Five Thoughts 4-11-18 (Thunder 137, Grizzlies 123)

1. You know how in the movies there is sometimes a ridiculous scene where the protagonist narrowly escapes death by a matter of inches? You know, they untie themselves a half second before the train roars over them or they grasp on with their pinky to the ledge just before they fall 100 stories to their death? The kinds of scenes that can almost a ruin a movie because they are so absurd. You just don’t slip off the roof of the Sears Tower and save yourself by the narrow margin of a hangnail and then walk away clean ten seconds later. Yet, it DID happen for the Thunder this year. There were multiple occasions this year where the season was on the verge of tumbling over the cliff. Just five days ago, the Thunder were facing a road game at Houston with the VERY real possibility that they could miss the playoff altogether. Their last three road games they trailed in fourth quarter in all of them. They won them all. So here we are five days later… Not only did they make the playoffs, but they somehow managed to claim the 4 seed and home court advantage. And now they line up on the opposite side of the Warriors on the bracket. In a season full of tough luck and bad bounces, nearly everything went right for the Thunder over these final days. All the hand-wringing, all the frustration, all the worry about the colossal failure of potentially missing the playoffs…and here they are: home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in a highly competitive conference.

2. No sense in diving too deep into the Memphis game. I am neither going to gush over how we manhandled them for the most part and I am not going to be concerned about sleepwalking for much of the second half. The Grizzlies didn’t put an NBA team on the floor tonight. Dillon Brooks is a good looking rookie, but that was a ragtag bunch for the most part. They had their bags packed and were ready to get to the beach after that one. Been a long year in Memphis. So the Thunder did what they were supposed to do and buried them early. Then, they jacked around the last quarter and a half and allowed the score to be more respectable. I didn’t care. It was meaningless in my eyes. What I liked was that PG seems to have found his stroke again and Adams looked much more spry tonight than he has recently. Schedule has been brutal lately— it was nice to end with a game where the opponent was almost literally physically incapable of being you on any night.

3. Loved that Russ went ahead and attacked the glass to secure the triple double average. I viewed it as a bit of a middle finger to his critics accusing him “stat chasing.” Personally, I would be happy to field a team of guys who all “chase stats” the way he does. No doubt Russ snatches rebounds from his teammates on occasion. But when he rebounds the ball, the offense also starts much, much faster. By allowing Russ to grab a rebound that would otherwise be easy for a big man, is that it jumpstarts the offense. He so damn fast that he’s often at the mid court line in what seems like one dribble after the rebound. Averaging a triple double is insanity. Doing it two years in a row is double insanity. There is nothing wrong with chasing an accomplishment simply for the gratification of accomplishing it. He is in the record books (again) and I would have been disappointed had he just let others do the glass work tonight. He is who is he. Glad to see he didn’t pretend to be someone else.

4. The Nick Collison tribute tonight was both heartfelt and awkward. I figured there would be some acknowledgement of this potentially being his last regular season home game. I just didn’t expect it would come from Russ holding a microphone before tip. That was a nice gesture from Russ even if it produced a bit of red-faced moment for Nick. It was clear Russ wanted to let everyone know how he feels about Nick and it was clearly an honest statement from the heart. It was cool. Then the “we want Nick” chants made things a little uneasy. They came too early in the game. The other thing is that he isn’t the team trainer or some Rudy-esque walk on. Collison was a star college player and a darn good NBA contributor for over a decade. He’s now been relegated to something of a team mascot— and while I am sure he appreciates the love from the fans and understands it is completely well intentioned— he is probably also a little embarrassed by it. Then, what are the odds that a guy gets hurt shooting a three and the OTHER team is the one who decides to put Nick into the game? That was an oddly tense moment. Poor Collison had legit pressure on him with the entire arena wanting to see him score. It was kind of painful to watch him miss all those free throws. Then a relief when he finally got one to go. In the end, he got his well deserved ovation and acknowledgement. It’s cool that both the player and organization have felt it important enough for him to remain here his entire career. And we can’t forget that by all accounts Russ is a someone who prefers the routine, the familiar. He also appreciates loyalty and toughness. It’s no surprise he respects Collison. And keeping Nick around these past couple of years likely hasn’t hurt. Very nice to see Mr. Thunder have a little moment— even if it was a clunky moment.

5. Now, it’s on to Utah and the postseason. What to expect? Honestly it’s almost midnight and I’m tired. I mean this both literally and figuratively. It’s been a long grind. Five Thoughts multiplied by 82 games is well, a lot of thoughts. Let’s call it a night and drop a playoff version before the games start this 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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