Five Thoughts 3-25-18 (Blazers 108, Thunder 105)

1. Will start tonight with the subject that seemed to captivate most fans and media in the post game: Melo. Should he have been on the floor late in the game? My answer to this is a simple, yes. Melo has had a tough week, no doubt. He was just terrible tonight. Almost painful to watch him clang shots down the stretch. And he’s hardly had a big year. He’s been about what I expected overall. But one reason I haven’t soured in him is because he has been consistently clutch. Even on nights when he’s been off or quiet, he has often made big shots in the fourth. He did just that as recently as Sunday in Toronto. Heck, he actually did it in Boston too— just overshadowed by his free throw debacle at the end. For the most part this year, Melo has hit tough shots when the Thunder have needed them. He’s also their best “bad shot maker” when the offense bogs down. His entire reason for being on the team is because he’s an experienced vet that can provide an offensive option for Russ. I don’t blame Donovan for keeping him out there or getting the ball in his hands. They were good shots. Not exactly sure what happened on the drive that ended in a turnover, but other than that, his shots were clean. He has to take those shots. Tonight he just missed them… all of them. With Grant playing brilliantly and Patterson and Abrines looking better, it certainly begs the question, but for me, the answer is still that you ride with Melo late in games. Melo has lots of flaws at this point in his career, but I will still live with him taking open shots when we need them.

2. I’m going to be a little more harsh on PG. He and Melo play different roles and I have different expectations for them. We need more than what PG has been giving us lately. To his credit, he did do a nice job tonight to start the fourth quarter. He scored our first six points and he was working hard to do it— his jumper wasn’t falling so he put his head down and drove to the basket. But at the end of the day, he’s been struggling lately and that is a lot for the Thunder to overcome. They don’t need him to be Superman. They already have that. They need him to be an efficient Swiss Army knife. He was playing that role quite well until about a week or so ago. So it could just be a simple shooting slump. But he must snap out of it quickly. He and Melo were a combined 0-12 from three tonight. That is just a total anchor on the offense and makes life so tough for the others. Russ and Adams are both playing extremely well. The bench is also coming around and really contributing right now. We don’t need PG to carry the load. We just need him to level out. It’s a bad time of the year to go cold.

Portland is really good. And a bit of the Thunder bad luck when it comes to catching people at the wrong time continues. Our defense down the stretch of this game was darn near perfect. The entire goal of defense is to force the other guy to take really tough/bad shots. That’s exactly what the Thunder did. It’s frustrating as hell to watch those shots fall. And oh my God tonight with the long rebounds on misses for Portland. We got crushed on the offensive glass which is certainly not typical. We are a very good rebounding team. Tonight, so many Portland possessions were kept alive by long misses that found Blazers. There was one that made me laugh. Connaughton missed a shot so badly that he was literally falling out of bounds in the corner by the Portland bench. But he bricked it so bad that it somehow bounced right back to him in the corner— like a boomerang. I muttered some things I shouldn’t mutter during that play. On the shot that McCollum hit to put them up with 22 seconds to go… that was perfect D. It was a terrible shot. Honestly the worst shot you can take— it was a highly contested two pointer— a very long on at that. But he nailed it anyway. Credit to him, he was sensational and made a plethora of shots that I was happy to see him take when he released them. The Portland offense was brutal at the end of this game. They didn’t move the ball, they didn’t have anything going, and they couldn’t get anyone open. But they kept making shots in spite of all of that. Just incredibly frustrating from a Thunder perspective. But also a simple lesson in what it takes to win in the NBA: you gotta make shots. Often, they will be difficult shots. It was the difference in the game tonight. It’s not like one team was running some great system and the other was going all ISO— it was a junkyard game and one team find what it took to sink shots at the end and the other didn’t.

4. The recent emergence of the bench is encouraging. Looks like Donovan has made the wise decision to shrink the rotation from 11 down to 10. Huestis isn’t playing much at all at this point. Now I think it’s time to shrink it down to 9. Felton and Grant have been off the charts lately. Heck, tonight it was as if we brought Magic and Kareem into the game when they entered. Instant offense and instant energy. Patterson hasn’t been as effective, but he’s doing more, he looks more comfortable and his spot the rotation seems about right to me. Abrines is on his hottest shooting streak of his career. I think he needs more minutes. He’s earned it. Time to sit TFerg down or at least make him the 10th guy. I want Abrines to be handed those minutes as the guy that comes in for Brewer. TFerg has a bright future, but I don’t think he can or should be trusted in a playoff rotation. Maybe Abrines won’t come through, but he is at a point now where we need to find out. Time to see if this is just a random streak or if he’s perhaps settled in and figured something out.

5. Very tough loss. It feels like the Thunder are SO close right now. So close to being REALLY good. Tonight’s loss isn’t so bad if they had won the Boston game. The Boston game isn’t so bad had they won tonight. In between they had a little bit of a shaky win against the Heat. This has been one story of the Thunder season: they have had a difficult time getting back on track when they detail— even just a little bit. They won six in a row and capped it with a fantastic win in Toronto. Then they blow a game in Boston. Follow it up with tow uneven (not bad) performances at home. So now they’ve lost two out of three and a little bit of that tension creeps in again. I’d say right now it’s not a massive deal. They’ve gotten some help the past few days with competing teams losing. They haven’t really lost any ground from where they were after the six wins. But they haven’t gained any either. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s going to take a real complete choke job to miss the playoffs at this point. And I personally don’t really care about the 3 seed as I don’t see any particular advantage to that over the 4 (caveat being possible injury situation for Warriors). But there IS big difference between 4-8. And the Thunder are locked in that battle no doubt. They get three days to relax/practice/contemplate. They could move up or down a little these next few days based on results while they are idle. Then they embark on what it likely to be a defining moment of this season. Three games in four nights all against other teams in the race. Spurs Thursday, Nuggets Friday, Pelicans Sunday. Home game sandwiched between two road games. Two out of three would be fine. The first one could be h biggest though— that game in San Antonio looms large because in addition to the obvious, it would also give the Thunder the tie breaker over the Spurs. Quiet week will give way to a massive weekend.

 

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