1. Some nights I wish I would have titled this blog “Two Thoughts,” or maybe “Three and a Half Thoughts.” Some nights it’s tough to come up with something new or interesting to talk about. And then there are nights like tonight. I could go with “Forty Nine Thoughts,” or perhaps “Seventy Six Thoughts” would be more appropriate. Not even sure where you start after something like that. I have no clue if the Thunder are beginning to slowly turn a corner or if they are just seeing some early bad luck turn in their favor— maybe both. But I do know that grinding out wins on the road against solid teams is never a bad thing. I do know that winning does cure a lot of ills. And it certainly alleviates pressure and tension— you can see as much on their faces when they talk to the media post game. They’ve now won three straight road games and six of eight overall. They’ve moved from 8-12 to 14-14. And in those six wins they’ve yet to play what I could call a “complete” game. I guess your conclusion on that depends on whether or not you are a glass half full or glass half empty type of person.
2. In Indiana on Wednesday the Thunder wins game in which their three best offensive players combined to go 10-45 from the field. I didn’t think it likely we’d see anything like that again this year. I guess I just needed to wait 48 hours. While the shooting was better against Philly, the Thunder did not score ONE POINT over the final 5:35 of the game. Yes, they got shutout for nearly an entire half of a quarter. They then only scored three points over the first four minutes of the first overtime. So they went over 9 minutes in the fourth and OT where they rallied a total of 3 points. AND THEY WON. Ridiculous. They are doing it by playing with extreme grit. Normally if you don’t score for 9 minutes the other team goes on a major run. Somehow the Thunder managed to hold the 76ers at bay just enough to keep giving themselves a chance. They play crazy good defense, they crash the boards, and they are active on all loose balls. And then PG hit a three late in the first OT that seemed to snap them out of their death spiral. Not to say the offense was stellar after that, but they at least you know, scored some points the rest of the way. It is a remarkable feat to go that long in an NBA game without scoring. It is also a remarkable feat to win said game. Again, glass half full or half empty?
3. Russell Westbrook is an alien. I’m convinced. It is not possible he is human. Both physically and emotionally he isn’t of this species. You cannot play three overtimes in a professional basketball game and have the same level of energy at the end that you did at the beginning. It isn’t possible. The body language of the other nine guys on the floor tell that story. But somehow, RW seems to get stronger and faster the deeper the game goes. The play in the third OT where he snatched the ball out from the scrum and went coast to coast for that nasty slam just isn’t something humans do. Humans also don’t generally respond to failure like they. Most basketball players who are shooting 4-18 on the night would be terrified to shoot again. Perhaps rightfully so. They sure as heck wouldn’t take a shot with a high degree of difficulty. And if they did happen to make one, it is unlikely they would mean mug afterwards. Most humans have short term memory and defense mechanisms that prevent them from pursuing previous failures. RW responds the opposite on all of those things. He did not go into “hero” mode tonight until the OTs began. And by that point I kind of wanted him to— he was the only guy left on either team that had the legs to get to the rim. And he did just that on multiple occasions- and he missed just about all of them. But I just can’t rip a guy for calling his own number when he is giving himself lay ups or possible dunks. It’s what you want. And the fact that he has the confidence to step up and make mid range jumpers that Philly was conceding to him is pretty remarkable considering how poorly he has been shooting lately. The end of the second OT when Philly honed in on Russ he made the right play giving it to Andre— who then inexplicably passed up what should have been an easy layup in favor of giving it back to Russ— who winds up giving it back to Andre again, only to see Andre blow the layup. Then in the third OT when it appeared RW was in one of those “I’ll never pass again” modes he goes back to Andre AGAIN in the same situation— albeit a bit tougher finish this time. And Andre came through that time. Russ was 10-33 from the field— bad. Russ scored 27 points, had 15 assists and grabbed 18 rebounds— insanely good. Russ made some huge shots and a great pass in OT to win it— good. Russ was 5-12 from the free throw line— very bad. There has never been a player like him. Ever. Never ever. He can sometimes run you smack dab into a brick wall. He can also then get up, dust himself off, get another running start, and bust the whole damn wall down taking everyone on his side with him. Not always easy to know what to make of it. But it sure is fascinating to watch.
4. Lost amidst all of the shenanigans and overtimes was the fact that with 5:35 to go, the Sixers called a timeout with the Thunder leading 94-83. Up until that moment it had been a very solid all around night for the Thunder. Once again, the bench was a huge plus. Felton was excellent. Huestis made a very positive impact in limited action. And with the stars resting the bench extended the lead— very similar to the Indiana game. Most importantly, Melo was great. He finally found his midrange game and looked like classic Melo— basically unguardable when he is hitting fades and step backs the way he was tonight. Mix in some smooth catch and shoot opportunities and it was one of the better games (if not the best) he’s played in an OKC uniform. PG wasn’t as good as Melo, but he did hit some big three’s most notably the one nearing the end of the first OT. At that point, up 11 with 5:35 remaining, you had to be very pleased with how the Thunder played. It then went poof in an instant before they went into grit and grind mode to get it done like an hour later. I do think there was plenty to build on prior to the nonsense at the end.
5. Not sure how they will have much left in the tank for tomorrow’s game in New York. That’s why as this game kept going it became more and more imperative to win it. This three game road trip is now already a success Sheryl in terms of the raw definition— three road games (including a back to back) all against teams likely to make the playoffs in the East. If you win two out of three that is at bare minimum an acceptable result. So they are already there. If they beat the Knicks I think you can start at least chatting about turning the proverbial corner. It’s been choppy. It’s been hectic. It’s been head-scratching. It’s been exhilarating. But it’s also been BETTER. An identity is forming. Slowly, but it’s forming. And if nothing else, it’s starting to get a little fun.
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 blog.
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