The Oklahoma City Thunder fell in game 6 to the Utah Jazz on the road 96-91, ending round one of their playoff series. In what might be considered a minor upset, not necessarily of this series (teams finished with the same record) but of the entire season, OKC’s grand experiment of a star-laden team has failed, as we predicted it would many times along the way.
While the Thunder showed numerous instances throughout the year that they had a peak gear comparable to the league’s best, the problem then, as now, is that it happened so infrequent, with the valleys as low as the league’s worst. The team rarely even seemed to understand what made them special, and thus we end the experiment with a final swing of the pendulum from a crescendo in game 5 to one that may possibly crash through the front door of Chesapeake Arena, and who knows what shattered fragments will remain.
To Jazz fans and SLC Dunk, what a fine, fine team you have, and a remarkable 2nd half of the season played to earn the right to advance to the 2nd round. Snyder’s motto — “The strength of the team is the team” is something straight out of a Rudyard Kipling chapter, but — and this is the important part — only matters if it is true. And for your team, it is.
Russell Westbrook, who went through significant struggles all year long and rarely hit that top level we saw so regularly a year ago, put together back-to-back games that will leave his supporters and detractors with something to chew on. He finished those two games shooting 35-82, a not terrible percentage per se, but the sheer volume of offense that he and OKC felt necessary to simply compete against the more well-rounded Jazz is telling. Just as last year, when Westbrook doesn’t perceive any other, better options, the shots go up in bunches.
And who were the options? As WTLC writers and readers have commented all season long, Steven Adams is the real #2 guy. Finally getting some freedom and opportunities to work in game 6, Adams finished with 19 points on 9-11 shooting to go along with 15 boards, 7 offensive, with 3 assists, a steal, and a block. After that, though?
- Paul George: As I argued before, “Playoff P” looks a whole lot like “Regular Season P,” which shouldn’t be surprising. Players generally don’t get better in the playoffs; they mostly stay where they are, or they get worse. PG stayed where he was, with the highs as stunning as the lows. Following a scintillating Game 5, George was horrid in what may be his final game in a Thunder jersey. Yes, the Jazz defense is good, but a player who deems himself a playoff all-star has to do much better than 5 points (against 6 turnovers) on 2-16 shooting, 0-6 from three. Cynics will claim, arguably so (maybe even Snyder), that George should have had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line, but in the end it’s hard to overlook everything else he did or didn’t do up to that point.
- Carmelo Anthony: 26 minutes, 3-7 shooting, 7 points. Everything to be said has been said. No need to pile on here. OKC just has a big, expensive problem on its hands going forward.
- Thunder bench: It should have been an upgrade this year, but fizzled in the end offensively, even comparing poorly to last year’s highly criticized unit. To their credit, both Jerami Grant and Ray Felton were on the court during OKC’s final surge that got them to within a single basket and both finished with positives in the +/-. Grant finished with 9 points in 30 minutes, Felton only went 1-5 to finish with 3 points, and nobody else even scored. Patrick Patterson struggled during the entire series, and Alex Abrines, tough throughout, could not find the range.
If you wanted a microcosm for OKC’s entire season, you could not do much better than the final minute of action. After nearly forcing a turnover on rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell, the kid found Derrick Favors for a critical jumper to push the lead back to 3 points. let’s chronicle what happens next.
- George fails to draw a shooting foul on a 3-point attempt, despite getting bumped by Joe Ingles while in shooting motion (side out).
- Westbrook misses layup.
- Adams offensive rebound.
- George misses 29 foot contested 3-pointer.
- Westbrook offensive rebound.
- Westbrook misses 30 foot 3-pointer.
- Felton offensive rebound.
- Out of timeout, George misses contested layup.
- Adams offensive rebound.
- Westbrook misses another 30 foot 3-pointer.
- Team offensive rebound (ball off Utah).
- George misses contested 29 foot 3-pointer, failing to draw the foul on Gobert.
- OKC spaces out, perhaps collectively wondering why, in the span of 40 seconds, despite getting 6(!) shot attempts, they could only muster 4 deep, contested 3’s, not a single play run, and then watches Mitchell essentially dribble out the clock on their season.
“Everything ends badly, otherwise, it would never end.”
But at least it ends. And now I can finally rest.