1. For the first time this season I’m feeling a little frustration and disappointment in the outcome of a game. The loss at Sacramento had me feeling similarly, but that was still really early. Considering we lost Wed in NOLA and considering we lost once already to Denver, I thought this game tonight took on a dash of added importance. I leave it as a “dash” understanding that it is still just mid-December and assigning too much meaning to any one game is a bit silly at this juncture. But I did take this one a little more seriously and the result has me more frustrated than your typical loss. Russ completely overreacted at the end of the game to Murray indicating to me that he is also feeling the frustration.
2. When you remove yourself from your comfort zone it’s not necessarily easy to just find a new one. I know a lot of people are wondering if what’s “wrong” with Russ right now is a sign of physical decline. I really don’t think so. I believe this is a mental and emotional issue. Based on how he has approached the game this year I think it is 100% clear that he is making a concerted effort to change the way he plays basketball. The result has been a ton more room for PG, Adams, and Dennis to roam. The Thunder do not simply stand around and wait for Russ to save them anymore. Their effort is high and consistent on both ends of the floor. Players and the ball move more freely than they have in the past. Roles are far more defined and guys are much more settled in. Except one. I just don’t think Russ has found where he fits yet. Chauncey Billups said it several times on the broadcast tonight: he wondered aloud why Russ wasn’t being more aggressive. He said he felt it was time for Russ to push the issue. And therein lies the problem. It’s not necessarily some easy switch he can flip. It’s not like he always has the perfect answer as to when he needs goes green light and when he goes red light. I think what we are seeing is Russ getting stuck in that awkward moment when the light is yellow and you aren’t sure if you need to floor it or hit the brakes. In that situation I always feel like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Ultimately, I think this will work out. PG is playing like an MVP. Adams is playing like an All-Star. Dennis is playing like a Sixth Man candidate. Thunder have the best D in the league. The one thing that isn’t on par (yet) is their leader. He is doing everything he can right now to do things the right way. He’s probably trying TOO hard. I think this is just something you wait out. If it still looks the same in March, then we have a real problem.
3. The one thing we can’t wait out is the free throw crisis. And yes, it’s a crisis. For the way THIS team plays, missing free throws at this rate is not acceptable. It will sink them. Thunder played the absolute “right” way tonight. The only took 19 three’s and they made a higher percentage than the Nuggets. Thunder were pretty aggressive pushing the ball into the paint. But they missed twelve free throws. Denver missed one. It’s a huge problem. Thunder are the most physical and athletic team in the league. And they don’t shoot it well from deep. Therefore, they MUST cash in at the line. I can accept that Adams is going to be a little subpar from the line. That’s OK from your bruising center. But PG, Russ, and Dennis need to be money. All the time. Grant needs to be better. Diallo and TFerg combined to go 0-4. You just can’t have that crap. The problem with free throw woes is that there isn’t really a “solution.” Practicing more may not matter at all. Free throws are very much a mental element of the game. The entire team knows they are struggling from the line and then it becomes a source of tension. A “here we go again” type of thing with each miss. For me, it starts with Russ. He just HAS to figure it out. Hovering around 60% is nonsense. I honestly think it was the deciding factor in the game tonight. Thunder plAyed hard. They tried to grind that thing out. Just left too many points at the line. It has to change or it will continue to cost them wins.
4. I think we have hit our first speed-bump of the season. After winning 16 of 19 games, the Thunder have now lost 3 of 4. Two of those three could have been won with a shot at the end. And tonight was in doubt with 2:00 to go. I don’t consider this small skid to be a major eye-opener, but they need to squash is quickly. If they win tomorrow and go 2-2 for the week that’s not a disaster. I’d consider it a mild disappointment, but nothing more than that. If they lose at home to the Clippers tomorrow I think that’s when you start to writhe in your seat just a bit and feel a little antsy. The back to back won’t be an excuse— not when you are coming off of two losses in a row. They have failed so far this year against the Nuggets, who now have the best record in the West. The Clippers have also been a West leader for most of this year so it would behoove the Thunder to take care of business and not turn this week into a a true slide.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!