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Thunder Views: Good Grant, B.A.A.D. Melo

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OKC’s most important game of the year was a turbulent and queasy ride

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Thunder were tied with their Northwest Division rivals in the win column, and two games back in the loss column. A win last night would have essentially placed them in a tie with Portland, heading into their final seven games. Instead, they’re now two games back of third, and just .5 games in front of New Orleans and San Antonio.

It started off ugly, as OKC trailed by as much as 18 in the early going, but that didn’t last long. The Thunder used a 16-0 run to climb back into this one, taking a brief lead before heading into halftime down just five.

With 14 lead changes and 8 ties, this one had a playoff atmosphere from the start, but CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers were ultimately too much.

Despite McCollum putting up a game-high 34 points, the Thunder played relatively solid perimeter defense on Sunday. Portland made difficult, contested shots all night, oftentimes with OKC defending as well as they possibly could. It was just one of those games where the shots were falling for McCollum and his teammates.

Spotlight

Now onto what everyone is talking about following Sunday’s loss: Carmelo Anthony.

Before we discuss Melo’s tough week, I want to note one thing - this loss was not solely his fault. The Thunder gave up a season-high 18 offensive rebounds, made multiple mental errors down the stretch, and Paul George went 4/15 from the field. This game should not be put on Melo.

His tough week began by missing two free throws in an epic collapse against the Celtics. It didn’t get any better on Sunday, as Melo missed 3 threes in the final four minutes, one at the buzzer, plus a key turnover with less than a minute to go. He finished with 6 points on 3/13 shooting.

My gripe is not so much with him, but more so with Billy Donovan. Jerami Grant has really come along over the last few weeks. It’s great to watch young players come into their own, and that’s exactly what the 24-year-old is doing as of late. Last night he finished with 17 points in 18 minutes. He was 4/5 from the field. Grant looked efficient, comfortable, and confident, just as he’s been over the last month. So why not stick with him in the fourth quarter?

I get Melo is the proven player, who’s adjusted into his role for the betterment of the team, but last night it was clear that Grant had it and Melo did not. The Adams-Grant frontcourt was the better option, but Donovan didn’t want to leave Anthony on the bench.

Instead of letting Grant finish one of his best games of the season, Donovan pulled him for Melo with 6:25 remaining. If someone can find a legitimate argument for subbing out Grant for Melo last night, please let me know.

Quick Rumbles

  • Russ led the Thunder with 23 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and 4 steals.
  • Steven Adams chipped in 18 and 10, and remained King of the press scrum, somehow bringing both season-long perspective as well as maybe a Karl Sagan mentality:
  • OKC’s bench helped them erase the early deficit last night. They outscored Portland’s reserves 36-8. Raymond Felton finished with 11 points.
  • Alex Abrines was +14, for all you plus/minus lovers out there.
  • Terrance Ferguson got in a little scuffle last night night with Ed Davis, ultimately resulting in technical fouls for the two of them, Westbrook, and Evan Turner.

Turner said that he would pay Ferguson’s fine following Sunday’s game.

A Look Ahead

OKC is now off for a few days before heading to San Antonio to face the Spurs in a matchup with playoff implications.