The Oklahoma City Thunder fell at home to the Denver Nuggets, 105-98. On the second night of a back-to-back for both teams, only one of them looked like they had a game plan to execute on both ends of the court, and the other team was unfocused, undisciplined, and strayed far away from their core competencies. Even in a second half where OKC put themselves in a position to make the game competitive, nobody really deserves kudos for a mess of an effort on the night. Let’s give you a quick rundown:
- Russell Westbrook — 16 points on 6-23 shooting, 1-12 from three, 3-7 from the free throw line
- Paul George — 24 points on 8-21 shooting, but repeatedly failed to convert in the lane.
- Steven Adams — Pretty thoroughly outplayed by the Nuggets front line, and didn’t do himself any favors by shooting only 6-15 from the floor and mishandling multiple passes that could have resulted in points.
- Jerami Grant — Just kind of ‘there,’ and failed in key boxout situations, including a backbreaking offensive rebound and putback by Torrey Craig with just over a minute remaining, pushing the lead back to 7.
- Dennis Schroder — 18 points, but on 5-14 shooting, including several contested shots at the rim in the 4th.
- Overall — 9-39 from three, just a staggering failure to both focus on good shots and to convert them.
It was a frustrating game, but here’s the thing, taking nothing away from the fact I personally feel the Nuggets are the best team in the West right now. OKC proved, after an abysmal 1st half, that in the 2nd half they can defend reasonably well. Certainly well enough to have a chance to win. They challenged the shooters, kept Nikola Jokic from picking them apart, and if it weren’t for multiple internal defensive breakdowns and missed defensive rebounds, I’d argue OKC’s defense was close to delivering a win. Overall, they held the Nuggets to only 42 second half points on 31% shooting 23% from three. That’s definitely good enough against an elite offense.
But the Thunder’s offense was just so locked in to not playing well. The times they did concentrate and move the ball, pass to cutters, and get to the rim, they surged. They had themselves within two possessions with 90 seconds remaining after trailing by 22. But here’s where we have to put the onus firmly on the Thunder’s leader — Westbrook was really, really bad in his shot selection, and it essentially killed OKC’s chances to have a shot at winning.
Not only are his number of 3-point attempts absurd — and he’s currently shooting 24% in November, and attempted double-digit attempts twice in the past week — but the timing of them killed nearly every chance the Thunder had to tip the outcome. Westbrook attempted and missed 6 shots in the 4th, and 5 of them were threes, and all of them were bad looks. It’s to the point where I’d even have to consider past days where Westbrook would roll up 6-8 turnovers per game a better alternative to the volume of threes, because not only is he missing the shots, but he’s missing them at junctures in the game where it just kills OKC’s momentum.
I don’t think it’s a cop-out to say Westbrook is still not healthy, and it is materially impacting his game. But because Russ doesn’t have his normal explosiveness to create separation, he’s relying too much on an unreliable jump shot, and excessive threes are going to be the canary in the coal mine for this team. They have to be better than a team that accepts contested 3-point shot opportunities as a viable component of their offense.
This loss won’t haunt me, but it is frustrating in the sense that OKC could have done so much more to try and win this game, and they didn’t execute the way they need to in order to make that happen. Hopefully a nice 4 day break in the action will help them both get healthy and to mentally reengage in who they are as a team.