Five Thoughts 4-1-18 (Thunder 109, Pelicans 104)
1. Well, at least we can exhale…for now. As always with the Thunder it was kind of a weird route to achieve the final result, but I did like the WAY they played tonight for the most part. First of all, they were very active on defense. This is when the Thunder are at their best– when they use their length and athleticism to disrupt flow of the other team. Even more importantly, it creates transition opportunities for the Thunder– and the Thunder are great in transition. There were a number of steals, tips, taps, and scrambles tonight; most of them went they way of OKC. This style of play seems to fuel the team and keep their energy at a good level. They inexplicably got a little soft defensively at the very end (perhaps trying too hard not to foul?) which created a brief moment of tension, but on the whole, they brought a great defensive effort to the floor tonight and it allowed them to escape a couple of ruts offensively.
2. I’ve talked a lot about luck this year. I think it’s an element in sports that is often overlooked. I don’t think it should be used as an excuse to explain-away an entire season of outcomes (the sample size is too big for that), but I do think it matters on a night to night basis and can certainly swing your won-loss record by at least a few games year to year based on which end of the spectrum you land. Usually, you wind up in the middle– law of averages evens things out. This year, the Thunder aren’t in the middle. They’ve experienced more bad luck than good luck. I doubt any team has had as many back-breaking shots go against them where the defense was exceptional or the ball takes a funny turn or bounce. Tonight, the law of averages helped. Thunder got the Pelicans on a night where Anthony Davis wasn’t quite right. I gives Adams a LOT of credit for this. Adams has been a little off lately himself and he didn’t have amazing numbers tonight, but defending Davis up and down the court for an entire game is about as tough of a task as you can ask of an NBA center these days. Adams fought his tail off and really helped neutralize AD. We were also fortunate that AD missed some easy ones he normally makes and that for whatever reason, he didn’t seem 100% engaged. NOLA really has no chance to be anyone of consequence on a night where AD isn’t himself. Alvin Gentry’s decision to essentially concede the game down 5 with 30 seconds remaining was also very curious.
3. Somewhat predictably, Corey Brewer has cooled after his fireworks arrival. He’s been fine, but he turned back into Corey Brewer after moonlighting as Scottie Pippen his first 6 games in OKC. Tonight, he had a real positive impact. He was one of the main linchpins for thought #1– hands all over the place and he kept several possessions alive with offensive rebounds or taps/quick steals. He was great defensively and then made two really big mid range jumpers in the second half– both came when NOLA was trying to make a run. Brewer isn’t a “good” offensive player by any stretch, but what is nice is that if the ball does happen to find in in a spot where he needs to make something happen, he is at least CAPABLE of getting the ball in the basket. He has been a good addition.
4. Good night for Donovan. Say what you want about him; they guy sure as hell isn’t afraid to make a change or roll the dice. He isn’t afraid to essentially admit a mistake and change something up it isn’t working. He made a LOT of changes tonight. A LOT. First of all, he yanked Russ from the game way earlier than normal in the first quarter. I don’t think he liked what he saw and I think he decided to go with Felton and PG for longer than he normally would. Secondly, he clearly reads the blog because he had Abrines first off the bench and only played 9 guys total. This is the 9 man rotation they should stick with come playoffs. Third, he altered PG’s rotation in the second half. He took him out midway through the third to create more of a stagger. There was also a key moment with approx. 3:00 to go: Thunder had allowed the 12 point lead to dwindle to 5. They had back to back lousy possessions on offense. Donovan called timeout. The play out of the timeout was a screen and drive for Russ– easy layup. That pushed the lead to 7. NOLA never seriously threatened again after that. When you factor in that the team also clearly came with the right mindset tonight, you would have to call this a good game for the coach. He needed it on the heels of back to back shaky games. I do like this about Donovan– he isn’t stubborn or a slave to his own ego.
5. Team needed that one. Needed it badly. In terms of seeding it really doesn’t clear much of anything up. In terms of simply making the playoffs, it was massive. Clippers lost at home. IT. The Thunder have four games remaining. In order to get passed by the Clippers, Los Angeles needs to make up four games on them. So the only possible way that happens is if OKC goes 0-4 and the Clippers go 5-0. I think it is safe to say the Thunder are clear of any threat from the Clips. Because Denver owns the tiebreaker, it isn’t quite as much of a done deal with them. They only need to make up three games. But if the Thunder simply finish 2-2, the Nuggets could win all of their remaining games and it wouldn’t matter. In summary: it is going to take an extraordinary chain of events for the Thunder to miss the playoffs. Now, whether they finish 4th or 8th or anywhere in between? All totally up in the air. On paper the next two are brutal– Warriors at home and Rockets on the road. But we already know GS will be without Curry. Kerr played all of his healthy guys both last night and tonight, so it is feasible he could rest one or more on the road Tuesday. Thunder can’t worry too much about that and need to assume GS will be giving a full-out effort. There is still a substantial amount of momentum to be gained or loss over these final four games.