The Oklahoma City Thunder fell at home to the Miami Heat, 116-107. Despite a quick start to the game they had to play without Russell Westbrook due to his 16th technical foul, the Thunder proved to offer little in terms of resistance to a Heat team fighting for the playoffs and previously 3 games under .500. The loss, OKC’s 3rd in a row and second at home, drops them to 42-29 on the season and 5-9 since the All-Star break. Even worse, the Thunder showed little semblance of an ability to pull out of this tailspin, even as there are only a dozen games remaining.
The Thunder’s quick start to the game, where they opened up 13-0 in a rare solid start, unspooled like a fishing reel that had just engaged with a swordfish. The Heat would finish out the quarter on a 27-12 run, which also encompassed a 9 minute stretch between the 1st and 2nd quarters where OKC was outscored 33-6. While the Thunder recovered well after that stretch, going into the half only down 3, the process repeated itself at least 3 more times in the 2nd half, as the Heat would go on runs where the Thunder could do little right on offense and provided no resistance defensively.
The Heat, led by Goran Dragic and his game-high 26 points, utilized a bench lineup that destroyed the Thunder. Combined with Dwyane Wade (25 points) and James Johnson (14 points), the Miami bench outscored OKC’s 67-10.
Takes a sip of bourbon.
OKC was led by Paul George, who finished with 31 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, and until he started chucking at the end, was having an extremely efficient shooting night. He was joined by the other bright spot in Jerami Grant who, despite his struggles in defending the pick and roll, helped keep OKC in the game with 27-10 with 3 blocks.
And while Dennis Schroder finished with a respectable stat line of 20 points and 6 assists, if you want to look for a basic culprit, start with him. This is what dawned on me throughout tonight’s tragedy — since the ASW, the Thunder have been getting really, really poor point guard play. Yes, Russell Westbrook has somewhat discovered his shooting touch, and yes he has recorded several triple-doubles, but the point play as a matter of emphasis on generating good offense has disappeared. For nearly two months, the Thunder rose to a top-10 level offense on the back of Westbrook & Schroder creating easy offense for their teammates. Since then, and specifically in the last 3 losses, the point play has been a disaster for long stretches, and Schroder did little to dispel the trend.
Again, this comes back to coaching and strategy. What were OKC’s objectives tonight? What were they trying to do on both ends of the court? George and Grant were practically unstoppable, but little was set up for them intentionally until OKC trailed by double digits. And no stat underscored their inability to manipulate the Heat’s defense than the 19 turnovers committed (against Miami’s 8). Meanwhile, the Heat created most of their offense off the dribble at the point of attack, yet the Thunder defense parted like the Red Sea, repeatedly allowing the screeners unfettered access to the rim.
If you want a microcosm of the mess that was OKC’s struggle, look no further than in the final 2 minutes of play. Improbably, the Thunder closed the gap to 6 following a George corner-3. They forced a tough miss by Dragic, and PG took off on a 2 on 1 fast break with Terrance Ferguson on the right wing. With the game in reach, George set up Ferg, only to see the 2nd year guard bobble it out of bounds.
Two Heat dunks later, and that was it.
This sums it up well, drawing a painful contrast between a supposed superior Western team 14 games over .500 and an Eastern team 3 games under .500.
The Heat won the game by 9, but from the 5-minute mark of the 1Q to the 7:30 mark of the 4Q, they outscored the Thunder 94-65.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) March 19, 2019
Aside from two quality wins over the Jazz and one against the Blazers, the Thunder have had the look of a lottery team for nearly a month — and in the wrong month to do it.
With the Spurs winning tonight (against the Warriors), the Thunder fall to 6th place in the West, tied in the loss column with the 7th place Jazz (OKC owns the tiebreaker) and only a game up on the 8th place Clippers.
sobering inebriating factoid. I thought last season was perhaps the most agonizing one to cover in my time at WTLC, and that includes the one where they missed the playoffs. A year ago at this time, that team was 42-29, just like they are now. They finished that year 6-5 to get to 48 wins. Does OKC have 6 wins left in them? Or 3?