1. There are definitely some negatives to discuss tonight, but they are overshadowed by a fairly obvious positive. All season long the Thunder have gotten by mostly on the strength of their defense and winning ugly. I wouldn’t necessarily say their defense betrayed them tonight (Atlanta was making some crazy shots), but the reality is that sometimes the other team is going to score. They are going to hit tough shots. They are going to have a guy that has a big night or gives a Thunder defender trouble. If you can’t respond to that with some offensive punch of your own, then it’s going to be real tough to ever get on any sort of roll. You can’t win EVERY game 95-94. Tonight for whatever reason the Thunder were having a horrible time getting stops in the fourth quarter. But they had answers on the other end— not something they’ve always been able to say this season. For one of the first times this season the Thunder had a big offensive half and then followed it up with another. They needed every bit of those 120 points tonight. It’s good to see them win in a different manner.
2. I’m OK with that final shot from Russ. It’s hardly a great look, but considering he’s been so hot I’m fine getting the ball in his hands and letting him decide. I don’t necessarily love the decision to shoot a three there, but the Hawks did sag— he didn’t really have a good driving lane. Looked like PG flashed to the top of the key and RW briefly thought about going to him. But honestly with about 4-5 seconds remaining at that point Russ basically has to do decide if they are better are with PG shooting it or with RW himself shooting it. All current things considered, Russ likely made the better choice there. In a tie game you need to make sure you aren’t leaving any time on the clock for Atlanta to get off a good shot at the buzzer. It’s hard to ensure that while also driving and giving yourself enough time to shoot or pass. Overtime in that situation isn’t so bad. My preference there would be for Russ to start about 3 seconds earlier and put the ball on the floor— drive at least a few steps; see how the defense reacts. If you have them on their heels, you can pull up for the jumper. If they bring another defender you can pass or try to get to the rim. That would be option A for me. However, if you can believe this, I’ve never had the ball in my hands during an NBA game with the clock ticking. Russ has been on fire. The shot was in rhythm. He drained it. I’m not complaining.
3. I saw two negatives tonight worth noting. The first is that Donovan continues with this annoying habit of not reacting quickly enough when things are sluggish in the third quarter. Sometimes it happens. It’s fine. Sometimes you play a nice first half and when you come out for the second, the momentum is gone, the fans are milling around, the players lose a little edge. Happens quite a bit around the league. It is often more pronounced if you have an emotional high in the first half. Donovan just needs to recognize it faster-or at least do something about it faster. It was clear two minutes into the second half that the mojo was off. Thunder looked a little drab. Atlanta came out with good energy and attacked. That’s where Donovan needs to make a move. Whether it’s an earlier timeout and a set play or going to the bench earlier. He allowed that quarter to play out past the 6:00 minute make before he made a switch. My second complaint tonight would be that PG isn’t doing very well when he is being handed the keys. He does seem to be settling in a bit playing alongside Russ, which is good. But during those stretches early in the second and fourth quarters when he is on the floor and RW and Melo are not, he isn’t coming through. Tonight it wasn’t until Russ came back in (after we were down 4) that we regained some level of control. Russ is back to being Russ and Melo has always looked settled to me. He hasn’t always played well, but I think Melo has a role and is playing it. PG is the one still coming along slowly. He’s been OK the past two games, but there is still massive room for improvement.
4. The PG and Melo trades have left Presti with little room to maneuver in-season. I knew after the Melo deal that they would more or less need to sink or swim this year with what they had because they just don’t have the assets or cap space to bring on any sort of significant addition to the roster. However, there does always exist the possibility for a smaller move to be made. I think that potential move is now coming clear: The Thunder could really use a shooter off the bench. Abrines has had opportunities. He’s been very inconsistent. Hard for Donovan to rely on him. It’s funny but one of my points tonight was going to be to bring up Marco Belinelli as the type of player that would fit well in OKC. He basically plays the Abrines role, but with much more consistency and experience. There are a few other guys around the league today fit that mold as well. And if said player is on a non-contending team, it generally won’t take a whole lot to obtain them in a trade. This type of move likely doesn’t get made until very close to the deadline. And Abrines (and maybe others) will continue to get chances to earn a more permanent spot. But if no one steps up, I do see the Thunder potentially engaging in talks to acquire a Belinelli type.
5. Atlanta stinks record-wise, but most nights they are competitive. They are well coached. Not sure I can sit here and say the Thunder defense was “good” tonight but it wasn’t as bad as the 117 points yielded would indicate. The Hawks made everything down the stretch including a totally ridiculous shot from Illyasova with Adams in his face (the play where Adams got hit in the nads). In any event the Thunder could not rely on their D to save them tonight and they found a way to win on the other end instead. It’s another positive sign. It’s also a three point Home win against a lousy team so there is no need to go overboard about it. They played three in a row at home— they won them all. Russ is back to playing at an MVP level. All good things. Tomorrow will be interesting. They just crushed Utah, but playing in Salt Lake is a different animal— always has been. Especially on the second night of a back to back. Jazz also just beat the Spurs by double digits after losing to us to by 30. It’s been a good week for the Thunder, they can make it great by winning again in less than 24 hours.
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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