which an average performance would have sufficed.
Further, trade-deadline acquisition Doug McDermott’s slump (0-1, 9-of-30 FGA past four games) continued.
McDermott must keep defenses honest to prove valuable for this OKC roster. Though, he has failed to do so since a standout performance vs. Utah.
Also, the backup point guard combination of Norris Cole/Semaj Christon (1-of-5 FGA, 3 t.o.’s) only compounded Westbrook’s required usage.
Perhaps Oklahoma City has reached a place mentally in which they believe their playoff bid to be secure, and amid an exhaustive season have ceased to bring the same intensity that recently saw both Russell Westbrook’s MVP hopes, and the team’s record (ten game above .500) crescendo.
Perhaps the team’s chemistry is simply off; or perhaps the Thunder’s misfortune is a combination of several factors...i.e. complacency, fatigue, injury, lack of familiarity.
Whatever the core reason, it behooves Oklahoma City (35-29) to resolve these issues as 18 games remain.