Five Thoughts Game 6 (Jazz 96, Thunder 91)

1. Simply too much swirling in my head right now to put together a coherent blog entry that addresses the season in totality while also looking ahead to what’s next for the Thunder; that will come over the next day or two via a Final Thoughts for the year. Right now, I guess I’m a little numb. I actually don’t feel the same deflation that I felt after the Game 4 loss on Monday. That was the night I truly felt we were done. All week there has been a feeling of impending doom for me. Without question the incredible comeback in Game 5 energized me and gave me hope. Yet, I still didn’t really believe we’d win tonight. You can only survive dangling on the edge for so long before you finally fall off. All season the Thunder had both missed opportunities to soar and dodged the kill shots that would bury them. Something had to give. They somehow wound up with the four seed; somehow wound up forcing a game 6; and there they were again…down 13 midway through the fourth and then out of nowhere down one. But life on the edge generally doesn’t end happily. Your pinky finger can only hold you so long. They finally slipped. Part of me wants to say that I’m relieved. And that might be something I ACTUALLY say to people when they ask. But it’s a lie. I’m not relieved. I’m bummed. I’m disappointed. “Sad” is a bit of a dramatic term given the subject, but I guess there is some of that too. Even though the season did NOT go the way I thought/hoped it would, I was still locked in… from the very beginning until the very end. Borderline embarrassed to say they played 88 games this year and I watched them all. I wrote a Five Thoughts about 84 of them I believe. That is a pretty serious investment in time (to say nothing of the financial end). So pretty clearly, Thundering Up is a big deal to me. To realize it’s over until October stings. The uncertain future makes it even a bit more painful this year.

2. I try not to be a Russ apologist. I believe even as a fan that I acknowledge his flaws. I definitely think due to his frenetic nature and unpredictability that he is a more difficult star to play with and build around. I can certainly see why teammates would at times get frustrated. And if you are a GM I think it’s tough to figure out exactly which pieces fit best with him. If you are a coach I think it’s tough to figure out exactly how to deploy him. How can you rein him in without eliminating what makes him so great? All of those things are valid questions that deserve answers. But you know what? Sometimes someone else just needs to freakin’ DO SOMETHING. Russ did not hijack this game from the start. Maybe he should have. He only went into bananas mode when there was no other option remaining. It was similar throughout the series. In hindsight I actually wish he would have been more aggressive at the end of Game 2. I was incredibly disappointed with PG tonight. I bet the narrative will be that Russ stifled the game and PG “only” took 16 shots to Russ’s 43. But that’s the thing about shots— at some point you HAVE TO TAKE THEM. PG had plenty of chances tonight to make an impact and help the team. He went 2-16 and he looked insanely (I’ll hold off on saying scared) tentative. He would dribble four feet inside the arc and just stop. Frozen. I understand the offense wasn’t doing anything and that PG wasn’t exactly getting great looks. But you know who else wasn’t getting great looks? Donovan Mitchell and Russell Westbrook. And both of those guys kept making tough, tough shots. This stuff isn’t easy. If you want to be a star on a team that advances in the playoffs, you are gonna have to make things happen. I do not “blame” this game, this series, or this season on PG alone— not even close. But the bottom line is that he was absolutely absent tonight. And they really, really needed him.

3. On top of everything else, it was also fitting that the Thunder also were dealt a dose of bad luck— another season-long trend. They lost a lot of games this year based on crazy made shots from opponents, bad bounces, and some bad calls. Tonight, it would have been nice if a few of those drives from Mitchell (which were well defended) came up short. Moreover, it would have been nice if one of the two Big calls went their way at the end. On the final shot from PG, I think that was a foul. It’s a call that has generally been made all year across the league. That said, in THAT situation it’s tough to rely on a ref to give you that call. It wasn’t overly egregious. And PG was for sure fishing for it. Dangerous to lay the season on the line hoping for that. It was however, probably a foul. My bigger issue was on the play prior when they did blow the whistle but didn’t award him free throws. He was CLEARLY going up for the shot when they called the foul. That absolutely should have been three free throws. Very frustrating to not get either of those. But it fell in line with the general theme.

4. Donovan made some good adjustments in Games 5 and 6. Our defense was better. We didn’t allow 100 points in either game. It took some serious heroics from Mitchell for the Jazz to get much going offensively. We changed how we played their screen game and it was generally effective. Scoring became more difficult for Utah the past two games. But man, I think he messed up playing Melo as much as he did. I was fine continuing to start him just to not upset the apple cart TOO much. It also allows the bench guys to stay in their roles. But specifically in the third quarter, he just left Melo out there far too long. He was cold shooting the ball and he’s been struggling defensively all series— the hook came too late. The metrics make this plainly clear- Melo was a massive weakness in this series for the Thunder and Donovan didn’t do much of anything to mitigate that.

5. Again, the end of season wrap up along with the “what do we do now?” Thoughts are still to come. Right now it’s 1:23am on April 28th and our season has been over for about 90 minutes. We were 1-2 shots away from pushing this thing to seven back at The Peake. But much like the season, those 1-2 shots proved to be far too difficult and far too elusive. And now we have a long wait to see if they can figure it out.

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