Author - Ed Kleese

Five Thoughts 1-9-18 (Blazers 117, Thunder 106)

Five Thoughts 1-9-18 (Blazers 117, Thunder 106)

1. If you read the site, you know I do my best to stay away from hyperbole and overreaction in the moment. So I don’t feel the least bit of trepidation saying that this was the worst loss of the season. Unfortunately, there are a lot to choose from, but this one ranks at the top for me because it comes after a period when it appeared this kind of play was behind us. I didn’t like the listless effort in Phoenix on Sunday, but considering they won the other two games on the trip I could brush that off as the guys perhaps having a little too much leisure time and playing flat at the end of week long trip. Call it a lousy night and move on. But you can only brush aside a lousy effort if you following it up with a good one. If you toss out an even MORE lousy performance two days later (at home, against a team missing their best player) well, then you might just be, lousy.

2. Defense was atrocious. Obviously they miss Andre Roberson badly in this department as there is a very clear drop off when he is out. He came out of the Milwaukee game very late and wasn’t on the court for the final possession when Giannis Antetokounmpo beat Josh Huestis baseline (albeit while stepping out of bounds). So our defense literally started to cave the instant he got hurt. And it has been garbage ever since. Tonight was just awful because Portland got whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. Inside, outside, downtown, uptown, left, right, from Guthrie to Norman. Whatever. It’s fine if your defense takes a hit when you subtract your best defender. It’s expected actually. But the Thunder should have enough in the tank to not just get run over by the Suns and Blazers. Really pathetic. Roberson can’t get back fast enough. I hope everyone that trashes him has been enjoying the turnstile routine the last few games.

3. As always with Russ his weakness is the same as his greatness. And it’s often hard to figure out where one stops and the other starts. It was a Tuesday night the second week in January, game No. 40. To start the evening I thought nine of the 10 players on the court were fairy content to demonstrate that it was a Tuesday night the second week in January, game No. 40. Not necessarily a poor effort from anyone. But 90 percent of the guys out there seemed content to let the game slowly play out, figure out the pace, etc. But that 10%. Man, he just doesn’t do “pace.” Russ was a Tasmanian Devil from the opening tip. He was absolutely frantic. The reason Russ is Russ is because that’s what he does. No off nights. No going through motions. But tonight it manifested itself in some very sloppy play early. He’s going 110 MPH while his teammates are doing 75. That will cause some traffic issues. Moreover, it starts to force all 9 other guys to pick it up. It sort of lights a fire under the opponent as well. About midway tough the first quarter tonight, the intensity picked up. Both teams were responding to Russ. Sometimes going through the motions might be better. I’ll never rip Russ too much for this because you can’t pick and choose when to love it and when to hate it. But it would be beneficial if RUSS learned to pick and choose a bit more.

4. Bench is all kinds of messed up right now. It’s just terrible. Felton is the only guy playing at an acceptable NBA level. Grant has slowly dipped and is now looking like a borderline rotational guy. Just not a ton of options remaining unless Donovan wants to give Nick Collison, Kyle Singler, and Dakari Johnson longer looks— and I don’t think anyone views any of those guys as a long term solution to anything. It will help when Andre returns, but I’ll continue to bang that trade drum. Presti needs to be looking.

5. First half of the season is officially over. It wasn’t good. The second quarter was better than the first, so improvement is nice. But the second quarter ended with a thud, losing four out of six including three in a row at home. I’d grade the Thunder a C-minus for the first half of this year. The second quarter I would give them a B-minus so that tells you all you need to know about the first quarter. Their inability to beat middling to poor teams was exasperating. They would be right there with the Spurs, if not the Rockets, had they just taken care of half of those losses against bad teams. The upside to the first half would be that they flashed the potential to be great. They played far better against the better teams and their defense in particular against good competition was excellent. The offense looks more fluid than it did early as well. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony all seem to be far more settled now than they were at the start of December. I wanted 9-5 in January. 2-2 thus far, so still attainable. Speaking more specifically about the second half, I am not overly worried about the win total. I’d like for them to get to 50 wins. That would require a 28-13 record from here on out, or a six-game improvement in the second half over the first half. Seems like a long shot, but if they keep up their December pace that’s right about where they will wind up. Really hoping these last two miserable outings are random outliers and not a sign of things to come. Pretty massive game in Minnesota tomorrow. It’s a good way to get the second half started. Or, at least, it can be.

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.
We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-31-17 (Mavs 116, Thunder 113)

Five Thoughts 12-31-17 (Mavs 116, Thunder 113)

1. Focused more on the greater picture of 2017 as a whole and looking ahead to 2018, but tonight’s game certainly deserves at least some commentary. It was a disappointing loss. The Milwaukee loss was very much acceptable to me; this one not so much. Feels like a minor step back after what was a good month a VERY good two weeks or so. I wanted 6-2 on the final eight games to end the year and I got exactly that. But had I known we’d be 6-0 at one point, losing the final two would have surprised me. First of all, clearly we can’t sustain our stellar defense without Andre Roberson. His absence was glaring on that end of the floor and really exposes how we are bereft of any pop off the bench at that position. Roberson is an essential piece on this team. Secondly, the Mavericks hit shots. 15 three-pointers to be exact. The biggest one of the night was banked in off the glass. There is definitely some bad luck at play there catching a team on fire. This was the Mavericks fourth straight win and they were coming off a game where they scored 128 points. Dennis Smith is a fantastic looking rookie and he was great down the stretch. Their record stinks, but Dallas are a better/more dangerous team than many teams in the league ahead of them in the standings. So it’s hard for me to say that “old habits” bit the Thunder tonight because they really didn’t. Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all played well. The latter two shot the long ball extremely well. Things looked pretty fluid and cohesive on offensive. It really didn’t look anything like those early season struggles. The issues tonight were all about the inability to guard the Mavericks on the perimeter. All that said, it’s still not good to suffer a second loss to Dallas. And it continues a trend of Oklahoma City struggling with non-playoff teams. Three of the bottom four teams in the East are Charlotte, Brooklyn, and Orlando. The Thunder are 0-3 against those teams. Dallas and Kings are two of the bottom four teams in the West and the Thunder are 1-3 against them. If I had to choose, I’d prefer this to the Thunder beating up on lesser lights and losing to the big dogs, but ultimately Oklahoma City won’t be able to make a run in the standings if they don’t start consistently taking care of business of middling to poor teams.

2. Speaking of the standings, now is a natural time to take a look. I haven’t paid much attention thus far this season as what’s happening on the court has been more important. But we are now just four games away from the halfway mark of the season and in a few hours we turn the calendar to a new year. 20-17 is a disappointing record for OKC at this juncture, but when contrasted to the 8-12 start it doesn’t look (or feel) nearly as bad. We’ve seen what they are capable of so I’m not overly concerned about the current standing. I am also not overly concerned about the mash of teams directly behind the Thunder right now. I think they will slowly start to pull away from Denver, Portland, New Orleans, etc… I think we start gaining some distance there to the point where the five seed becomes the basement. The goal will be to get at least to the four seed and secure home court in round one. The three seed is also still in range. So targeting the Wolves and Spurs makes sense as we enter 2018. If they have an aim at San Antonio, they need to make their move now. They are currently five back in the loss column. And we know the Spurs aren’t going to crater. So the Thunder need to get them in their sights and gain a game or two over the next month or so so that they enter post-all star break with a legitimate chance to catch them.

3. It’s always kind of annoying that the NBA season technically spans over two different years. I’ve always ignored the first part of “The 2017-18 Thunder” and just go with the latter year. To me, this is the 2018 season. Last year was the 2017 season. The year we went to the Finals was the 2012 season. So when talking 2017 Thunder the big story would Westbrook and his MVP season followed by the off-season moves to bring George and Anthony to Oklahoma City. 2017 was nothing if not eventful. And don’t discount that. Always remember that this is entertainment. As a season ticket holder/fan I want to enjoy the games and the banter about the team. Obviously winning is the easiest way to ensure that. Beyond winning though, “good stories” and exciting games/moves also matter to me. In that regard, the organization totally delivered in 2017. It was the first season post-KD and my fear was that the Thunder would just sort of die. The organization would just kind of crumble and maybe Russ would leave too and the sizzle of our first eight years would just fade into the ether and memory banks, but it didn’t. Quit the contrary, 2017 proved to be as memorable a season as the Thunder have had. Russ made sure of that. And then Sam Presti built on that by giving us real hope again. Even if the hope proves to be false, it still matters. And now that we know Westbrook is here to stay I think we know that a certain level of hope will remain; regardless of whether or not this particular experiment works. So that’s how I will remember 2017 as a Thunder fan: The year that hope survived.

4. As far as 2017 goes in terms of this particular season… well, November was rough. That was not a good month for OKC. The road woes were terrible and the stars were most certainly not aligning (literally or figuratively). Thunder were tough to watch throughout the entire month and while I personally never totally panicked or wanted changes, I did understand the sentiment and I do think they were flirting with panic button time. December came along and provided a sigh of relief. They didn’t really look good early on, but they started to win ugly. Which was way better than losing ugly. Then, they started making shots and moving the ball and coming together. They started to look like a team that can do some damage. They ended the month with a stutter, but all in all it was a positive progression and a major improvement from the depths of November. Now it’s time for them to take the next step and establish what we’ve seen recently as their consistent identity. They play 14 games in January with a 6/8 home/road split. The six home games are VERY manageable with none coming against upper echelon teams. The road slate is tougher, but of the 8 half are against teams currently not in the playoffs. And of the 14 games only the road game at Cleveland will be against an elite NBA team. They do play three back to back sets, but one is the Lakers/Clippers combo which requires now travel in between. Overall, it is a manageable schedule. I think 9-5 is a reasonable goal. I think 10-4 is possible. If they win 9-10 games in January I think they will for sure begin to distance themselves from the middle pack while keeping the Wolves and Spurs in their sights (possibly even catching Minnesota). The month starts with an important trip out west. It will be hard to achieve the aforementioned win total if they don’t start well. Back to back with Los Angeles teams and then Phoenix. That needs to be a minimum of two wins.

5. Pressed for a predication on the remainder of the season I’d do a lot of hemming and hawing. I’m still figuring this team out and I am unsure of a few things. My favorite thing about them is that they’ve played their best against the best teams. They have especially shown an ability to lock down the better scoring teams in the league. In other words, they look like a team built for the post season. As long as they get there with a reasonable amount of momentum, they are going to be tough to deal with in the playoffs. My biggest concern is that we haven’t seen the offense play consistently enough yet to determine if their early struggles are indeed behind them. Fear would be a regression in certain situations to their poor play from earlier in the year. There is also a glaring hole on the bench. No shooting other than Raymond Felton. No one to rely on to score when the other guys need someone to pick them up. In the playoffs that isn’t as big of a deal, but it could continue to bite them the rest of the regular season. My final prediction is that we see the Thunder gradually improve their standing, but they still have some games/stretches that leave you wondering. I think it will be a long, slow climb but that they will catch the Wolves for the four seed. They will come up a few games short of San Antonio for the three seed. They will have home court in round one against Minnesota in what will be an exciting and tense series. The Thunder will win in six games. They will then get their shot at the Warriors after GS handles the Clippers (who make a late run at the eighth seed) with ease. The Thunder will play GS better than any team did in any series last year. But they won’t be able to get over the hump in the games played at Oracle and the Warriors will eliminate them in a very tough series where many come away thinking perhaps those were the two best teams in the league. It goes well enough to where George and Anthony want to come back to take another shot at it— even if it’s a short term deal for George. If this prediction came to pass I could live with it. I also hope I’m wrong. I hope the Thunder catch the Spurs and get to the three seed. It would likely set up an easier round one series and I would pick Oklahoma City to beat Houston in round two. Catching in the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals would have a much different feel than if they caught them in the second round.

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.
We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-31-17 (Mavs 116, Thunder 113)

Five Thoughts 12-31-17 (Mavs 116, Thunder 113)

1. Focused more on the greater picture of 2017 as a whole and looking ahead to 2018, but tonight’s game certainly deserves at least some commentary. It was a disappointing loss. The Milwaukee loss was very much acceptable to me; this one not so much. Feels like a minor step back after what was a good month a VERY good two weeks or so. I wanted 6-2 on the final 8 to end the year and I got exactly that. But had I known we’d be 6-0 at one point, losing the final two would have surprised me. First of all, clearly we can’t sustain our stellar D without Andre. His absence was glaring on that end of the floor and really exposes how we are bereft of any pop off the bench at that position. Andre is an essential piece on this team. Secondly, the Mavs hit shots. Fifteen three’s to be exact. The biggest one of the night was banked in off the glass. There is definitely some bad luck at play there catching a team on fire. This was the Mavs fourth straight win and they were coming off a game where they scored 128 points. Dennis Smith is a fantastic looking rookie and he was great down the stretch. Their record stinks, but the Mavs are a better/more dangerous team than many teams in the league ahead of them in the standings. So it’s hard for me to say that “old habits” bit the Thunder tonight because they really didn’t. Russ, PG, and Melo all played well. The latter two shot the long ball extremely well. Things looked pretty fluid and cohesive on offensive. It really didn’t look anything like those early season struggles. The issues tonight were all about the inability to guard the Mavs on the perimeter. All that said, it’s still not good to suffer a second loss to Dallas. And it continues a trend of OKC struggling with non-playoff teams. Three of the bottom four teams in the East are Charlotte, Brooklyn, and Orlando. The Thunder are 0-3 against those teams. The Mavs and Kings are two of the bottom four teams in the West and the Thunder are 1-3 against them. If I had to choose, I’d prefer this to the Thunder beating up on lesser lights and losing to the big dogs. But ultimately OKC won’t be able to make a run in the standings if they don’t start consistently taking care of business of middling to poor teams.

2. Speaking of the standings, now is a natural time to take a look. I haven’t paid much attention thus far this season as what’s happening on the court has been more important. But we are now just four games away from the halfway mark of the season and in a few hours we turn the calendar to a new year. 20-17 is a disappointing record for OKC at this juncture, but when contrasted to the 8-12 start it doesn’t look (or feel) nearly as bad. We’ve seen what they are capable of so I’m not overly concerned about the current standing. I am also not overly concerned about the mash of teams directly behind the Thunder right now. I think they will slowly start to pull away from Denver, Portland, New Orleans, etc… I think we start gaining some distance there to the point where the 5 seed becomes the basement. The goal will be to get at least to the 4 seed and secure home court in round one. The three seed is also still in range. So targeting the Wolves and Spurs makes sense as we enter 2018. If they have an aim at San Antonio, they need to make their move now. They are currently five back in the loss column. And we know the Spurs aren’t going to crater. So the Thunder need to get them in their sights and gain a game or two over the next month or so so that they enter post-all star break with a legitimate chance to catch them.

3. It’s always kind of annoying that the NBA season technically spans over two different years. I’ve always ignored the first part of “The 2017-2018 Thunder” and just go with the latter year. To me, this is the 2018 season. Last year was the 2017 season. The year we went to the Finals was the 2012 season. So when talking 2017 Thunder the big story would Russ and his MVP season followed by the off-season moves to bring PG and Melo to OKC. 2017 was nothing if not eventful. And don’t discount that. Always remember that this is entertainment. As a season ticket holder/fan I want to enjoy the games and the banter about the team. Obviously winning is the easiest way to ensure that. Beyond winning though, “good stories” and exciting games/moves also matter to me. In that regard, the organization totally delivered in 2017. It was the first season post-KD and my fear was that the Thunder would just sort of die. The organization would just kind of crumble and maybe Russ would leave too and the sizzle of our first 8 years would just fade into the ether and memory banks. But it didn’t. Quit the contrary. 2017 proved to be as memorable a season as the Thunder have had. Russ made sure of that. And then Presti built on that by giving us real hope again. Even if the hope proves to be false, it still matters. And now that we know Russ is here to stay I think we know that a certain level of hope will remain; regardless of whether or not this particular experiment works. So that’s how I will remember 2017 as a Thunder fan: The year that hope survived.

4. As far as 2017 goes in terms of this particular season… well, November was rough. That was not a good month for OKC. The road woes were terrible and the stars were most certainly not aligning (literally or figuratively). Thunder were tough to watch throughout the entire month and while I personally never totally panicked or wanted changes, I did understand the sentiment and I do think they were flirting with panic button time. December came along and provided a sigh of relief. They didn’t really look good early on, but they started to win ugly. Which was way better than losing ugly. Then, they started making shots and moving the ball and coming together. They started to look like a team that can do some damage. They ended the month with a stutter, but all in all it was a positive progression and a major improvement from the depths of November. Now it’s time for them to take the next step and establish what we’ve seen recently as their consistent identity. They play 14 games in January with a 6/8 home/road split. The six home games are VERY manageable with none coming against upper echelon teams. The road slate is tougher, but of the 8 half are against teams currently not in the playoffs. And of the 14 games only the road game at Cleveland will be against an elite NBA team. They do play three back to back sets, but one is the Lakers/Clippers combo which requires now travel in between. Overall, it is a manageable schedule. I think 9-5 is a reasonable goal. I think 10-4 is possible. If they win 9-10 games in January I think they will for sure begin to distance themselves from the middle pack while keeping the Wolves and Spurs in their sights (possibly even catching Minnesota). The month starts with an important trip out west. It will be hard to achieve the aforementioned win total if they don’t start well. Back to back with Los Angeles teams and then Phoenix. That needs to be a minimum of two wins.

5. Pressed for a predication on the remainder of the season I’d do a lot of hemming and hawing. I’m still figuring this team out and I am unsure of a few things. My favorite thing about them is that they’ve played their best against the best teams. They have especially shown an ability to lock down the better scoring teams in the league. In other words, they look like a team built for the post season. As long as they get there with a reasonable amount of momentum, they are going to be tough to deal with in the playoffs. My biggest concern is that we haven’t seen the offense play consistently enough yet to determine if their early struggles are indeed behind them. Fear would be a regression in certain situations to their poor play from earlier in the year. There is also a glaring hole on the bench. No shooting other than Felton. No one to rely on to score when the other guys need someone to pick them up. In the playoffs that isn’t as big of a deal, but it could continue to bite them the rest of the regular season. My final prediction is that we see the Thunder gradually improve their standing, but they still have some games/stretches that leave you wondering. I think it will be a long, slow climb but that they will catch the Wolves for the 4 seed. They will come up a few games short of San Antonio for the 3 seed. They will have home court in round one against Minnesota in what will be an exciting and tense series. The Thunder will win in 6. They will then get their shot at the Warriors after GS handles the Clippers (who make a late run at the 8 seed) with ease. The Thunder will play GS better than any team did in any series last year. But they won’t be able to get over the hump in the games played at Oracle and the Warriors will eliminate them in a very tough series where many come away thinking perhaps those were the two best teams in the league. It goes well enough to where PG and Melo want to come back to take another shot at it— even if it’s a short term deal for PG. If this prediction came to pass I could live with it. I also hope I’m wrong. I hope the Thunder catch the Spurs and get to the 3 seed. It would likely set up an easier round one series and I would pick OKC to beat Houston in round two. Catching in the Warriors in the WCF would have a much different feel than if they caught them in the second round.

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.
We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-29-17 (Bucks 97, Thunder 95)

Five Thoughts 12-29-17 (Bucks 97, Thunder 95)

1. Let’s start with the elephant in the room. This is contrary to 99% of the narratives you hear, but I actually think overall NBA refs get kind of judged unfairly. We can slow every frame of every movement down to the millisecond now. And when you do that you can generally find SOMETHING that was missed on just about every possession of every game. Chances are that someone out there was moving a bit on a screen or shuffled a foot while holding the ball or grabbed someone or put his hand in someone’s back to gain leverage, etc. There is honestly probably a foul in a technical sense being committed nearly 100% of the time. Obviously if the whistle blows on all of them the games become unwatchable. So refs have to make decisions on the fly and you have guess like RW going 10000 MPH and it’s probably really hard in real time to always accurately gauge exactly what you are seeing. I don’t think people cut them enough slack on that. But what I don’t understand and what boggles my mind is the confusion over the rules and how they are applied. It’s two hours after the game and I’m still not sure we know if that was a reviewable play at the end or not. We know the ref missed the actual call. His foot was out, that was obvious and undeniable. But should it have been reviewed? Is that a reviewable play? I don’t know. Maybe the refs don’t know. I know that if they HAD called him out of bounds that they could have gone to replay to get the clock right. And we also know that they can review a possible goal tending or a charge call or who touched the ball last. So why is the list of reviewable plays at the end of a game so arbitrary? It makes no sense. To my thinking, ANY play in the last two minutes that affects the game should be reviewed if you have a replay system. We can look and see if a guy had his foot on the three point line but we can’t look and see if he had it on the baseline? Huh? It’s just dumb. It’s much like the NFL catch rule— it’s at the point where no one knows what is a catch and what isn’t. As a guy that consumes NBA basketball at a kind of insane level, I’m not even really sure what can and can’t be reviewed and how or why they choose to do it. That needs to change.

2. Thunder just couldn’t overcome that crap start. Even when we were struggling earlier in the year the team generally started well. For the most part this year their energy in the first quarter has been fine. Tonight, the mojo was off a bit. Coming off the emotional wins the past few games and missing PG it sort of seemed like the Thunder were running in sand early. Just sluggish and a step or two behind. Adams in particular looked a little punchy and just appeared out of sorts. I don’t always equate this to “effort.” Sometimes there are human nature realities at play and sometimes things just don’t fall your way. Thunder probably lacked a little focus and intensity in the first quarter and it ultimately came back to bite them. Because they totally outplayed the Bucks the rest of the way.

3. Russ is amazing in all ways. Most of the good. Some bad. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Regardless of your thoughts on him, one thing is certain: He is one of a kind. No one has every played basketball quite like he does. Just contrast these two moments tonight: when the Thunder made their run in the third quarter, they got it down to three. Russ had just had his dunk for the ages over Maker and the crowd was going nuts. Momentum all on our side. Russ takes the ball down court, gets a good look from there at the top of the key, launches and…. totally airballs it. And I mean airballs it like a guy in the MidFirst Bank halfcourt shot. He missed that sucker by like three feet short and to the right. I don’t know how that is even possible. And then down by three with the clock winding down, he pulls up and drains one with a guy right in his face. Speaking of that shot, while it’s not necessarily the greatest play in the history of basketball, it probably IS the best one for the Thunder. Russ has been off the charts good in clutch situations the past year and a half. Not sure there is another guy in the entire league I want taking that shot right now. As long as it isn’t something totally stupid, I will live with Russ taking those shots. It’s probably about as high percentage in that situation as you are going to get. I appreciate the fact that a game that could have and maybe SHOULD have gotten out of hand, was reeled back in and turned into a must-see finish because Russ is Russ. He simply will not let a game go quietly into the night. Maybe even sometimes when he should. Man, he is so fun to watch.

4. Hate to say it, but I’m pretty much done with Abrines. I don’t think he is a totally lost cause as an NBA player. I think he still has some upside and could turn into a contributor. But he needs a lot of work and a lot of seasoning and OKC isn’t really a place that can offer that right now. Maybe a situation similar to Jeremy Lamb. Lamb got an opportunity in OKC. It wasn’t a great opportunity and the leash was short, but had he played well, he could have stuck around and he would have seen his role expand. But he was on a team with title aspirations and they couldn’t afford to deal with his growing pains. Now, several years later, he has turned into a serviceable (not special) NBA player. Abrines has been given a chance this year. He hasn’t done anything with it. He had one very good game where he hit huge shots in the overtime win at Memphis. That’s been about it. He is horrendous defensively and he’s not a ton better on the other end. He just looks lost. Thunder don’t really have a great option to replace him in the rotation currently so he continues to get some minutes. But it’s reached a level now where I think I’d just pull him from the rotation entirely. They could really use a veteran shooter, but they can’t just snap their fingers and make one appear on the bench. I also think Singler has likely run out of chances and I’m in no rush to see him again. That leaves TFerg, but he’s 19 and more of a slasher/scorer. I like what I’ve seen in limited action this year but he is a long term prospect. The only other guy would be Daniel Hamilton. He’s becoming the new Huestis. He has played well for the Blue and there isn’t much more for him to prove in the G League. That said, he’s shooting 31% from three. So unless the Thunder can swing a deal it would appear Abrines will continue to get opportunities.

5. Easy lose to accept. Thunder started horribly; showed a lot of heart getting back into it. Offense looked far less fluid minus PG which is understandable. They may have been a baffling bad call away from winning the game even though they were down 22 at one point and missing a key player. They are 12-4 in December and 6-1 on this 8 game stand to end the year. It’s fine. As long as this is a blip and not a trend it’s an easy game to brush aside. Keep you eye on the Mavs Sunday though. Their record stinks, but they are pesky and WAY better than they were early in the year. They have won three in a row and they absolutely lit up the Pelicans on the road tonight. Carlisle is such a great coach and he gets the best out of his team. And let’s not forget that they ran OKC out of the gym when the teams last met in Dallas. So the Thunder need to take this one seriously and be focused to end 2017 on a high note.

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.
We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-27-17 (Thunder 124, Raptors 107)

Five Thoughts 12-27-17 (Thunder 124, Raptors 107)

1. Everything Thunder related was on fire in the second half tonight. Quite literally. I sit about four sections over from where the fire on the catwalk started. It was really odd. There were several loud “pops” and then smoke started billowing. But then there were actual flames shooting out as well. I figured the night was going to be more or less toast (no pun intended) from there. I assumed there was some sort of “play it safe” protocol that was going to require an evacuation and likely a long delay. I was pleasantly surprised that the solution was just to allow a few dudes to run over there with extinguishers or whatever and put it out. The delay was less than five minutes and the game commenced with a distinct smell of burning rubber/electrical in the air. No one freaked out or anything so it was cool. But yeah they might want to look into that. There is also no truth to the rumors that one of Roberson’s free throws went up there to cool it down. Bada bing!

2. I feel like I can make an Andre free throw joke because I’ve always been in his corner. Sort of like the whole “I can make fun of my family, but you can’t” type of deal. Except Andre and I aren’t family. Or anywhere close. But you know what I mean. On a night when the three stars shined as brightly as we’d all hoped they would, I was once again awed by Andre. He has become elite at basically all basketball functions that don’t require putting a ball through a hoop. Not only is he a lock down defender, he is also a massive disruptor of what the other team is trying to do in general. He is also an excellent rebounder. He’s even become a pretty good passer. He is moving the ball quickly now when it gets to him and it’s allowing the offense to flow instead of halt when the ball gets to him. Derozen is an all star caliber player and he was a church mouse tonight. Didn’t even know he was out there. As far as the free throws go; well, that’s still ugly. However, if he manages to start splitting them more often than not, the hack-a-Andre practice becomes less effective— especially if the Thunder are holding a lead.

3. Oh, and then there is Adams. Goodness what a monster he has become. It’s cliche to say he does all the “dirty little thing.” But in his case he does the “big dirty things” (this is getting weird) because the dirty things he does are plainly obvious to even a casual observer. He is killing people out there. And his offensive rebounding is demoralizing to opponents. With the Thunder offense rounding into shape it is crushing for the other team when they get a stop only to have it rendered moot by an Adams rebound. I doubt he will be because his numbers are more ordinary than his impact, but he should be an all-star this year. He is absolutely one of the best centers in the NBA. “The Dunk” tonight was one of the better moments of the season. As gregarious and approachable as he is, Adams really isn’t particularly demonstrative. So to see him flush it like that and then raise the roof to the bench was pretty badass. Entire crowd ate that up. So yes, on a night when Russ, Melo, and PG dominated I am almost to Thought #4 and haven’t mentioned them. That’s because Andre and Adams have been doing this all year. They are a big reason we were able to grind out some of those wins early on. They are a big reason we can lean on our identity as a gritty, defensive minded team. And now with the others arriving at their destination, it’s pretty awesome to see. The Thunder starting five is a lights-out combo (see what I did there) and it isn’t JUST because of the top three.

4. You don’t need me to tell you how well Russ is playing right now. But one thing I noticed tonight was how incredibly RELAXED he seems. There was a break in the action where Russ was doing a little dance/shimmy and yucking it up with a ref. That is not SOP for Russ. He I actually visibly and noticeably SMILING more and while he is always highly emotional, he seems more super charged than normal. No doubt he sees what we all see. No doubt he is feeling some relief and I imagine he is feeling some real excitement about where this all can go. He clearly is showing trust in his teammates and the offense they are running. Defensively, this is the best he has ever played. He is focused and not trying to make every cross-court steal. He is showing discipline and not hanging anyone out to dry on that end. Right now, he is playing better than he did last year. The dip in his numbers is simply an obvious function of having better/more reliable teammates and not having to do as much. But at this juncture I would actually say he is a slightly better version of himself. That’s pretty amazing.

5. So there you go. Now we are seeing the Thunder we all hoped we’d see this year. They were damn near perfect in the second half tonight. The month started shaky, but they were finding ways to win. Now they are winning and winning pretty. The offense is like ten times better than it was even just 3-4 weeks ago. Now, it should be noted that just like how early in the year there was no way they’d continue to shoot that poorly; there is now way they will stay this hot. They aren’t going to shoot 55% from the field every night from here on out. All three stars are smoking hot right now and there is likely to be some regression there— at least in select games. The good news is that they’ve already shown they know how to win even if shots aren’t falling. This team is capable of beating you 124-107 and they are capable of beating you 92-91. Two games left on the home stand; both against teams they should beat. Milwaukee is solid, but not on the level with Toronto and not in the stratosphere with Houston. Thunder are a bit due for a letdown, but right now I think it’s more likely the fire keeps burning. Ha!

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.

 

We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-23-17 (Thunder 103, Jazz 89)

 

1. One word for this game would be “professional win.” OK, that’s two words. But just “professional” sounded weird and depending on where your mind leads you could take you to an undesirable (or maybe the opposite) place. In any event, I found this to be one of the more satisfying games of the year for the Thunder. It was neither a tough spot or an easy one. Utah is only so-so without Gobert, but they are tough at home and EVERY back to back in the NBA poses challenges. It was impressive to see the Thunder play a complete game without any wild fluctuations quarter to quarter or half to half. Tonight they just looked a good NBA team, period.

2. Much is being made of the change Billy Donovan and the staff have made moving Carmelo Anthony off the ball with less isolation in favor of spitting up to catch and shoot more often. The advanced statistics bear out that this is a wise strategy. It also makes sense because it keeps the ball in the hands of Russell Westbrook, allowing him to make life easier for Melo. What we’ve seen as a result is more open looks and more overall effectiveness from Anthony. This is actually what I expected from the outset, but I hope we don’t get an exaggerated version where Anthony never steps foot inside the three point line. He is still a very capable overall scorer and can be effective when isolated. Moving him off the ball makes sense. Relegating him to catch and shot only, doesn’t.

3. Great game from Paul George. Both personality-wise and his on-court game, George is pretty laid back. He’s sort of the opposite of Westbrook which is why there is such great potential there for them to be a deadly combo. Tonight, George didn’t necessarily do anything that totally jumps out at you, but if you break this game down you realize he absolutely dominated the entire night. He was incredible defensively, harassing the Jazz on almost every possession. On the other end he was pretty smooth. A good mix of jump shots and drives to the rim. Highly efficient. George doesn’t need to blow the doors off every night. We have Russ to go into Bananas Mode when we need it. George can be “Joe Cool.” He and Westbrook were both awesome tonight. Thunder will be tough to beat whenever you can say that.

4. The nine-point effort from Patrick Patterson may have been the most important stat of the night. Thunder are in dire need of shooting off the bench and there is no reason Patterson can’t be the one to provide it. He’s done it most of his career and the Thunder aren’t asking him to do something he hasn’t done before. He’s shown some signs recently. I hope Donovan responds by giving him a few extra minutes like he did tonight.

5. Still won’t say the Thunder have turned the corner, but they are clearly out of the doldrums and the silly questions about “will they even make the playoffs?” can probably cease for good. Now it’s a matter of consistently producing the way they have the past week or so. No more ten minute offensive lapses, no more stupid losses to awful teams. The Christmas game against the Rockets will be a very good measuring stick. Beyond that, it’s the first game of four straight at home to end 2017. I wanted 6-of-8. They are already 4-0 so now let’s get greedy and go for three of four. It’s nice that they go into the game with Houston feeling good about themselves.

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.

 

We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-22-17 (Thunder 120, Hawks 117)

1. There are definitely some negatives to discuss tonight, but they are overshadowed by a fairly obvious positive. All season long the Thunder have gotten by mostly on the strength of their defense and winning ugly. I wouldn’t necessarily say their defense betrayed them tonight (Atlanta was making some crazy shots), but the reality is that sometimes the other team is going to score. They are going to hit tough shots. They are going to have a guy that has a big night or gives a Thunder defender trouble. If you can’t respond to that with some offensive punch of your own, then it’s going to be real tough to ever get on any sort of roll. You can’t win EVERY game 95-94. Tonight for whatever reason the Thunder were having a horrible time getting stops in the fourth quarter. But they had answers on the other end— not something they’ve always been able to say this season. For one of the first times this season the Thunder had a big offensive half and then followed it up with another. They needed every bit of those 120 points tonight. It’s good to see them win in a different manner.

2. I’m OK with that final shot from Russ. It’s hardly a great look, but considering he’s been so hot I’m fine getting the ball in his hands and letting him decide. I don’t necessarily love the decision to shoot a three there, but the Hawks did sag— he didn’t really have a good driving lane. Looked like PG flashed to the top of the key and RW briefly thought about going to him. But honestly with about 4-5 seconds remaining at that point Russ basically has to do decide if they are better are with PG shooting it or with RW himself shooting it. All current things considered, Russ likely made the better choice there. In a tie game you need to make sure you aren’t leaving any time on the clock for Atlanta to get off a good shot at the buzzer. It’s hard to ensure that while also driving and giving yourself enough time to shoot or pass. Overtime in that situation isn’t so bad. My preference there would be for Russ to start about 3 seconds earlier and put the ball on the floor— drive at least a few steps; see how the defense reacts. If you have them on their heels, you can pull up for the jumper. If they bring another defender you can pass or try to get to the rim. That would be option A for me. However, if you can believe this, I’ve never had the ball in my hands during an NBA game with the clock ticking. Russ has been on fire. The shot was in rhythm. He drained it. I’m not complaining.

3. I saw two negatives tonight worth noting. The first is that Donovan continues with this annoying habit of not reacting quickly enough when things are sluggish in the third quarter. Sometimes it happens. It’s fine. Sometimes you play a nice first half and when you come out for the second, the momentum is gone, the fans are milling around, the players lose a little edge. Happens quite a bit around the league. It is often more pronounced if you have an emotional high in the first half. Donovan just needs to recognize it faster-or at least do something about it faster. It was clear two minutes into the second half that the mojo was off. Thunder looked a little drab. Atlanta came out with good energy and attacked. That’s where Donovan needs to make a move. Whether it’s an earlier timeout and a set play or going to the bench earlier. He allowed that quarter to play out past the 6:00 minute make before he made a switch. My second complaint tonight would be that PG isn’t doing very well when he is being handed the keys. He does seem to be settling in a bit playing alongside Russ, which is good. But during those stretches early in the second and fourth quarters when he is on the floor and RW and Melo are not, he isn’t coming through. Tonight it wasn’t until Russ came back in (after we were down 4) that we regained some level of control. Russ is back to being Russ and Melo has always looked settled to me. He hasn’t always played well, but I think Melo has a role and is playing it. PG is the one still coming along slowly. He’s been OK the past two games, but there is still massive room for improvement.

4. The PG and Melo trades have left Presti with little room to maneuver in-season. I knew after the Melo deal that they would more or less need to sink or swim this year with what they had because they just don’t have the assets or cap space to bring on any sort of significant addition to the roster. However, there does always exist the possibility for a smaller move to be made. I think that potential move is now coming clear: The Thunder could really use a shooter off the bench. Abrines has had opportunities. He’s been very inconsistent. Hard for Donovan to rely on him. It’s funny but one of my points tonight was going to be to bring up Marco Belinelli as the type of player that would fit well in OKC. He basically plays the Abrines role, but with much more consistency and experience. There are a few other guys around the league today fit that mold as well. And if said player is on a non-contending team, it generally won’t take a whole lot to obtain them in a trade. This type of move likely doesn’t get made until very close to the deadline. And Abrines (and maybe others) will continue to get chances to earn a more permanent spot. But if no one steps up, I do see the Thunder potentially engaging in talks to acquire a Belinelli type.

5. Atlanta stinks record-wise, but most nights they are competitive. They are well coached. Not sure I can sit here and say the Thunder defense was “good” tonight but it wasn’t as bad as the 117 points yielded would indicate. The Hawks made everything down the stretch including a totally ridiculous shot from Illyasova with Adams in his face (the play where Adams got hit in the nads). In any event the Thunder could not rely on their D to save them tonight and they found a way to win on the other end instead. It’s another positive sign. It’s also a three point Home win against a lousy team so there is no need to go overboard about it. They played three in a row at home— they won them all. Russ is back to playing at an MVP level. All good things. Tomorrow will be interesting. They just crushed Utah, but playing in Salt Lake is a different animal— always has been. Especially on the second night of a back to back. Jazz also just beat the Spurs by double digits after losing to us to by 30. It’s been a good week for the Thunder, they can make it great by winning again in less than 24 hours.

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.

 

We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-15-17 (Thunder 119, 76ers 117 3OT)

1. Some nights I wish I would have titled this blog “Two Thoughts,” or maybe “Three and a Half Thoughts.” Some nights it’s tough to come up with something new or interesting to talk about. And then there are nights like tonight. I could go with “Forty Nine Thoughts,” or perhaps “Seventy Six Thoughts” would be more appropriate. Not even sure where you start after something like that. I have no clue if the Thunder are beginning to slowly turn a corner or if they are just seeing some early bad luck turn in their favor— maybe both. But I do know that grinding out wins on the road against solid teams is never a bad thing. I do know that winning does cure a lot of ills. And it certainly alleviates pressure and tension— you can see as much on their faces when they talk to the media post game. They’ve now won three straight road games and six of eight overall. They’ve moved from 8-12 to 14-14. And in those six wins they’ve yet to play what I could call a “complete” game. I guess your conclusion on that depends on whether or not you are a glass half full or glass half empty type of person.

2. In Indiana on Wednesday the Thunder wins game in which their three best offensive players combined to go 10-45 from the field. I didn’t think it likely we’d see anything like that again this year. I guess I just needed to wait 48 hours. While the shooting was better against Philly, the Thunder did not score ONE POINT over the final 5:35 of the game. Yes, they got shutout for nearly an entire half of a quarter. They then only scored three points over the first four minutes of the first overtime. So they went over 9 minutes in the fourth and OT where they rallied a total of 3 points. AND THEY WON. Ridiculous. They are doing it by playing with extreme grit. Normally if you don’t score for 9 minutes the other team goes on a major run. Somehow the Thunder managed to hold the 76ers at bay just enough to keep giving themselves a chance. They play crazy good defense, they crash the boards, and they are active on all loose balls. And then PG hit a three late in the first OT that seemed to snap them out of their death spiral. Not to say the offense was stellar after that, but they at least you know, scored some points the rest of the way. It is a remarkable feat to go that long in an NBA game without scoring. It is also a remarkable feat to win said game. Again, glass half full or half empty?

3. Russell Westbrook is an alien. I’m convinced. It is not possible he is human. Both physically and emotionally he isn’t of this species. You cannot play three overtimes in a professional basketball game and have the same level of energy at the end that you did at the beginning. It isn’t possible. The body language of the other nine guys on the floor tell that story. But somehow, RW seems to get stronger and faster the deeper the game goes. The play in the third OT where he snatched the ball out from the scrum and went coast to coast for that nasty slam just isn’t something humans do. Humans also don’t generally respond to failure like they. Most basketball players who are shooting 4-18 on the night would be terrified to shoot again. Perhaps rightfully so. They sure as heck wouldn’t take a shot with a high degree of difficulty. And if they did happen to make one, it is unlikely they would mean mug afterwards. Most humans have short term memory and defense mechanisms that prevent them from pursuing previous failures. RW responds the opposite on all of those things. He did not go into “hero” mode tonight until the OTs began. And by that point I kind of wanted him to— he was the only guy left on either team that had the legs to get to the rim. And he did just that on multiple occasions- and he missed just about all of them. But I just can’t rip a guy for calling his own number when he is giving himself lay ups or possible dunks. It’s what you want. And the fact that he has the confidence to step up and make mid range jumpers that Philly was conceding to him is pretty remarkable considering how poorly he has been shooting lately. The end of the second OT when Philly honed in on Russ he made the right play giving it to Andre— who then inexplicably passed up what should have been an easy layup in favor of giving it back to Russ— who winds up giving it back to Andre again, only to see Andre blow the layup. Then in the third OT when it appeared RW was in one of those “I’ll never pass again” modes he goes back to Andre AGAIN in the same situation— albeit a bit tougher finish this time. And Andre came through that time. Russ was 10-33 from the field— bad. Russ scored 27 points, had 15 assists and grabbed 18 rebounds— insanely good. Russ made some huge shots and a great pass in OT to win it— good. Russ was 5-12 from the free throw line— very bad. There has never been a player like him. Ever. Never ever. He can sometimes run you smack dab into a brick wall. He can also then get up, dust himself off, get another running start, and bust the whole damn wall down taking everyone on his side with him. Not always easy to know what to make of it. But it sure is fascinating to watch.

4. Lost amidst all of the shenanigans and overtimes was the fact that with 5:35 to go, the Sixers called a timeout with the Thunder leading 94-83. Up until that moment it had been a very solid all around night for the Thunder. Once again, the bench was a huge plus. Felton was excellent. Huestis made a very positive impact in limited action. And with the stars resting the bench extended the lead— very similar to the Indiana game. Most importantly, Melo was great. He finally found his midrange game and looked like classic Melo— basically unguardable when he is hitting fades and step backs the way he was tonight. Mix in some smooth catch and shoot opportunities and it was one of the better games (if not the best) he’s played in an OKC uniform. PG wasn’t as good as Melo, but he did hit some big three’s most notably the one nearing the end of the first OT. At that point, up 11 with 5:35 remaining, you had to be very pleased with how the Thunder played. It then went poof in an instant before they went into grit and grind mode to get it done like an hour later. I do think there was plenty to build on prior to the nonsense at the end.

5. Not sure how they will have much left in the tank for tomorrow’s game in New York. That’s why as this game kept going it became more and more imperative to win it. This three game road trip is now already a success Sheryl in terms of the raw definition— three road games (including a back to back) all against teams likely to make the playoffs in the East. If you win two out of three that is at bare minimum an acceptable result. So they are already there. If they beat the Knicks I think you can start at least chatting about turning the proverbial corner. It’s been choppy. It’s been hectic. It’s been head-scratching. It’s been exhilarating. But it’s also been BETTER. An identity is forming. Slowly, but it’s forming. And if nothing else, it’s starting to get a little fun.

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.

 

We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 12-13-17 (Thunder 100, Pacers 95)

1. That was a really fascinating game. And it had a pretty improbable result. And I missed part of it because either my DVR malfunctioned or I malfunctioned. Smart money is probably on the latter. Somehow I accidentally set it (or it set itself) to record only the first 80 minutes. I didn’t realize this until a couple of minutes into the third quarter when the recording just stopped. Highly frustrating. Somewhat luckily for me I wasn’t that far behind. But it was scary— going from very early in the third to midway through the fourth having no idea what the score was going to be. I was relieved to see we had a nine point lead and then sat through the tense final five minutes or so. I then was able to skim back and piece the rest of what happened together. But like I said; fascinating. Highly emotional, highly charged atmosphere and it was a great played like a playoff game. It is beyond stunning that OKC can win ANY game with the stars going 10-45; but to do in THAT situation is unfathomable. So how did they do it?

2. I’ve been saying this for awhile now, but the Thunder are incredibly good defensively. If they aren’t the best defensive team in the NBA, they aren’t far behind. This is why I haven’t lost hope and why I don’t want any sort of coaching change. They get after people. Very, very rarely do the Thunder give up clean looks. And sometimes when they do it’s because a guy went for a steal or block— and I’m OK with that considering we need to take gambles to spark offense right now. Even without their best on-ball defender (Andre) the Thunder more or less locked down a Pacers team tonight that has been as white hot as any team in the league. This isn’t new; Thunder have been defending at a high level all season long. It’s becoming their identity and it is allowing them to stay alive as they crap themselves on the other end. In addition to defense, I’d say overall physical effort is keeping them afloat. The team plays hard. They won this game on guts. The big three are a mess offensively, but they are buying in on the other end. Even Russ, who has never been a great defender, has made massive improvements. He isn’t losing his man as often and he is working screens better than he ever has in the past. They are locked in defensively. Which is essential considering they are locked out of the basket.

3. Steven Adams. My goodness. He is carrying them right now. Dude is just a beast. 23 and 13 is good in itself, but he is also making all types of winning plays that aren’t showing up in the box score. Tips, taps, screens, annoying the man he is guarding, etc. He is ridiculously efficient in the paint and some of his offensive rebounds are about the only reason the offense isn’t worse than it is. To their credit, the other guys aren’t afraid to get him the ball. Clearly they trust him— many of our turnovers are on passes intended for Adams in addition to all of the ones that connect. He is playing at all star level and he is saving our ass right now. Abrines and the bench were also really, really good tonight. Felton had 6 assists in 12 minutes. The offense is pretty fluid when the bench is on the floor. Patterson finally showed up and made some big shots tonight as well. Basically everyone other than Russ, PG, and Melo played great tonight.

4. Before we bury Russ too much, let’s acknowledge his sheer force of will. He’s one guy that isn’t afraid to fail and he sure as hell is going to go down swinging. The dude had 17 rebounds tonight. I know in some circles people like to dismiss his rebounding as “stat hunting” and insinuate that it’s some sort of negative, but I find that to be about 99% ridiculous. Getting a rebound in basketball is a good thing, period. Tonight his tenacity may have saved the game for them. On the Abrines miss, Russ came soaring in for his 17th rebound, he missed the put back attempt, but Abrines was there to tip it in and give them the three point cushion. He’s the reigning MVP, but he still plays like a guy on a ten day contract trying to make a living. It’s one way you survive a 3-17 shooting night— go into demon-mode in terms of all-out effort. So while the Thunder are going nowhere unless Russ figures out his shooting issues, we can all trust that at the very least he isn’t going to lay down and just take it. 10 points, 12 assists, and 17 rebounds is still a really good night for an NBA player. Let’s not forget that.

5. One reason I’m not quite in the panic mode others are is that I do see and appreciate the effort and energy the team is giving. Even while scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of shooting the ball, they’ve still managed to win five of their last seven games. They fought really hard tonight and they rallied around PG. Everyone understood what was at stake. It’s one thing if PG didn’t play great (he didn’t) and another thing entirely if he didn’t play great AND the Thunder lost to the Pacers in Indiana. They mostly bottled up Oladipo who has been killing it all year and they somehow found a way to overcome astonishingly bad shooting from the three stars. Maybe I’m stubbornly sticking to this due to my fandom, but I simply refuse to believe the shooting won’t improve. There is just no way these three guys will continue to offer up bricks at this rate. There is evidence to suggest that it is NOT “the offense” holding them back. Other guys (Abrines, Felton, even Huestis) are making shots in the same offense. It’s going to come around. I’ll go down with the ship proclaiming that. This one should have them in better spirits. Probably a relief for PG. Melo gets his turn Saturday back at MSG. But first the Sixers await. Thunder need to get at least one of those to consider this trip a success.

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.

 

We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!

Five Thoughts 11-22-17 (Thunder 108, Warriors 91)

1. Well, hopefully everyone feels better now. I mean this in all sincerity and not just in post game euphoria hyperbole: I would rather the Thunder be 8-9 with THAT performance against Golden State as opposed to being 13-4 with a loss tonight. Dead serious about that. The entire point of forming this team was to make a run at the Warriors. Even while acknowledging they’d still be underdogs, this formation’s goal was to be in that conversation. What we needed to see was that they are capable. No one expects this is how every meeting with the Dubs will play out. But we needed to see it— at least once. While it was one game and one game that mattered WAY more to OKC than it did GS, it wasn’t a fluke. There were real, tangible things that happened out there tonight that prove that the Thunder are a totally different team from last year. And a team that can legitimately give GS fits. As far as I’m concerned the other 9 losses can be put on a shuttle and sent to the Moon. They don’t matter. Not saying that the issues that plagued them in those games aren’t real or that they won’t reappear. But now that I’ve seen THAT, I can live with some ups and downs and even some clunkers.

2. Not sure I’ve ever seen the Dubs offense look that out of sync. We put forth an A+ defensive showing tonight. The scheme was great— our guards went over EVERY screen tonight. And Adams or Grant or whoever was guarding the screener also stayed out by the line. We were absolutely not going to allow open looks beyond the arc. The only time the Warriors saw those was on the break or scramble plays. Curry shook loose for a couple of launches, but those really weren’t good shots; can’t do much about it when those drop. When we had them in the half court, they struggled mightily to even get a clean shot off. It was remarkable. Thunder were committed 100% to remaining disciplined to that approach. While scheme is great, you can only do so much if you don’t have the horses to execute it. They could not have deployed this defense last year. They are able to do it now because of PG13. He was ALL OVER KD tonight. This also allowed Andre to slide over to Klay. And as Andre has proven time and again, as long as he isn’t up against a smaller, quicker guard, he can stick to anyone. It was also nice to see RW remain disciplined and not leave Curry to gamble elsewhere. No doubt the Warriors will adjust the next time we play. They will likely play with more urgency. They may very well shoot better. But what we did to them isn’t going away. We have the physical ability to do to them what no one else can do.

3. Mentioning this third is really burying the lead, but Russ was perfect tonight. That was a virtuoso performance. I’ve been saying all year, if you want to panic, go ahead— but call me when Russ gets back on track. If he gets going and we don’t look better, that’s when you should worry. Well, he got going tonight and we beat the Warriors with ease. We are going to be very, very tough to beat on nights where Russ is playing near peak level. And as this season progresses he will play at peak level more and more frequently. While we have three excellent options, this isn’t a democracy. They don’t all need to share the load equally. This is Russ’s team and PG and Melo need to fall in line behind him (in that order). Russ sets the tone, PG delivers stellar two-way performances, and Melo bails out the offense with his ISO game. That needs to be the identity. Russ was insanely aggressive tonight. He didn’t defer- he attacked. When he attacks the ball sharing will happen naturally. When he attacks the opportunities will open up for the others. Prior to tonight I think Russ has been trying to be polite, for lack of a better word. Then once things go a little south he tries to pull them out and it’s just all discombobulated. I don’t know this for sure, but I think both Melo and PG13 are ready to win. My guess is that they are both ok if Russ is the maestro. I’m sure tonight was pretty fun for all three of them. Russ left Curry in his wake tonight. It was a thing of beauty. That needs to be encouraged, not curtailed.

4. Donovan is patient. He doesn’t panic or fly off the handle. I think that’s a good approach to a team of NBA vets over the course of 82 games. I think he’s done his best job so far in his tenure with the Thunder in the bigger games/moments. I’ve mentioned this before, but he won me over in the 2016 playoffs against the Spurs and Warriors. Since then, I’ve always felt he was better in games that were played more like playoff games. I think he gives the guys a lot of room. I think he understands that going in too hard too often can be desensitizing. Tonight he had a plan for this specific opponent. Early in the game, he made a quick switch to Grant— much faster than normal. But he didn’t give up on Adams either. I watched as Adams exited the floor; Donovan walked stride for stride with him and was talking to him for quite awhile. Once Adams went back in, he had an excellent game. By picking your spots, I think you increase the odds of keeping the team motivated and emotionally engaged. You get a pay off on a night like tonight when the team executes the plan and it all works. Everyone files that away and begins to understand THAT is what winning basketball looks like.

5. Effort was off the charts tonight. Everyone is 100% lying when they say it’s just another game. They played it like a Game 7. They needed it. At the end, I thought Andre was going to need a stretcher to leave the court— he was exhausted. Crowd was awesome. It was a 23 point game in the 4th quarter and fans were reacting as if it was tied. This was a total exhale game for everyone involved with the Thunder. It’s been awhile since I left the arena feeling like that. I told my wife it’s like the Thunder waited until tonight to start the season. It would be nice if this propelled them into a winning streak; it’s about time to start making a move up the ladder. But even if things remain a bit rocky, tonight showed what this team CAN be. And now that we’ve seen it, it’s clear that it is worth the wait.

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.

We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!