Five Thoughts 3-20-18 (Celtics 100, Thunder 99)
2. Also have to mention the ridiculously bad luck the Thunder have had this year on miracle shots. That possession by Boston is NOT what they wanted. That was hardly the goal. It was good D from the Thunder. The ball was forced out of Tatum’s hands and Morris caught it sort of awkwardly. He isn’t the guy you want shooting it anyway (if you are the Celtics) and it wasn’t really a clean look. All the credit to him for making it, but you aren’t going to pin that on much of anything but bad luck from a Thunder perspective. They also lost the game early in the season against the Wolves where Wiggins banked it in at the buzzer. Both of those were when the Thunder were winning. Gary Harris’ long three at the buzzer in Denver came when the game was tied. Even the night Russ hit the game winner in Sacramento— that was necessitated because the Kings had a miss and tip in to tie it with one second left. Let’s also not forget the game winner from Giannis where he stepped out of bounds prior to making the shot. Dennis Smith of the Mavs had one too. There have been some others as well. Generally these things tend to even out— and of course as a fan you remember the bad more than the good. But objectively I would say that this year the Thunder have had some abnormally bad luck when the other team has the ball in a game winning/tying situation.
3. If you were to nit-pick the game beyond the free throws, I think you’d look at a general malaise from the team throughout most of the game. The energy was just a bit off. I actually thought they played pretty hard/well defensively, but didn’t seem as dedicated tonight on the offensive end. Took the easy way out and were settling for shots throughout much of the game. Looked like they might have been trying to “feel the game out” to see exactly how hard they had to push it. I actually don’t have an issue with that. Good teams sometimes do it. They turned it on when they had too— and then got undone by their free throw failings. You could certainly argue that playing with a touch not focus earlier in the game could have avoided the issue entirely. This is a bit of an annoying trait for this team, but it’s likely not something that will haunt them in the playoffs. It’s pretty clear they know how to dial it up emotionally when the stakes are highest (or at leas the competition is stiffest). In the playoffs I doubt they ever try to “get away” with anything. There is also the reality of General fatigue at play here. Even Adams looked a bit slower and less engaged tonight. And I think we all know it isn’t because he was actively not trying to play as hard.
4. I guess I’ll just keep harping on it as long as it keeps happening: It is time to scrap the 11 man rotation. By playing Huestis, Abrines, AND TFerg it is preventing any of them from getting into a groove or contributing consistently. Specifically throwing Huestis out there with the bench bunch lineup makes no sense because it is just a killer on the offensive end. I think he should just sit, period. But if Huestis plays he should be out there with some of the starters/scorers. I like what Donovan is doing with the other parts of the rotation right now, but the inconsistency with those three isn’t helping any of them.
5. The playoff race is slowly becoming a bit more clear. The Nuggets and Clippers are fading fast. While I am not 100% ready to say the Thunder can officially forget about those two, I think we are trending that way. We have reached a point now where it would take an extreme result for either of those teams to pass the Thunder. That means that simply making the playoffs isn’t really a legitimate worry at this point. Catching Portland for the three seed is also not realistic (and I don’t care about that anyway). Looks to me like the Thunder are battling for the 4th-8th seed. They truly could land anywhere in that mix. The difference between 4 and 5 matters due to home court, but it isn’t massive. Falling to 6 isn’t a complete disaster, but it’s not good because now you get Portland and potentially Golden State if you survive the Blazers. The 7-8 seeds would be horrible for obvious reasons (and I also think both GS and Houston would likely feel the same way if they had to play OKC in round one). So the four seed is the clear goal. At minimum, don’t drop below five. Looking at all of the schedules for the teams at play, I like the Thunder to stay on the 4/5 line if they simply don’t crash down the stretch. With 9 games remaining something like 5-4 could very well keep them where they want to be. Friday is one of their “easier” remaining games. Miami is a really tough team; they max out what they have. They remind me a little bit of Utah in that regard (albeit a slightly lesser version). This is a game the Thunder need to win. Portland looms on Sunday followed by three teams in the middle of this race (Spurs, Nuggets, Pelicans). You can’t “make up” a loss like the one we saw tonight. You aren’t getting that one back. But you can sure as hell make it worse.