Author - Ed Kleese

4 Thoughts (11-14-18): Thunder 128, Knicks 103

1. Struggling a little bit to find four thoughts that differ from Monday because this game tonight was close to a carbon copy of the Phoenix game. First, it does need to be noted that the current Knicks (without Porzingis) are really bad. I actually think the fact that they came in with four wins is a bit of an over-achievement for them. New York has been woefully mismanaged for years and now they are suffering because the one true bright spot they have has been out for nearly a year now. They have a bunch of miscast parts mixed in with a few veterans like Kanter and Hardaway that can play, but are hardly cornerstone pieces. The Suns have a worse record than the Knicks, but Phoenix is absolutely a better (or at least more dangerous) team. Either way you can make the argument that the Suns and Knicks are the two worst teams currently in the NBA (Cavs raise their hand as well) and the Thunder just so happen to be playing the Suns twice and Knicks once this week. So I think it’s worth noting in a fairly loud manner that the Thunder are playing some truly crappy teams this week.

2. The above doesn’t necessarily take away from HOW the Thunder are playing though. The 25 point win tonight isn’t blowing me away as it stands on its own. What impresses me is watching the general identity of the team come together right in front of us. Last year, the Thunder laid a TON of eggs against bad teams. This year the entire approach is different. There was absolutely no messing around tonight. Thunder were ready to go from the get. Smart, efficient offense and tenacious, active D. It smothered the Knicks early and allowed OKC to cruise to an easy win. I’m happy PG chose to stay for all of the obvious reasons, but also relieved that everyone here is getting to see what a truly great player he is; it would have been a shame for him to just pass through town without Thunder fans ever getting to appreciate how he plays the game. While he is a laid back guy, he sets a tone defensively that forces his teammates to match. Sometimes he is too passive/unselfish on the other end, but he is a helluva playmaker as well. He’s been fantastic all season and tonight his all around contributions were easy to see. It seems he’s been around forever so it’s easy to forget that he is still just 28 years old and perhaps only entering the prime of his career right now.

3. The comparison and contrast with TFerg and Diallo is really interesting. They essentially play the same role/position. They are both getting an opportunity for significant minutes with Andre still out. And neither of them is old enough to order a beer at a bar yet. Early in the year I was a little critical of how Donovan was deploying them, but now I see why it’s smart— and why it’s working. TFerg is the more natural basketball player. He is a little more smooth, has a better looking shot, and has more experience having played two years professionally prior to this season. If you made me choose right now which player has more proverbial “upside” I’d reluctantly take TFerg. But Diallo is a live wire and there is something about that kid that just jumps out at you. He is a live wire. Whereas TFerg can disappear offensively, Diallo has yet to find a shot or drive he doesn’t like. One thing we know early in this season… when Diallo checks in, SOMETHING is going to happen. He might launch one into the stands or like we saw tonight, he might have the greatest looking missed windmill dunk ever. He might also score 7 points in like 30 seconds. He is a total whirlwind out there. I understand why Donovan is keeping him under wraps to a certain extent and keeping his minutes consistent. There is no need to rush him or get him TOO wound up at this juncture. Just to add a little extra spice into the mix, Deonte Burton has looked pretty darn good in his limited action as well. He’s the grey beard of the bunch at 24 with some G League and overseas experience under his belt already. But he’s also flashed enough that at least bears wanting to see more. Having youth to develop is never a bad thing—especially when they are already contributing. Not only will this help the team for obvious reasons, it also gives them more flexibility when discussing trades or being able to move people. Right now, the rotation and roles look spot on to me.

4. Easy win, easy week so far. Some bad luck with the Russ injury, but could be a blessing in disguise as he gets extra rest during a soft part of the schedule when his absence isn’t really hurting them in the W/L column. It is also allowing other guys more room to breathe and establish themselves. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing for Russ to sit and watch sometimes (especially considering there are quite a few new faces out there this year). The team is playing well and so many more guys are involved this year. I see it. Russ sees it. Everyone sees it. Things get a little tougher now… three game road trip ahead with first stop in Phoenix as mentioned previously. Suns beat the Spurs by 20 tonight; Phoenix isn’t good, they aren’t even average, but they also aren’t as bad as they’ve shown early this year. Thunder have also had recent issues playing in that building. I wouldn’t expect them to roll over especially after taking it on the chin twice in OKC already this year.

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4 Thoughts (11-12-18): Thunder 118, Suns 101

1. Searching for a proper slogan for this team and here is what I’ve come up with: “We Get Our Hands on Your Balls.” I understand this my fly in the face of the general conservative nature of the team marketing strategy, but damn if it isn’t accurate. I am floored by the percentage of defensive possessions where the Thunder are literally getting their hands on the ball at one point or another. They lead the league in steals, but that stat doesn’t even do it justice. There are several additional instances throughout the game where the Thunder are altering possessions by deflecting or tipping a pass or dribble— even if it doesn’t wind up in a steal or turnover it is often leading to a lower percentage shot. Much is made of the general Presti philosophy to de-emphasize shooting in exchange for length and athleticism. It’s a valid criticism and will likely remain a relevant argument. But the flip side can’t be ignored— what it yields is possibly the best defensive team in the NBA. There are no weaknesses there. Even a guy like Dennis who isn’t a lock-down type defender is at least pesky— he flies around and is quick enough to not get torched while also contributing to the general chaos the defense is creating. Most teams in the NBA are trying to keep pace with the Warriors by emulating them and their style. The Thunder are trying to do it by offering a roadblock. I find it pretty interesting and I’m enjoying watching it unfold.

2. The game itself was fine. Thunder took care of business and they did so in completely acceptable fashion. They played a bad team, they didn’t take it for granted and they still played hard and with lots of energy and intensity. While the Suns did make a fairly impressive run to cut the lead from 28 all the way down to 7, you certainly never felt the game was in danger and as soon as PG and Adams returned in the 4th quarter it was a 20 point lead again in no time. It is clear that the focus, chemistry, coaching, and all other intangible factors are DRASTICALLY improved this year. Last year we saw game after game where the Thunder would either lose to a far inferior team or get pushed to the brink. This year they are putting together complete games and finding ways to bounce back quickly from stagnant stretches. They do need to file away that they play Phoenix again in five days on the road. It’s a bit of an odd scheduling twist that it will also be the third time the teams have played this year already. Even by the standard of a lousy team, it’s hard to just blow a team away three times in a row, so I’d suggest the Thunder bring an equal effort on Saturday— especially if Russ still hasn’t returned by then.

3. Deandre Ayton should be a really good player. I liked him a lot and even though my pick would have been Doncic at number one, I understand why they chose Ayton and you can already see little signs of a big time talent emerging over the next couple of years. He has a bright future. But tonight he was taken to school. Or maybe behind the woodshed. Adams abused him early and often teaching him all kinds of lessons in the post. Adams may very well be the most physical player in the entire league and now he is adding some real legitimate basketball moves as well. His footwork in the paint is impressive and even though he never actually “shoots” the basketball, he has developed a soft touch from a variety of angles; he’s also become pretty adept at using his off hand to finish. And my goodness, even when he doesn’t wind up getting a rebound, I swear he’s getting his hands on it. Yes, Adams is an extreme ball toucher on a team full of them. There will be better nights ahead for young Ayton, but tonight he received a lesson from what looks like a worthy all-star caliber player.

4. This is a soft stretch of the schedule. They’ve won 8 of 9 and the next three are Knicks at home and the Suns and Kings on the road. Now, if Russ doesn’t play in any of those games I wouldn’t be surprised to see them drop one. This is the NBA after all and the Kings in particular have performed well above expectations (as we found our first hand once already). Things get a little tougher the night before Thanksgiving when they make their second trip to Oracle to face the Dubs. It would be really nice to get Russ back before that game riding a stretch of 11 out of 12. Without Porzingis, the Knicks aren’t scaring anyone. That said, without Russ there is always the looming possibility that the team will struggle to find offense (see the Mavs game the other night) and while the defense has been exceptional, you don’t want to put that pressure on yourselves every game. What I’m trying to say is that while they shouldn’t be rushing Russ back at all; if he is ready to roll then they should let him go immediately and not try to sneak in extra rest just because of the upcoming level of competition.

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4 Thoughts (11-8-18): Thunder 98, Rockets 80

1. Now that was interesting. Certainly unexpected. The most surprising element of this game was what happened after the Rockets took their only lead of the game at 39-38 early in the second quarter. At that moment Houston had just hit a bunch of three’s and were winning the quarter 20-9. The 10 point lead the Thunder created was erased— and quickly at that. Game kind of had that feel of Houston taking control. There was still over half a quarter left and I was thinking the Thunder just needed to survive that run and be within striking distance at the half. Well, they did a little more that. Thunder ended the quarter on a 21-6 run and completely flipped the momentum. They took total control of the game and never relinquished it from that point. PG didn’t have any sort of amazing game tonight, but he was fantastic during that second quarter run. He was the catalyst and the team fell in line behind him. The comeback against Charlotte was very nice last week, but that run tonight was the most impressive stretch of the season thus far.

2. It’s a real chicken-egg thing. Did the Thunder D produce stifling results tonight due to their incredible performance or due to Houston’s pathetic offensive effort? It’s hard to tell for sure and it could be a combination of both, but one thing is for certain: the Rockets don’t score a total of 80 points in a game very often. And we’ve now seen the Thunder clamp down pretty much the entire season with the exception of the loss to the Kings. So we’ve seen enough to know that SOMETHING is going on here. They have an entire team of athletes— they are long and quick just about everywhere. It’s borderline ridiculous how many tipped passes and deflections they get on a nightly basis. They are forcing opponents into tough shots due in large part to the fact that simply passing the ball against the Thunder is a risky proposition. The identity is being established. It’s beautiful because it’s also necessary. The Thunder just won back to back games… without Russ… where they shot the ball horribly from three (less than 25% each night). Shooting the ball that poorly is almost always a death knell for an NBA team (see Rockets, Houston). But not for the Thunder. Now, shooting 25% can’t be the norm. That isn’t a sustainable number. However, it’s nice to know that not only can the Thunder win games when shots aren’t falling; they can win them going away. And when shots DO fall? Well, if this defensive commitment persists, they will be elite on those nights.

3. Adams’ stat line did not do his impact justice tonight. 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists is impressive enough, but if you actually watched this game you would have seen Adams more or less absorb it. It was as if he was the drain and everything else was the bath water swirling towards him and eventually being engulfed. He was everywhere. I loved the game plan and commitment to get him the ball in the post. It was a turning of the tables of sorts against a Rockets team that more often than not forces you to play THEIR pace and adjust to THEIR mismatches. Donovan and the staff make a clear conscious effort tonight to exploit the natural advantage of having Adams on the floor. Even when he didn’t yield immediate results it knocked the Rockets off kilter and set the tone early that this was going to be a more physical, less fluid game. In the paint, Adams was his usual wrecking-ball self. In the second half there was a sequence where he hit the floor on three straight possessions, creating jump ball situations on two of them. He also flashed some nifty passing skills; something we don’t see a whole lot. He had the ball in his hands way more than usual tonight and it turned into a major advantage for the Thunder. Noel is a nice player and I view him as an absolutely perfect defensive-minded back up center. There may even be occasions where he is more effective than Adams in a given match up. But I was hearing some rumblings early this year from other fans pondering if Adams might now become expendable. I’m not buying that.

4. Turned out to be a pretty fitting night for Melo in his return. He received what I would describe as a respectful round of applause when he was introduced. I thought I could make out a couple of boos from a few parts of the arena, but nothing significant. He mostly a solid round of applause, albeit a brief one. I think most people recognize two things… he gave it his best shot here and it just didn’t work out at all. He was gone before we knew it and he never really connected anyway, so there is certainly no emotional attachment between Melo and OKC or vice versa. It was a mostly forgettable one year experiment for all parties. Then Melo comes out and shoots 1-11 from the floor. That just sort of put the icing on the whole thing. The whole “Melo effect” thing probably isn’t entirely fair, but with the Rockets sitting at 4-6 and looking super sluggish thus far, let’s just say I’m fine with how things turned out. For OKC, it’s on to Dallas now in what I view as a very low pressure spot Saturday night. They’ve won 7 in a row, currently playing without Russ, and looking good doing it. If they were to drop the game Saturday it’s not really a big deal especially with two very winnable home games to follow. That said, extending to 8 would be nice. Team is riding a hot streak, no sense in cooling yourself down by taking a night off. I want to see the Thunder simply continue to do what they’ve been doing for the past two weeks.

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4 Thoughts (11-7-18): Thunder 95, Cavs 86

1. This might be my favorite game so far this year. The Cavs are not good. Not only is their roster a mish-mash mess, but they are also clearly emotionally defeated. The Decision Part 2 has left the collective tank on empty. It’s going to be a very long season in Cleveland. So winning this game even without Russ is certainly not cause for a parade. This game was ugly. It was plodding. But it was also a W. It was a road win sans your best player. What I really liked about it is how the Thunder just stayed within what they’ve been doing so well lately. Shots weren’t falling, but the defense was stifling and the Thunder were aggressive and just found a way to grind it out on the boards, with put-backs, etc. Then when it got a little too close for comfort late, they managed to hit some shots and put the game away. This performance would not have been good enough against the majority of the league. But that’s the beauty of it… they got what they needed. Last year was just so all over the place… play great, but lose on to a good team on a late shot and then come back and play lousy against a lousy team. This is steady. It is calm. It is consistent. When you win six in a role you can ignore style points.

2. My only negative take at all from this one would be that I’d like to see a tad more offensively from PG. Dennis came in tonight and saved the day on that end of the floor; he was the only one really making shots consistently or finishing at the rim. PG’s defense has been outstanding this year and he was all over it again tonight. In that regard he is flashing big time leadership– I think he is likely most responsible for the team-wide dedication we’re seeing to defense right now– very impressed by that. But I was hoping to get slightly stronger production on the offensive end. With Russ out, it will be tough for the Thunder to win many games if PG is just sort of so-so scoring the ball. That said, I’m loving the PG we’re getting thus far and this is admittedly a bit of nit-picky critique.

3. I’m not a hot-take kinda dude. I used to be… when I was a much younger and far less patient sports fan as I was all about blurting out what I felt in the moment. As time has gone on and I’ve realized that winning consistently in sports is actually really hard, I’ve come to appreciate the process a lot more and be far more patient with management, players, and coaches— as long as I felt there was at least a little light at the end of that tunnel. So while my “defense” of Donovan during his tenure could be termed as Presti-homerism or fanboy optimism, I just think it’s patience. Just because I’m glad Donovan is here doesn’t actually mean I’m a huge fan of his or even that I think it was a good hire. Just patience. I think the jury is still out. One thing I know… he’s not some glorified PE coach. If you listen to the guy he is thoughtful, articulate, and self-aware. He doesn’t spout cliches. Royce Young even often points out how long and drawn-out his answers can be– there isn’t much coach-speak with Donovan. I believe he understands the game and understands what the team NEEDS to do. The struggle of course is conveying that to the team and getting them to buy in. For me, Donovan’s entire tenure has taken place under duress. From will KD stay to…Oh My God KD left… to will Russ stay to… Oh My God we got Paul George… to oh my God will Paul George stay? Not only has the roster turned over many times, so have the expectations and target for the team. This is his first year where things are calm. First time he’s had a core return without any major clouds hanging overhead. So far I like what I see. Team looks composed, defense is strong. Lots of guys involved. So far I like what I see. And we will just leave it at that. I’ve watched this team for 10 games now and I find them to be (gasp) “well coached.” 72 to go.

4. I am assuming Russ will be sitting out again tomorrow night against the Rockets. It was probably going to be a 50-50 type of game with him, so obviously you’d have to give the edge to Houston now. The good news is that the six game streak sort of takes the pressure off in this game. It’s probably a game Houston SHOULD win, which puts the Thunder in a bit of a fun situation. Also hoping that the law of averages is on our side and the clank-fest we saw tonight will give way tomorrow to at least some of those shots falling. I’m looking forward to it though and it certainly presents the Thunder with an opportunity to make a big statement if they are able to pull it out. As far as Melo’s “return” goes… eh, I’ll give him a polite golf-clap. He was more or less a pro when he was here; exited with class. I did think it was always pretty clear this isn’t where he REALLY wanted to be and there was some body language stuff to go along with a few passive-aggressive type comments that rubbed me the wrong way form time to time. But all in all, I think he tried here. He tried to make it work. I believe he wanted it to work too. The fit was just not there for a wide variety of reasons. I think it’s pretty clear it was best for all parties to party elsewhere. So when he is announced tomorrow I expect a relatively warm (not raucous) reception and I certainly hope there aren’t any boos or jeers– that would surprise me quite a bit. So the best case for me is he gets a nice hand and then plays ole’ defense and shoots 2-14 from the field… if all of that happens, he should feel right back at home (sorry, couldn’t resist).

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4 Thoughts (11-5-18): Thunder 122, Pelicans 116

1. For about ten to fifteen seconds tonight I pondered a very, very cold winter giving way to a dark and empty spring. I saw myself pacing aimlessly mumbling horrible things about KD, the Warriors, Patrick Beverly, Pau Gasol, and life in general. Then they showed the replay… an ankle, not a knee… Thank you Lord. I’m no doctor, but I think when it comes to general sports injuries I’ve watched enough over the years to at least qualify as a PA. And one thing all sports fans know— ankle is preferable to knee. No doubt an ankle roll can hurt like hell; and clearly Russ was hurting like hell. And a really bad/high sprain could equal a decent chunk of missed time. But all in all, seeing it was an ankle was a huge sigh of relief. We will have to wait for official word of course before we completely rest easy, but at least I’m no longer having visions of eating three day old bread while shivering in the corner of cold cell.

2. After Russ went down the deflation was measurable. It was quiet and all of the positive energy the Thunder has built seemed zapped. Pelicans immediately cut into the lead and things didn’t feel so good. Much credit to the Thunder for how they closed things out from that point. The “nag” factor they provide the other team defensively is off the charts. There are still some coverage breakdowns where OKC allows a wide open three from a shooter or an open lane for a drive, but for the most part their defense has been superb this year— and specifically the way they play passing lanes and get their hands on the basketball is just awesome. It sparked the run at the end of the third quarter that really proved to be the difference in the game. I thought Diallo and Noel were the two that especially stood out in this area, but the whole team gets in on it and it’s clearly causing their opponents all kinds of issues. One negative of this defensive aggression is that it leads to fouls which leads to free throws, but I’ll live with that if the team remains this committed to defensive intensity. I would like to see them dial back the “intensity” when it blurs the line with stupidity though— some of the late fouls to keep NOLA alive were maddening.

3. Dennis was excellent. It’s the exact personification of his ideal role and what he was brought here to do. Ever since Harden was dealt the Thunder have desperately sought a true scorer off the bench. Someone that can play WITH the stars and without them. Someone that can create offense for himself without creating ONLY for himself. PG was fine tonight, but he wasn’t spectacular by any means. Once Russ went down, Dennis just calmly stepped in and took over the lead ball handler role. It was a pretty seamless transition. Of course he can’t match Russ all the time, but he doesn’t need to. There will be nights where they don’t need him to do as much and he will need to read the situation and step back. Other nights they will need more. It’s a little bit of a tougher role as a sixth man because the role isn’t always the same. This far I’m pretty impressed and like the fit.

4. Adams and Grant also deserve a big mention for holding Anthony Davis in check. Really didn’t notice him out there tonight and Adams specifically probably equaled him in terms of impact. That is a HUGE win for the Thunder because if Davis isn’t having a huge impact, the Pelicans are really not a very dangerous team. To their credit, they made a bunch of tough shots during stretches to stay in the game, but things never felt too uncomfortable because their star wasn’t hurting us. Thunder need to beat teams like NOLA, especially at home. So this shouldn’t be a fireworks and cartwheels type of win. However, when looking at the larger picture of the five game winning steak and HOW they’ve played, you can’t help but be happy/excited. Teams looks pretty transformed from last year with so many more guys capable and contributing. Fingers crossed that Russ won’t be out long because it appears they might be onto something right now.

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4 Thoughts (11-2-18): Thunder 134, Wizards 111

1. They are different. It’s only 8 games so there is still no sense at all in drawing too many conclusions at this point, but one conclusion I am drawing for sure is that this team is different from either of the previous two teams. The roster is different. The flow is different. The feel is different. The energy is different. It all remains to be seen if the results are also different– we have a long way to go before we start making any proclamations in that department, but one thing I know for certain– the made changes that are going to make an actual difference and not just a deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic difference. My theme for the entire year thus far has been how seemingly overnight the roster has become so much more involved all around– we are essentially playing a 10 man rotation right now and all 10 guys are consistently contributing– or at least getting opportunities to contribute. The ball is moving and shots are there to be had. Last night Abrines stepped up and helped bring us back; tonight TFerg and Grant got going early and then everyone just sort of joined the party. Kicking the living crap out of an opponent, on the road, on the second night of a back to back is really impressive. The variable is making shots– when the Thunder shoot the ball like that it’s going to be lights out almost 100% of the time. So I understand that level of shooting performance will be rare. But it wasn’t just the hot shooting; the entire approach to the game tonight was impressive for OKC. Excellent.

2. Of course it always starts with your top guys. Russ and PG are leading the way. PG hasn’t been fantastic offensively yet, but he is really locked in everywhere else– he’s working hard on both ends and he is the tone-setter on defense. When he isn’t scoring he’s at least making more plays/assists this year than he did last year. He isn’t just standing and watching. It makes total sense and it certainly appears as if PG is more relaxed and comfortable this year. Through six games, Russ may be going next level. Now, he did still make some same ole’ mistakes at the end of the Boston game– but with that exception, he has been completely invested defensively and his decision-making on the offensive end has been vastly improved. The chemistry on the team as a whole is better and Russ appears to be trusting in his teammates more. He did briefly get caught up in some one one one shenanigans tonight late in third quarter, but it really only resulted in one stupid three point attempt. And if you lead your team to a 20+ point lead I can live with one stupid three point attempt. I think Russ and PG really tried to incorporate Melo last year as the third amigo– but in all honestly he probably shouldn’t have even been the eighth or ninth amigo. Now, things look more natural– with both leading in their own way.

3. Hard not mention our old friend Scott Brooks tonight. I feel for him right now. The Wizards look like a train wreck. Just a total mess. There is really no reason for it either. I’m not as high on their talent level as some others as I feel both Wall and Beal are at least a tad overrated, but for them to be 1-7 with several blowout losses under their belts already seems completely unacceptable. A slow start is one thing; they look they’ve quit before they started. It’s weird. They provided absolutely zero resistance in the first half tonight. They were coming home off a bad road trip and local rumors are swirling about Brooks’ job security. That is precisely when you expect a team to shift into high gear and give you a top notch effort. Instead, they just allowed the Thunder to steamroll them. I’ve always felt Wall was a poor man’s Russ- namely because he just doesn’t play with near the same effort or intensity on a nightly basis. There is just something about him I find uninspiring and the team seems to adopt that general malaise. Brooks had his flaws, but he was certainly the right coach for the Thunder at the right time. The time eventually expired, but one thing we always knew is that the players respected him enough to give great effort. If they ever did lay an egg, they responded quickly. Not sure what’s going on in Washington right now, but if Brooks has indeed “lost” this team already it is more of a reflection on the players than the coach.

4. I think we can officially blow off the 0-4 start. Not saying the team doesn’t have flaws or things that will eventually come back to bite them, but in terms of freaking out over losing the first four, I think we can put that to bed. I knew they’d eventually get back to .500, but I was worried it might take them 8-10 games, something like that. To do it in the minimum of four is encouraging; especially considering the last two were road back to back. Everyone can exhale now. So, exhale. But don’t exhale and then get out the streamers. It’s not time to party yet. They have beaten the Suns, Clippers, Hornets, and Wizards. It’s a nice bounce back and I’ve especially liked HOW they’ve done it, but I’m also not doing cartwheels in the living room quite yet. It’s nice that they get the weekend off and we can look forward to seeing them Monday against the Pelicans- back at The Peake on Monday. Getting back to even is nice; but the reality is they are also just one loss away from dipping back below .500– it’s not a holding pattern the Thunder want to stay in for long. The schedule remains manageable for the next couple of weeks; would be nice to expand this streak and being establishing themselves near the top of the West pecking order.

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5 Thoughts: Thunder 117, Suns 110

1. Specific to this game, there is nothing to complain about. The Suns are a bottom tier NBA team. Without their best player (Devin Booker) they are almost certainly the worst team in the league. I like a couple of their young pieces and they have some vets (Chandler, Crawford, Ariza) to help stabilize things, but any way you slice it, sans Booker, they stink. So with the Thunder coming in at 0-4 there was absolutely no excuse to not come out completely focused and put the game away early. The Thunder did just that… there was no doubt by midway through the second quarter that the Thunder were in complete control and OKC did not let up or try to coast in the second half. The final few garbage time minutes were ugly and made the final score look closer than it was, but it was trash time and not anything to nit-pick. I heap no praise on OKC for this effort and I also have nothing to complain about. They had a job to do tonight, they did it, case closed.

2. While no one should be overreacting to this win on it’s own, I do think it’s OK to at least think “hmmmmm….” when it comes to Nerlens Noel. No matter the situation, putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds in an NBA game is impressive. What’s more, he just looks like the right fit for the way the Thunder want to play. He doesn’t possess the brute force of Adams (who does?) but he is uber-athletic and can probably involve himself in the offense a tad more naturally. He and Schroeder already have a good rapport on the pick and roll and it doesn’t look like there is any lob pass he can’t catch. He’s also a natural shot-blocker. Tonight, the Thunder didn’t miss a beat with Adams out with the calf injury. The challenge moving forward for Donovan will be figuring out how best to deploy his new weapon. Having Adams and Noel on the floor at the same time is an interesting thought, but could also be a real failure– two true centers with neither of them possessing any sort of stretch game isn’t something you see often on an NBA floor– and with the current league trends the Thunder would probably be the only team doing that. More likely, Donovan will need to feel out the rotation game by game and adjust their minutes accordingly based on who makes more sense in a given match-up. Initially, I thought Noel would be a really nice back-up center. Now, I’m thinking he can be more than that.

3. Hopefully a lesson learned for Diallo today. Not gonna lie– have developed a bit of an early bias towards Diallo and what he brings to the table. I am already all set for him to replace TFerg in the starting line up or at least supplant many of his minutes. But I’m glad the Thunder didn’t let him dress tonight. If he missed the walk through, he needed to be called out and a bit embarrassed by it. I haven’t heard the “why” yet but my guess is he’s 19 and was probably just being stupid or irresponsible and forgot to set his alarm or something. Always uncomfortable to be the new guy and do something not flattering in front of your peers. In this case I’m sure it’s made worse by the fact that he is ten years younger than the leaders on the team. I imagine they don’t take kindly to stuff like that. Probably not a real fun day for the rookie. He also missed a golden opportunity to get some extended minutes on a night where the Thunder rolled with the bench longer than normal due to the lopsided score. Hopefully this is the last we hear of anything silly like this because that kid has a ton of skill and I’m anxious to see more of him.

4. I moved on from this game about 3 seconds after it ended and hopefully the team will do the same. The 0-4 hole is a terrible way to start and there are true areas of concern that arose from those four losses, but it is also just four games and they will be quickly forgotten if the Thunder can string some wins together. Clippers in town Tuesday and we already owe them for that loss in Los Angeles the second game of the season. Clips pose a much tougher test than we saw from Phoenix tonight; it’s uncomfortable to have these games this early that feel “must win” but if the Thunder want to avoid a truly disastrous start, well then they…must win.

5. The lack of free throw efficiency is alarming. It’s not even the fact they’re missing. They’re missing at an exceptional rate. Their 65.3 percent is the worst free throw percentage in the NBA since the 2011-12 season when Orlando shot 66 percent. Oklahoma City has no one to blame for themselves. It’s unacceptable. If Oklahoma City is going to be a playoff team, let alone a championship caliber team, they’ll have to make their free throws. At this rate, the Thunder are gonna shoot themselves out of the playoffs.

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Five Thoughts Game 6 (Jazz 96, Thunder 91)

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.
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!

Five Thoughts 4-25-18 (Game 5 Thunder 107, Jazz 99)

Five Thoughts 4-25-18 (Game 5 Thunder 107, Jazz 99)

1. First of all, it’s 12:46am and I am on my second draft of the blog for tonight. Because this had the potential to be the last home game of the season I decided to live it up…lots of libations pre game. Then due to the outcome a pit stop post game as well. On the uber ride back to Edmond I almost had to tell the driver to pull over because I thought I was going to hurl. I’m 40 years old; that probably shouldn’t be happening— especially on a Wednesday night— and in the midst of this, I somehow deleted my original draft of this blog entry. Perhaps chalk it up to fat/drunk fingers. But tonight— who cares, I’ll write it again. I might want to relive this night many times over as a matter of fact. While the pursuit of rings should be the goal of any organization; as a fan I also very much value the entertainment a team provides me. That entails putting a competitive product on the court/field consistently and at least dangling the HOPE of great things. If it doesn’t ultimately all come to fruition I can live with it. As long as I’m getting to experience moments along the way. And that is what tonight did. It made this entire season worth it for me. This season was feeling a bit vacant. Decent enough fun, but lacking the thrills and moments of elation of previous seasons. But now we will always have THAT. And I was there. I will never forget it. I’ll never take it for granted. It was the damndest thing I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan and it was a truly great moment in Thunder history as well as my own personal sports fan history. So no matter what happens Friday or beyond I’ll always be able to say “I was there that night.” And that matters to me. A lot.

2. In all seriousness, WTF happened? I mean, what in the holy hell was that? Crowder hit a three with just under 9:00 to play to put Utah up 71-46. That was NOT the moment I thought the game was over. Oh no, I had already given up at halftime— or late in the second quarter even. I knew that the game and series was over long before Crowder hit that shot to put the Jazz up by 25. That shot was just sort of the realization that not only was our season ending, but we were going out by getting our asses kicked for the third straight game. That was pretty surprising to me. I thought we might lose, but I never would have guessed we would get humiliated under these circumstances. My buddy and I discussed leaving. We didn’t stay because we had hope; we stayed just because. Just because it was still kind of early. Figured we’d just go late in the third or early fourth. In the meantime I was just contemplating our season and where we might go from here. Kind of started planning the blog in an obituary fashion. And then, like seven minutes later the game was tied. What? It almost seems like a mathematical impossibility. How do you erase a 25 point lead in half a quarter? That’s just stupid. Makes zero sense. I’ve watched basketball my entire life. I’ve seen some crazy comebacks. But I’ve never seen a combination of point margin/time like that. Once we got it around 15 I started thinking if we got it to 12 by the end of the quarter we could at least dream. To erase the entire lead by the end of the quarter? Well, don’t be silly. Then, it happened.

3. It is sort of like Russ and PG waited 87 and a half games, looked at each, winked, and said “OK….now!” For what may have been the first time all season they were both awesome/unstoppable at the same time. Russ was obviously the catalyst. Over the final 20:00 minutes of the game the score was Russ 33, Jazz 28. That is nuts. He started it with two three’s. He mixed in drives, he drew fouls, he canned mid range jumpers, and he kept firing in three’s. He also grabbed 15 rebounds and had some key assists (including one to Abrines for three that really helped push us over). But unlike last year, a Russ virtuoso performance was not a solo act. PG was a cool customer down the stretch. He was extremely aggressive driving the ball and he kept attacking Gobert. He also hit a massive three to put us up 6 late in the fourth. To see them complimenting each other that way was gratifying.

4. It’s 1:15am now so I gotta wrap this thing up. I am not even sure how to fully process this right now or dissect what it may or may not mean. I don’t think Utah will just fold. I don’t think they will panic. However, this HAS to rattle them at least a little. And it has to energize the Thunder, at least a little. No doubt we benefited massively from Gobert being in foul trouble. We erupted precisely when he sat. But this game was all about Russ going nuclear. Doing what we know he can do. I think he’s probably stifled himself in the name of spreading the ball around. Tonight we saw him throw the entire city on his back. I’m out of words and my eyes are fluttering. I can’t comprehend what I just witnessed.

5. Wow!

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. 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!

Five Thoughts 4-21-18 (Game 3 Jazz 115, Thunder 102)

Five Thoughts 4-21-18 (Game 3 Jazz 115, Thunder 102)

1. Before the game I predicted Utah would win game 3 and Thunder would come back and win a close one in Game 4 to escape by the slimmest of margins. While I won’t completely abandon hope of that, tonight was beyond troubling. Quite simply, Utah appears to be the better team. Since mid January, Jazz have best record in NBA. They have the best defensive player in the NBA. They have the best rookie in the NBA (or second if you prefer Simmons). They have the best three point shooter in the NBA. They are the best defensive team in the NBA. They have one of the (if not THE) best coaches in the NBA. I expected us to lose tonight. What I didn’t expect was to get so overwhelmed. One thing we know— Russ and Adams are tough. They aren’t pushovers. Tonight, they got bullied. Rubio owned Russ and Gobert owned Adams. Both of our guys looked borderline intimidated. I don’t think they WERE intimidated, but they were dominated. That was surprising to see. And it leads me to believe that Utah is simply the better team. They are pretty fun to watch to be honest. Well constructed, well coached, very balanced. They play differently than just about every other team in the league. Much more old school with true bigs and a pass-first point guard. It was somewhat frustrating tonight, but I’m really not upset post game. We look inferior, both in talent and in preparation.

2. The Rubio/Russ thing tonight was very surprising. I certainly did not expect Russ to get his arse handed to him the way he did. Obviously there is simply no way the Thunder are going to sniff a win in any game where Russ gets completely dominated by Ricky Rubio. No doubt the presence of Gobert is having an effect on what Russ does offensively. He is struggling to finish at the rim and tonight you saw him get gun shy and either pass the ball back out or force a pass to nowhere resulting in a turnover. So it’s not like Rubio himself was eating Russ up defensively, but the point is that in the head to head match up one point guard was awesome and the other was subpar. The fourth quarter really highlighted it. With Russ on the bench, PG got going a bit and we cut the lead from 14 down to 7. Russ came back into the game after a Utah timeout. Very first possession, Rubio loses Russ and hits a little jumper. Russ then turns the ball over shortly thereafter. From that point on it’s all Jazz. Thunder were actually having more success with Russ on the bench. You aren’t going to leave him there; I’m not suggesting that. Simply outlining how striking it was tonight that Rubio outplayed RW. Surprising and disappointed. We’ve seen Russ look bad before. We’ve seen him go wild. But it’s been pretty rare where we’ve seen him essentially stand down. He looked shell shocked tonight.

3. Can’t blame any of this series on Melo. He’s done his job. His job for the Thunder isn’t to be a star. It’s to be efficient with the shots he gets and to occasionally bail the offense out with ISO when it stagnates. He’s done that in this series. He’s also made some nice plays on the defensive end with active hands. He will never be an overall positive defensively but with the exception of Game 2, Favors hasn’t really hurt us and in that game he did some of his damage from far away from the basket. Melo is a role player that is supposed clean things up for the top two guys. Can’t point a finger at him when the other two aren’t setting the stage.

4. I liked Donovan inserting Patterson early tonight (clearly Billy reads the blog). It worked out pretty well too as we went on a big run around the time PP came in. Beyond that, Donovan didn’t have any answers tonight. It’s possible the answers aren’t there to be had. Maybe the mix just isn’t right and the experiment was destined to fail. Maybe they just need more than a year to get it all worked out. Maybe he’s done the best anyone can do. It’s also possible there are strings to be pulled that haven’t. I don’t really have any specifics I want to see from Donovan. The rotations are mostly fine. Perhaps some nit picking here or there, but I’m OK with it overall. But if you watch the game tonight it’s pretty clear that one team had something over the other that is hard to replace: Confidence. Utah looked like they had that game totally under control-even when they didn’t. We were the opposite— tentative, confused. There just wasn’t much to like tonight and virtually nothing that would give you confidence that they can figure it out before Utah wins two more. I’m not sure how much of the problem Donovan is or was tonight, but he clearly didn’t have any solutions either.

5. I doubt Russ plays this poorly again. He knows he got abused tonight and I imagine he will come out Monday with some ferocity. It’s possible that could filter throughout the team. It’s also possible that the free and easy spirit with which Utah played could tighten now with some pressure shifting. So I don’t necessarily expect a repeat in Game 4 from what we saw tonight. But I don’t have any confidence that we can do what it takes for four quarters on the road against this team. Perhaps the point guard match up shifts in our favor or at least levels out, but then maybe we don’t shoot the three as well or someone else for Utah picks up where Rubio left off, etc. It would also help if Adams could stay on the floor. The thing is if this was ONLY a gut check game, I’d feel OK about it. But it’s not. This isn’t just a matter of playing harder or smarter. There are real basketball issues here and they aren’t going away. The one thing this team has done well all season long is to wiggle themselves free right before the train comes barreling down the track. Every time I’ve been ready to kick dirt on them they do something great. Something that keeps hope alive. Well, here are again.

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. 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!