Five Thoughts 12-29-17 (Bucks 97, Thunder 95)

1. Let’s start with the elephant in the room. This is contrary to 99% of the narratives you hear, but I actually think overall NBA refs get kind of judged unfairly. We can slow every frame of every movement down to the millisecond now. And when you do that you can generally find SOMETHING that was missed on just about every possession of every game. Chances are that someone out there was moving a bit on a screen or shuffled a foot while holding the ball or grabbed someone or put his hand in someone’s back to gain leverage, etc. There is honestly probably a foul in a technical sense being committed nearly 100% of the time. Obviously if the whistle blows on all of them the games become unwatchable. So refs have to make decisions on the fly and you have guess like RW going 10000 MPH and it’s probably really hard in real time to always accurately gauge exactly what you are seeing. I don’t think people cut them enough slack on that. But what I don’t understand and what boggles my mind is the confusion over the rules and how they are applied. It’s two hours after the game and I’m still not sure we know if that was a reviewable play at the end or not. We know the ref missed the actual call. His foot was out, that was obvious and undeniable. But should it have been reviewed? Is that a reviewable play? I don’t know. Maybe the refs don’t know. I know that if they HAD called him out of bounds that they could have gone to replay to get the clock right. And we also know that they can review a possible goal tending or a charge call or who touched the ball last. So why is the list of reviewable plays at the end of a game so arbitrary? It makes no sense. To my thinking, ANY play in the last two minutes that affects the game should be reviewed if you have a replay system. We can look and see if a guy had his foot on the three point line but we can’t look and see if he had it on the baseline? Huh? It’s just dumb. It’s much like the NFL catch rule— it’s at the point where no one knows what is a catch and what isn’t. As a guy that consumes NBA basketball at a kind of insane level, I’m not even really sure what can and can’t be reviewed and how or why they choose to do it. That needs to change.

2. Thunder just couldn’t overcome that crap start. Even when we were struggling earlier in the year the team generally started well. For the most part this year their energy in the first quarter has been fine. Tonight, the mojo was off a bit. Coming off the emotional wins the past few games and missing PG it sort of seemed like the Thunder were running in sand early. Just sluggish and a step or two behind. Adams in particular looked a little punchy and just appeared out of sorts. I don’t always equate this to “effort.” Sometimes there are human nature realities at play and sometimes things just don’t fall your way. Thunder probably lacked a little focus and intensity in the first quarter and it ultimately came back to bite them. Because they totally outplayed the Bucks the rest of the way.

3. Russ is amazing in all ways. Most of the good. Some bad. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Regardless of your thoughts on him, one thing is certain: He is one of a kind. No one has every played basketball quite like he does. Just contrast these two moments tonight: when the Thunder made their run in the third quarter, they got it down to three. Russ had just had his dunk for the ages over Maker and the crowd was going nuts. Momentum all on our side. Russ takes the ball down court, gets a good look from there at the top of the key, launches and…. totally airballs it. And I mean airballs it like a guy in the MidFirst Bank halfcourt shot. He missed that sucker by like three feet short and to the right. I don’t know how that is even possible. And then down by three with the clock winding down, he pulls up and drains one with a guy right in his face. Speaking of that shot, while it’s not necessarily the greatest play in the history of basketball, it probably IS the best one for the Thunder. Russ has been off the charts good in clutch situations the past year and a half. Not sure there is another guy in the entire league I want taking that shot right now. As long as it isn’t something totally stupid, I will live with Russ taking those shots. It’s probably about as high percentage in that situation as you are going to get. I appreciate the fact that a game that could have and maybe SHOULD have gotten out of hand, was reeled back in and turned into a must-see finish because Russ is Russ. He simply will not let a game go quietly into the night. Maybe even sometimes when he should. Man, he is so fun to watch.

4. Hate to say it, but I’m pretty much done with Abrines. I don’t think he is a totally lost cause as an NBA player. I think he still has some upside and could turn into a contributor. But he needs a lot of work and a lot of seasoning and OKC isn’t really a place that can offer that right now. Maybe a situation similar to Jeremy Lamb. Lamb got an opportunity in OKC. It wasn’t a great opportunity and the leash was short, but had he played well, he could have stuck around and he would have seen his role expand. But he was on a team with title aspirations and they couldn’t afford to deal with his growing pains. Now, several years later, he has turned into a serviceable (not special) NBA player. Abrines has been given a chance this year. He hasn’t done anything with it. He had one very good game where he hit huge shots in the overtime win at Memphis. That’s been about it. He is horrendous defensively and he’s not a ton better on the other end. He just looks lost. Thunder don’t really have a great option to replace him in the rotation currently so he continues to get some minutes. But it’s reached a level now where I think I’d just pull him from the rotation entirely. They could really use a veteran shooter, but they can’t just snap their fingers and make one appear on the bench. I also think Singler has likely run out of chances and I’m in no rush to see him again. That leaves TFerg, but he’s 19 and more of a slasher/scorer. I like what I’ve seen in limited action this year but he is a long term prospect. The only other guy would be Daniel Hamilton. He’s becoming the new Huestis. He has played well for the Blue and there isn’t much more for him to prove in the G League. That said, he’s shooting 31% from three. So unless the Thunder can swing a deal it would appear Abrines will continue to get opportunities.

5. Easy lose to accept. Thunder started horribly; showed a lot of heart getting back into it. Offense looked far less fluid minus PG which is understandable. They may have been a baffling bad call away from winning the game even though they were down 22 at one point and missing a key player. They are 12-4 in December and 6-1 on this 8 game stand to end the year. It’s fine. As long as this is a blip and not a trend it’s an easy game to brush aside. Keep you eye on the Mavs Sunday though. Their record stinks, but they are pesky and WAY better than they were early in the year. They have won three in a row and they absolutely lit up the Pelicans on the road tonight. Carlisle is such a great coach and he gets the best out of his team. And let’s not forget that they ran OKC out of the gym when the teams last met in Dallas. So the Thunder need to take this one seriously and be focused to end 2017 on a high note.

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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Ed Kleese