Five Thoughts 2-6-18 (Thunder 125, Warriors 105)

1. It’s really late (or early I suppose), but right now I don’t care. Man, that was so cool. It was also pretty unexpected. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Donovan frustrates me from time to time, but one thing I’ve observed about him is that I find him to be at his best in the biggest games/moments. His demeanor is generally calm. He is patient. But he’s also pretty bold and picks his spots. He gave Terrance Ferguson a pretty good look after Andre went down, but he wasn’t overly stubborn and pulled the plug tonight. I was surprised and skeptical to see Huestis in his place, but it worked. He played solid enough defense on Thompson and finished in the lane the couple of times the ball found him. Beyond that, Donovan also made a subtle change. Lately, he has been allowing the bench to start the second and fourth quarters with Russ, Melo, PG, and Adams all sitting. Tonight, he staggered it so that PG was out there to start the second and fourth. This is something I really like. I like that he is wise enough to understand that not all games are created equally. By not forcing the emotional issue night after night; by not screaming and yelling and chastising the team night after night it allows for the team to REALLY listen when he does ratchet up the intensity or focus. Donovan sold me in the 2016 playoffs. The team peaked at the right time and he made small adjustments that mostly worked. I’ve trusted him ever since even though I don’t agree with all of his day to day methods or decisions. Tonight is an example of long view philosophy paying off.

2. It is also an example of Russ being a badass. It would be cliché to say he started the game on fire, so instead let’s just say he was actually melting. He was liquid-Russ. That was insane. He often (almost always) plays with that sort of white-hot intensity; but sometimes it falls flat if everyone else is a degree or twenty cooler. On a night like tonight, when everyone is locked and loaded he is able to completely set a tone. He was a madman in terms of his motor, but he was a cool cat in terms of his decision-making. It helps to hit shots of course, but he was calling his own number at the right time and setting up others for easy looks. He was absolutely sensational. Some teams have defenders that can nag Russ. We know what Beverly does to him. There are others out there that bother him or can coax him into inefficient games. The Warriors don’t have anyone like that. He blows right by Curry. Thompson is a great defender, but he can’t stay in front of Russ either. What is even better is that the Dubs do not have a rim protector, so when he gets by his man, finishing against them is easy. Unlike last year, they can’t just clog the lane because they have to account for PG and Melo. Two games against GS and two nearly perfect performances from Russ.

3. Russ did start to cool down in the second half, but PG13 was there to pick up where he left off. If possible, PG may have been equal to Russ tonight. His efficiency is astounding. In that regard, his a great balance with Russ. PG doesn’t need near the volume of shots to rack up his points. He was just killing the Warriors on both ends all night long. KD had a pretty nice game. He got to the line a lot and he shot the ball fairly well. But it didn’t feel like he was making a huge impact. PG annoys him enough so that he doesn’t just settle into a total comfort zone. He is forced to work harder which sort of just messes up the flow of their entire offense. The Thunder attack was led by a two-headed monster tonight and it begs the question as to whether or not anyone can stop them if the two of them are zoned in like that. It may have even helped tonight that Melo went down. Allowed Russ and PG to go bananas. Won’t always be that way as PG and Russ won’t always be this hot– the will need Melo to fill in gaps. But tonight, it’s possible it was a blessing in disguise.

4. One guy I really want to mention is Jerami Grant. He was absolutely awesome– especially in the first half. He was a big reason the Thunder were able to extend the lead from 10 to 20. He played with incredible confidence. No hesitation at all when attacking the basket. The Thunder pose some issues to the Warriors due to length and athleticism- Grant is a part of that. Their bigs can’t really run with him. He has developed into a very good finisher in the paint. He plays bigger than he is; he is under-sized for the power forward position and he isn’t a “stretch” guy at all, so in order to impact the game he has to battle with the trees. I’ve been a little down on him, but lately he’s been really, really good. Tonight, he was fantastic. He played the best he’s ever played in the playoff series with Houston last year so I have hopes that he can keep this up against the top competition. Abrines also contributed off the bench. And the Adams post up offense? Uh, yes please. I’d like to see more of that.

5. So there you go. I think that was the last nugget I needed to see in order for me to comfortably say I’ll be confident come playoffs no matter where we wind up. It is very clear that the Thunder have a very high ceiling. It is very clear that they can beat elite teams and that they can do it beyond just a fluke night. Against the best this year, they’ve looked better. It is maddening that they don’t seem capable of reasonably downshifting, but it ultimately may not matter. Every time has to find a comfortable cruising speed. The Thunder really struggle with that. They are more of a bulldog team and when a bulldog team tries to play a poodle game it doesn’t always end well. So when they dial it down a notch or two, they fall farther than other elite teams. But as far as I’m concerned, the four game losing streak is erased. Gone and forgotten. Are the Thunder the team that is 3-0 against the Warriors and Rockets this year or are they the team that has lost to the Lakers, Kings, Nets, Hornets, etc.? The answer is….both. You are who you are. Luckily, they won’t have to worry about the Lakers, Kings, Nets, and Hornets in the playoffs. The teams they are likely to face? Yeah, I think we will have their attention. Great night that should provide a real sigh of relief for any fans (like me) that were sort of gripping over their recent play. Will they follow this up by laying a egg against the Lakers Thursday? Maybe, but I’m not sure I really care.

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