The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Denver Nuggets at home in overtime, 126-125. The Thunder, now mired in a three game slide and losers of 4 of their last 5, could not ride their explosive 4th quarter to get a critical win. OKC watches their playoff prospects fall yet again, sliding to 6th place and tied in the loss column with the Timberwolves, Jazz, and Pelicans (who lost to the Cavaliers earlier). Meanwhile, the Nuggets hang on to a sliver of hope, moving to within two losses of the 8th place Jazz, and have officially won their regular season series against the Thunder, 3-1.
OKC was quite the mess through 3 quarters, and I was all set to write their epitaph at the beginning of the 4th. But then the Thunder used a 20-5 run to make a game of it, largely on the backs of bench players Patrick Patterson, Jerami Grant, and Raymond Felton. However, with the game nearly in hand, OKC once again fell victim to unforced errors. Up 3 with 25 seconds remaining, Paul Millsap, who finished with 36 on the night in a a 13-18 shooting effort, once again had no trouble getting to the rim, and scored with only 3 seconds passing. And then Paul George, statistically one of the Thunder’s best free throw shooters at 82% on the season, stepped up to the line to keep the game at arm’s length and promptly clanked the front end of his free throws. OKC would finish missing 12 of them overall, including 4 in the 4th quarter and 2 more in OT, in a game they ultimately lost by a point.
OKC couldn’t keep Will Barton out of the lane as he converted a layup that Steven Adams, likely injured during the game, could not reach. In fact, Adams’ limited effectiveness was easily to see, as the Nuggets finished with 68 points in the paint, with OKC seldom stopping the primary action and then not defending the rim hardly at all.
OKC’s outcome was really decided in the final seconds of regulation. With 9 seconds remaining (nearly double 5 seconds), Westbrook took a long, contested three that didn’t come close. Westbrook, who played gamely if not well, furthered his struggles in OT with turnovers and missed jumpers, but really this was the miss that sealed their fate. Either Billy Donovan drew that up or he didn’t, and both possible answers are bad.
In close, this game incapsulated everything that makes OKC a not-good team. The free throws, the shoddy rebounding, the inability to have a basic plan to slow down the other team’s main player...it was all on display. The fact that OKC then demonstrated what makes them a little interesting, only to finally succumb to those warts, seems fitting.
OKC must now head to New Orleans to play the shorthanded but far more focused Pelicans. This upcoming game may very well determine the outcome of the season. Because if OKC loses that one (their 4th in a row), they’re likely sitting at the bottom of the seedings and then will have to play the Warriors and Rockets back to back.
Really, the only answer remaining is whether OKC’s 2017-18 experiment will fail in part, or in full. Either way, I’m tired.