1. We will talk a bit more here in a minute about how it got there, but let’s fast forward tonight to the 5:37 mark of the 4th quarter when the Clippers tied the game 105-105. Without question, what happened from that point was the most important/interesting aspect of this game and perhaps the season thus far. Think back to last year– what would have happened in a tie game late? We all know it was Russell time. Like 100%. All on him to win it or lose it. It was thrilling last year. Sometimes sensational. And also completely unsustainable. Over the final stretch the Thunder outscored the Clips 15-6 to pull away for the win. Here is how they accumulated those 15 points:
–Dakari Johnson two free throws
–Melo layup (assist PG)
–PG midrange jumper (assist RW)
–PG two free throws
–Andre put back off rebound
–Dakari midrange jumper (assist RW)
–Grant dunk (assist RW)
–RW one free throw
So, 15 points only 1 of which is scored by RW. All of the other 14 points coming from 18 feet or closer. Those 15 spread out through 6 different players. On the other end, the defense was good. Excellent close out and composure from the Thunder tonight. Total contrast to their previous losses.
2. Russell must, must, must focus and stop gambling on D late in games. The Clippers came back in a hurry to tie the game behind a barrage where they scored on five consecutive possessions, four of which were three’s. That equaled 14 points in a flash. On at least three of those possessions you can attribute the open look to Russ being wildly out of position. On two of them, he went for a steal, missed, and allowed a wide open look. On the other he failed to get through a screen and gave Rivers a three (that tied the game). He hunkered down after that, but those types of gambles and breakdowns are crushing otherwise good defensive efforts. If we are down by 7 with a few minutes to go, it makes sense to roll the dice and try to make a play. When you are up 7 it’s just a poor decision.
3. Steven Adams’ calf can kiss my arse. I swear one of my thoughts tonight (before I even heard he was out) was going to be a suggestion that Donovan mix in either Dakari or Collison into the rotation. Of course now it looks like I’m just taking credit after the fact, but sometimes circumstance opens the door for you. So far this year the Thunder small bench lineups have not been effective. Patterson has been ineffective and the Thunder bench has been badly out-rebounded and beat up. Tonight, the Adams injury opened the door for Dakari. And it yielded an interesting development. Dakari is not a stretch four or a center that will play beyond the paint. He is much more of a traditional big, which of course contrasts a bit with the way the league is heading. However, if you are GOOD at what you do, then you also pose the threat to force the other team to adjust to YOU. Dakari really held his own against Jordan and Blake. He battled. He only pulled down one rebound, which won’t cut it, but he was active. Most importantly, he flashed some legitimate skill. Stepping up an hitting a jumper to essentially close out the game is not something Adams does. Dakari brings a little something to the table and I hope his first real showing tonight earns him some more looks in the rotation.
4. PG13 was out of sight. That was a very, very tidy stat line of 42/9/7. He managed it on only 22 shots and he only turned it over 3 times. He was aggressive from the outset. Aggressive, yet controlled I should say. He put the ball on the floor and went hard to the basket. When they gave him space, he hurt them with the midrange pull up. And he also did some catch and shoot where he had Russ set him up for open looks. It wasn’t just that he put up big numbers, he was so IMPACTFUL in all areas on both ends. This is the two-way threat we’ve been waiting for.
5. They certainly needed that. It wasn’t perfect by any means. Once again they squandered a big lead. Still had some lapses and despite a pretty nice box score, I didn’t think Russ was great. Certainly better than he was on the road trip, but after a really good start he cooled a bit and I thought his decisions were up and down. His aforementioned defense was atrocious. He did close the game strong showing great trust in his teammates. This win is not a cure-all, but it does allow a collective sigh of relief. Sort of like, “oh ok, we don’t actually suck.” Hopefully it is a first step in becoming what they want to become. The schedule works in their favor now. They play arguably the worst team in each conference the next two games. I wouldn’t spend much time arguing if I were you because Dallas and Chicago are both really bad. I think Chicago has already earned another really. Like really, really bad. Thunder could probably play their “C-” minus game and beat both of them by double digits. So it’s an opportunity for the Thunder to get in some high-level practice before the schedule turns next Friday at San Antonio. Zero excuse to lose either of the next two. I don’t care if they are particularly pretty, but it would be nice to get the guys some extra rest and some low-stress minutes. Perhaps work in the bench a little deeper. Most importantly, try and build on some of the good things they accomplished tonight.
Ed Kleese is a long-time Thunder season ticket holder and a smart Thunder fan. You can read all his work on his own personal bloWe invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!