1. Most of the time, the game ends and I have a pretty clear idea of what I saw and what I want to say about it. Every now and then you get a game like tonight where I’m honestly struggling to process what happened. I kind of like what I saw for the most part but we blew a huge lead and lost the game, so clearly something went wrong. Elation is sometimes a post game emotion. So is dejection. Frustration, even anger. Over the course of 82 you also get indifference. But tonight is pretty rare-confusion.
2. Thunder were darn near perfect in the first half– especially defensively. They were active, aggressive, and contested almost every shot, inside and out. Of course you always need a little help– and the Celtics helped in the first half by missing shots. And Kyrie was absent. But even when they worked their offense we were right there to thwart them. George set the tone with his effort and activity and it filtered right on down. We were also efficient offensively and built what should have been an insurmountable lead. It was the best half of basketball the Thunder have put together this year.
3. When discussing the second half I’ll begin with praising Boston. Very easy on a night like this, especially on the road, to just shrug it off as not your night and pack it up for the night. But they did the opposite. They came out in the second half ready to fight. We were the tougher, more physical team early on and they clearly aimed to answer that. I didn’t think our effort was significantly worse in the second half, but the way the game turned did seem to rattle us some. The refs got involved early and often and any flow was eliminated from the game. It really became a dogfight in the third quarter and shots started to fall for the Celtics while we struggled to hit much of anything. Boston outscored us 30-16 in the third. I really don’t have a huge issue with the 30. We held them to 37 over the first two quarters and they are arguably the best coached team in the entire league– it stands to reason that they’d figure something out. Law of averages and all that; you aren’t going to hold Boston to 75 unless something really weird happens. The bigger issue was the 16. That needed to be more like 22. The offense just can’t tank for that long– not against good teams. None of our guys shot very well, but I do think this one ultimately falls on Russ. He’s the point guard and he needs to pull them out of ruts. He just wasn’t good in the second half tonight and things got away from him in the third.
4. I guess I’ll just pile on Russ here. The third quarter got Boston back in it, but we still had a lead and maintained that lead with RW on the bench to start the fourth. That is precisely when Kyrie took the game over. Over the final 7-8 minutes Kyrie dominated the game– RW couldn’t stay in front of him on D and he didn’t have enough answers on the other end. His fifth foul also limited him somewhat. Andre did a better job guarding Kyrie than Russ had been doing, but Kyrie was very very patient down the stretch and made the right plays– and credit Horford for not missing any of the opportunities Kyrie created for him. Boston was exceptional over the final minutes– much the way Minnesota was in our two losses. I think that is both a trend we need to watch and some good old fashioned bad luck. Three pointers at the end of the shot clock from Horford really aren’t all that great of shots for Boston– but he made them. For me, it was all about Kyrie being the better point at the end of the game tonight. He had a tale of two halves which wound up mirroring those of the teams. We haven’t seen opposing point guards do that to Russ very often– hats off to him.
5. Tough loss, and fair to call it “bad” loss. You blow 18 point halftime leads and that is absolutely one that got away and one to regret. I don’t see the Thunder as a super explosive team ala the Warriors. OKC will need to be efficient and tough. Overall they’ve played really good defense this season, but in the three close games they’ve played against good teams, they haven’t gotten any stops at all at the end. That is kind of curious and some of it really is bad luck with the opposition tossing in just about everything they toss up there. However, if it continues it will become a pretty massive problem. Hard to win tight games when you don’t get stops. The bigger picture issue (and one I’m fairly confident will work itself out) is the offensive droughts we’ve seen thus far. I’m willing to give them more time there. It’s up and down right now. Really good possessions followed by rushed possessions. I do think that Melo and PG are pressing a little right now as well. The Thunder have stunk so far in close games; last year they were about the best in the league. This will almost certainly shift; a regression (or in this case an advancement) to the mean. Thunder are very inconsistent right now both game to game and within each individual game. The effort is great; guys are playing hard and the aggression on defense might order on TOO much–might need to throw some discipline in there. Three game west trip coming up; the Kings game on Tuesday is one they should absolutely win. Blazers and Nuggets on either end are more difficult, but if OKC has their sights on big things this year those are also teams they need to beat. 2-1 is the minimum acceptable on this swing. They play the two worst teams in the league back at the Peake after this trip so the opportunity to get on a roll is there… if they can get on a roll.