Five Thoughts 3-23-18 (Thunder 105, Heat 99)

1. For the second outing in a row the Thunder were involved in a game that was mostly a drab snooze fest through three quarters before fourth quarter fireworks. On Tuesday in Boston it may have been better for the Thunder had the game maintained it’s flatline. Tonight, the virtual scoring bonanza benefited the home team. Credit Miami for locking the game down early. It’s what they do. Heat generally equal more than the sum of their parts. They slow the game down considerably and frustrate you into playing their game. Thunder fell victim to that tonight; although shots weren’t really falling for the Heat either so the game just sort of sat there and stewed through three quarters. Then, the Thunder started making everything from the outside and Miami countered by finding holes in the defense and getting easy shots at the rim. The teams had barely averaged 20 points apiece per quarter through three and then the fourth is 41-33 in favor of OKC. Had you told me before the quarter started that the Heat were gonna score 33, I might have walked out of the arena right then and there. Would have assumed Miami likely won the game easily. That’s the thing about having Russ though; for better or worse (usually better) you just never quite know.

2. Russ was incredible once he checked back in for the stretch run. Very similar to how to finished the Toronto game on Sunday. He came in cold and was just immediately on fire. He hit two long jumpers and two three’s and the Thunder took control. Russ closed the game beautifully. But make no mistake, the real hero tonight was Adams. No doubt the absence of Hassan Whiteside hindered the Heat, but that’s not Adams’ problem. He simply ate them alive. The first half could have been a disaster without his contributions. He has made the missed shot a deadly weapon for the Thunder. It’s one reason turnovers irk me now more than ever. Just get a shot in; even a terrible shot is better than no shot. Once that ball hits the rim or glass there is a decent chance Adams is going to grab it or at least tap it out for someone else to grab. And if he doesn’t do that, he may very well draw a foul because he’s beating the crap out of someone in the paint. He is playing at an all-star level. He and Russ are an insanely good combo on the pick and roll. With each passing game Russ seems to trust him more and more— with the lead hanging by a thread and Russ on fire, he chose not to take a jumper himself and instead dished to Adams for the slam that virtually ended the game. It’s one reason I don’t think all hope is lost if PG leaves after this year. A team built around Russ/Adams can be damn good.

3. I’m a baseball fan too and I always say that hardest part of a big rally is the guy that gets it started. Everyone remembers Mookie Wilson hitting the ball through Bill Buckner’s legs and Ray Knight coming around to score the winning run. But not many people remember that Gary Carter got that inning started. With two outs and no one on base, Carter is the one who kept hope alive and broke through with a single. That lit the fire. His teammates then fanned the flames. But getting flicker going is hard. Really hard. For the Thunder tonight, the “flicker” was Raymond Felton. Team was just ice cold. Miami had ceased momentum and gained a five point lead. Then just like that, Felton scores eight points in just over 60 seconds. Momentum shifted. Everyone else starts making shots. Thunder never relinquish lead after that. Felton has been tremendous this year. His window is very small each game. His margin for error thin. He has a limited number of possessions to make his mark and often he is called upon to keep us afloat until Russ checks back into the game. He has come through consistently all year. Would have been nice to have him in the playoffs against the Rockets last year. In terms of grading players based on how well they fill their designated role, Felton deserves as high of a grade as anyone on the team.

4. Not nice to see Melo and PG both go frigid simultaneously. Nice to see we are still able to scratch out a W even with both of them launching bricks. With Melo, I accept it. He runs hot and cold. He’s been clutch this year so I have no problem rolling with him in most every close and late situation. Team generally does a good job of feeding him when he’s hot and backing off when he’s not. I’m good with it. With PG, we simply can’t survive too many games like this from him. He has to be better. He did finally make a play tonight with the steal and finish to put the game on ice, but prior to that, he was terrible. This isn’t a matter of him not “meshing” either. He gets plenty of minutes, plenty of looks, and he has the ball in his hands more than often enough to get a flow going. Tonight was just a matter of him having a lousy game. He’s a chill guy. He paces himself. He isn’t overly emotional. That can sometimes be construed as lack of caring or laziness, but I don’t think that’s the case. I just think he has a more passive personality and his game is somewhat nuanced. He does a ton of different things that help you win games. And with Russ being the emotional opposite I think it’s a good thing and yang type of fit. But PG can’t let games get away from him like that. He needs to find a way to impact even when shooting is cold.

I think the Thunder can forget about the Clippers. They are too far behind at this point. They are also getting really close to being able to forget about the Nuggets as well. They also now have a two game lead on Utah in the loss column while holding the tie-breaker too. As a paranoid fan who’s seen it all, I won’t declare them out of the woods yet, but I really believe their worst case at this point is the seven seed. It’s a total battle to figure out 3-7 though. Portland was smoking hot and now they’ve lost two in a row. They come to town Sunday for what should be a very entertaining game. They are 0-3 agains the Blazers so there is some pride on the line in addition to the obvious. Thunder have been playing their way away from ledge… a win Sunday would allow them to inch a lot closer to safe ground.


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