Five Thoughts 12-27-17 (Thunder 124, Raptors 107)

1. Everything Thunder related was on fire in the second half tonight. Quite literally. I sit about four sections over from where the fire on the catwalk started. It was really odd. There were several loud “pops” and then smoke started billowing. But then there were actual flames shooting out as well. I figured the night was going to be more or less toast (no pun intended) from there. I assumed there was some sort of “play it safe” protocol that was going to require an evacuation and likely a long delay. I was pleasantly surprised that the solution was just to allow a few dudes to run over there with extinguishers or whatever and put it out. The delay was less than five minutes and the game commenced with a distinct smell of burning rubber/electrical in the air. No one freaked out or anything so it was cool. But yeah they might want to look into that. There is also no truth to the rumors that one of Roberson’s free throws went up there to cool it down. Bada bing!

2. I feel like I can make an Andre free throw joke because I’ve always been in his corner. Sort of like the whole “I can make fun of my family, but you can’t” type of deal. Except Andre and I aren’t family. Or anywhere close. But you know what I mean. On a night when the three stars shined as brightly as we’d all hoped they would, I was once again awed by Andre. He has become elite at basically all basketball functions that don’t require putting a ball through a hoop. Not only is he a lock down defender, he is also a massive disruptor of what the other team is trying to do in general. He is also an excellent rebounder. He’s even become a pretty good passer. He is moving the ball quickly now when it gets to him and it’s allowing the offense to flow instead of halt when the ball gets to him. Derozen is an all star caliber player and he was a church mouse tonight. Didn’t even know he was out there. As far as the free throws go; well, that’s still ugly. However, if he manages to start splitting them more often than not, the hack-a-Andre practice becomes less effective— especially if the Thunder are holding a lead.

3. Oh, and then there is Adams. Goodness what a monster he has become. It’s cliche to say he does all the “dirty little thing.” But in his case he does the “big dirty things” (this is getting weird) because the dirty things he does are plainly obvious to even a casual observer. He is killing people out there. And his offensive rebounding is demoralizing to opponents. With the Thunder offense rounding into shape it is crushing for the other team when they get a stop only to have it rendered moot by an Adams rebound. I doubt he will be because his numbers are more ordinary than his impact, but he should be an all-star this year. He is absolutely one of the best centers in the NBA. “The Dunk” tonight was one of the better moments of the season. As gregarious and approachable as he is, Adams really isn’t particularly demonstrative. So to see him flush it like that and then raise the roof to the bench was pretty badass. Entire crowd ate that up. So yes, on a night when Russ, Melo, and PG dominated I am almost to Thought #4 and haven’t mentioned them. That’s because Andre and Adams have been doing this all year. They are a big reason we were able to grind out some of those wins early on. They are a big reason we can lean on our identity as a gritty, defensive minded team. And now with the others arriving at their destination, it’s pretty awesome to see. The Thunder starting five is a lights-out combo (see what I did there) and it isn’t JUST because of the top three.

4. You don’t need me to tell you how well Russ is playing right now. But one thing I noticed tonight was how incredibly RELAXED he seems. There was a break in the action where Russ was doing a little dance/shimmy and yucking it up with a ref. That is not SOP for Russ. He I actually visibly and noticeably SMILING more and while he is always highly emotional, he seems more super charged than normal. No doubt he sees what we all see. No doubt he is feeling some relief and I imagine he is feeling some real excitement about where this all can go. He clearly is showing trust in his teammates and the offense they are running. Defensively, this is the best he has ever played. He is focused and not trying to make every cross-court steal. He is showing discipline and not hanging anyone out to dry on that end. Right now, he is playing better than he did last year. The dip in his numbers is simply an obvious function of having better/more reliable teammates and not having to do as much. But at this juncture I would actually say he is a slightly better version of himself. That’s pretty amazing.

5. So there you go. Now we are seeing the Thunder we all hoped we’d see this year. They were damn near perfect in the second half tonight. The month started shaky, but they were finding ways to win. Now they are winning and winning pretty. The offense is like ten times better than it was even just 3-4 weeks ago. Now, it should be noted that just like how early in the year there was no way they’d continue to shoot that poorly; there is now way they will stay this hot. They aren’t going to shoot 55% from the field every night from here on out. All three stars are smoking hot right now and there is likely to be some regression there— at least in select games. The good news is that they’ve already shown they know how to win even if shots aren’t falling. This team is capable of beating you 124-107 and they are capable of beating you 92-91. Two games left on the home stand; both against teams they should beat. Milwaukee is solid, but not on the level with Toronto and not in the stratosphere with Houston. Thunder are a bit due for a letdown, but right now I think it’s more likely the fire keeps burning. Ha!

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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