Last season, the Thunder lost a game against the Pacers pretty poorly and it was incredibly demoralising. The Pacers, a distinctly average basketball team had their way with the Thunder and it was just not fun to watch at all. The game against the Grizzlies was worse than that by far.
The Thunder were overmatched and overwhelmed in Memphis; the Grizzlies’ bench unit had the game of their lives. Santi Aldama, a Spanish rookie, had a mind-bogglingly plus-minus of +52.
It is the sort of loss that made the league stand up. National pundits who have focused closely on the Suns and Warriors came crawling out of the woodwork to make fun of the Thunder. Locally, this loss was uncomfortable for a lot of people.
Tanking was widely expected before the season but the manner of the defeat and the total lack of competitiveness can be difficult for some to stomach. It is one thing to lose but losing in a historic manner can drive a wedge in a fanbase.
That being said, the game is in the past. There is simply no sense in wasting energy dwelling on one of the roughest games that I have seen in my time as a Thunder fan. Oklahoma City have to be consistent and keep the faith in the team’s vision.
We also have to keep perspective in sight; this game was on the second night of a back to back and the Thunder were missing important bodies. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey were absent with injury. Kenrich Williams and Derrick Favors did not play either.
It was a young, inexperienced Thunder team standing across the hardwood from a hungry Grizzlies’ team. It was a recipe for disaster and disaster happened pretty quickly. Without the Thunder’s two lead creators, there was nobody to maintain control of the game which meant that Memphis were able to run the score up quickly and kick the stuffing out of Oklahoma City.
Coach Mark Daigneault has a difficult job on his hands. He has to pick up the squad after the heaviest loss that the majority of these players have ever suffered. The wounds from a loss of this magnitude do not fade easily.
When the Thunder next hold a film session and review the previous games, Coach Daigneault cannot be afraid to show the horror in its entirety. The only way to learn from mistakes is to acknowledge the issue in full. After the film session, the tape should be locked in storage and the matter discussed no further. The focus must be Detroit on Monday.
For the front office, there will be a lot of pressure. So far, the Thunder’s ownership have been steadfast in their backing of Sam Presti. Clay Bennett has largely left Sam Presti to run the team as he sees fits. Losses of this nature can threaten that trust; nobody wants to see their team being humiliated across the media.
There will also be pressure from the NBA who have been proactive in their efforts to curb adverse tanking. The league office proposed changes to draft lottery which reduced the incentive to tank so blatantly as a way of stopping teams like Philadelphia, Sacramento and Phoenix from constantly benefitting from readily available blue-chip talent.
The NBA also pressured the Sixers’ ownership to appoint the Colangelos who stopped Sam Hinkie from completing ‘The Process’. While Adam Silver has been reluctant to challenge the power of players and owners, he has shown steel when the NBA’s product is being affected.
The vision of an equitable, perfectly competitive league is threatened when a team is losing by a giant scoreline. If the Thunder continue to lose in this manner, the NBA will have a PR problem and will not hesitate to act.
The Thunder are on thin ice and the game against the Pistons on Monday has been huge. A win against Detroit does not suit the season’s objectives but it will generate the sort of forward momentum that a rebuild needs. Rebuilds that lose momentum lose sight of the end goal and nobody wants that.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Thunder’s defiance and resilience. Those qualities need to come to the surface now, as soon as possible.