Author - Ed Kleese

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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Three takeaways from Thunder’s 113-94 win over the Hawks

It was a dominant performance, as Oklahoma City had a great second quarter to take the lead away from the Atlanta Hawks and never looked back. The Thunder had four different guys in double figures scoring, led by Paul George who had 22 points while Dennis Schroder finished with 20 points of his own. Oklahoma City is now 2-1 in preseason play, with just one more preseason game left until the regular season starts.

Now, here are three takeaways from today’s solid win by the Thunder in Tulsa:

Competent Bench Play

If there is something that Oklahoma City would love to see an improvement in this season, it’s their bench play. Being able to rely on key reserves each game to being consistent is a major key for teams that make it deep in the postseason. It is an area the Thunder have lacked. However, today versus the Hawks, the bench play was very impressive, with Hamidou Diallo and Alex Abrines leading the way. They both looked very comfortable in their roles, Abrines looking seemingly more comfortable than he ever has in a Thunder uniform. Diallo on the other hand, showing he might be ready for a good chunk of minutes, and looking like one of those great Sam Presti sleeper draft picks.

Not to mention, Nerlens Noel had some great minutes today, with big time defensive plays including an absolutely monster block on an attempted slam dunk.

Schroder is fun to watch 

No doubt Dennis in his young career had his struggles in Atlanta. Today versus his former team, Schroder looked very good. His confidence seems very high, and he seems to have the natural ability to run this Thunder offense. From his mid range game, the nifty floaters in the paint and the slick passing to Steven Adams in the two man game, it is no doubt Schroder will have a major role on this Oklahoma City team.

HAMIDOU DIALLO THOUGH

Alright, we’ve already discussed him in a previous takeaway post, and also mentioned above, but he deserves to be mentioned as his play has been a warm welcome. It seemed this guy would be a draft and stash type player, spending most of his playing time in his first year playing for the Oklahoma City Blue. But after a few preseason games, Diallo seems like the real deal, becoming maybe one of those great sleeper picks. He finished with 13 points in 24 minutes, while also just being all over the court today with his insane athleticism. It is preseason, of course, but Diallo has no doubt earned himself some rotation minutes once the regular season begins in nine days.

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Three takeaways from Thunder’s 113-101 win over T-Wolves

The game really wasn’t in doubt. Oklahoma City took their show on the road, added in a little special feature of Paul George. Then, it led with the main act of destroying what little hope the T-Wolves had in this preseason game with a multitude of Steven Adams rebounds and box outs.

Yeah, I’m pretty amped about a preseason box out.

In reality, the Thunder did things better than they did on Wednesday night. They took care of a team that made the playoffs last season. They led by double digits throughout the entire second half and a good chunk of the first half, too.

With all that, here are three things I noticed in the first half.

Steven Adams, you lovely man

Steven Adams is the new mayor of the twin cities. Well, in the preseason sense. The fifth-year man out of Pittsburgh dominated in a way that had their own Timberwolves faithful doubting themselves. He was a monster. Is it just the lackadaisical attitude of the the Timberwolves on the night of a preseason game? Who knows but Steven Adams went 7-of-11 from the floor and only took one shot in the second half as the Thunder didn’t really need anything from him in the second half. He finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Diallo stepped up 

I try to keep expectations to a minimum in preseason. However, I look back to Adams, who beast mode all over the preseason his rookie season. He ended up starting over Kendrick Perkins. Then, there was Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb, who both had good preseasons. So, Hamidou Diallo could be anywhere in there. Tonight, against the Diallo was 3-of-8 from the floor. He had eight points and six rebounds and two steals. He did also have one monster dunk.

Diallo is averaging 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 23.5 minutes this preseason. Stats come and go but his movement off the ball and his defensive executions are what really get your gears going about his ceiling.

The boards

Oklahoma City’s ability to dominate the boards all night. Five different players pulled down at least five rebounds. Adams and Nerlens Noel had 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes tonight. They all were able to limit What Karl Anthony-Towns did tonight. A guy who averaged 12.3 rebounds per game last season really had no other option but stand around and look around. Oklahoma City did a great job tonight on the glass.

The Thunder were 35-11 last season when they won the rebounding battle. If the Thunder are able to rebound at this rate, they’ll put on a really good show this season.

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Three takeaways from OKC’s 97-91 loss to Detroit

The Thunder may have faltered in their first preseason game out of the gates on the scoreboard but in reality, they’re winners. Oklahoma City played well without the likes of Paul George and some guy name Russell Westbrook. What might be the wildest thing is Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ center, played 34 minutes. In a pointless game. That doesn’t matter.

Anyway, let’s break down three quick things about the Thunder’s first preseason game

 

Adams-Schröder Pick-n-roll

These two have good chemistry already. Adams, due to a lack of help, really rolled with the second string a lot last season. This season, with Nerlens Noel helping, that could and should change. The two international bros found their spots early and often. It’s really was Schröder replacing Westbrook in the deadly PnR that did the Pistons in. Sure, you can’t run it for 48 minutes but in select spots the two really found a good play off one another and made the Pistons pay more than Dwayne Casey would want to admit.

Now, this could come in handy if Adams is in there with the second team or if Schröder is running a two-point guard system with Westbrook. That allows Westbrook to work off the ball and the Thunder all of a sudden have huge mismatches all over the court. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Thunder made their free throws

The last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have ranked 29th and 26th the last two seasons from the free throw line. They shot an average of 73.2 percent. It really became a point where the Thunder lost a handful of games they probably should’ve won because they didn’t convert their free throw opportunities. That said, it seemed a little different on Wednesday night. Oklahoma CIty made 22-of-28 from the line (78.6 percent). That sounds average but would’ve ranked the Thunder sixth in the NBA last season.

Westbrook struggled from the line last season. However, Schröder, yes there his name again, is a career 83 percent free throw shooter. The freshly traded Thunder point man went 9-of-9 from the free throw line and that’s why there’s such an elevated free throw percentage. The rest of the team went 13-of-18 (72.2 percent). There is still work to be had.

Who is Nerlens Noel going to be?

His numbers may be skewed as he guarded Drummond for basically three quarters. That’s fine. What Noel did all night was defend and play basketball. I’ll take his effort and output 60 out of 82 games a year. That type of output will get him a nice contract. Drummond, being one of the better big men in the league, needed to eat up against scrubs to get his gaudy numbers.

Noel shot alright, defended fine and did what was asked of him. In a new system and a new city, the big man is trying to figure things out. In his first game with the Thunder, I give him a B. The criticism is soft as the first game of the season is in the books. As the rotation smooths out and the starters are back. I’m interested in what role Noel is going to craft for himself. We don’t need another Dakari Johnson.

Oklahoma City takes on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night in Minnesota. The Thunder and T-Wolves tip off at 7 p.m. It’ll be only broadcasted live on okcthunder.com. We’ll have your complete game coverage on Social media.

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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!

Five Thoughts 4-18-18 (Game 2 Jazz 102, Thunder 95)

Five Thoughts 4-18-18 (Game 2 Jazz 102, Thunder 95)

1. First of all, nothing I saw tonight really changes the way I feel about the series. I feel no panic and I feel no relaxation. I predicted the series to go 6, but I was 50/50 on whether or not to predict it to go 7. I figured this would be a very tight series and I didn’t expect the rollercoaster Thunder season to suddenly even out— especially against a team as sound as Utah. Tonight was frustrating of course as all losses in the playoffs are; but I don’t feel particularly bad or pessimistic about the remainder of the games. Through two games this series appears to be what myself (and many others) figured it would be: fairly evenly-matched with a real lack of easy baskets for either team. I also am not overly caught up in the home court for this series. I don’t see either team sweeping all of their home games. I thought this thing was going at least six and nothing I’ve seen through two games leads me to change my thinking.

2. Sports fans always view the games through the lens of their team. As someone who has spent an embarrassing amount of time on message boards over the years I feel as if I’ve become pretty well versed in how fans act and react. Rarely, if ever, do fans account for the OTHER team. Every loss usually gets pinned on their own failings or the failings of the coach, etc. There is very, very little of tipping the cap to the other side. It kind of drives me crazy. Sometimes, your team blows it. Sometimes, your team stinks. And sometimes you just lose. Sometimes the other guys are pretty good. I thought Donovan Mitchell had a virtuoso stretch tonight and I give him all the credit in the world for saving his team. If Utah falls 2-0 in the series I wouldn’t have liked their chances at all. When we went on our 19-0 run to take the 10 point lead, the Jazz season may have very well been on the line right then and there. Mitchell had struggled all night with Brewer harassing him; but suddenly when his team desperately needed a lifeline, he came to the rescue. He scored 7 points in the final 53 seconds of the third quarter and helped cut the Thunder lead from 10 down to 5. It was a massive moment in the game. It had a scoreboard impact of course, but it also seemed to resuscitate his team. His final numbers weren’t overly impressive, but his timing was impeccable. That kid is a real player. A budding star if you ask me. And he did it against hounding defense from all angles. Hats off to him. He was the best player on the floor tonight in the clutch. He outperformed all of our guys. Looks like the Jazz have a very special player on their hands.

3. On the flip side, don’t need to say much about tonight other than 0-14. That was the combined 4th quarter shooting from Russ, PG, and Melo. Good luck with that. Oddly enough I actually thought we moved the ball and took better shots in the fourth quarter as opposed to earlier in the game. But wow, nothing fell. Utah is the best defensive team in the league; we aren’t going to get very many “easy” looks against them. They are going to force us a little out of our comfort zone. We need to make some shots. In game one, we made them all. In game two, we didn’t make any. If we meet in the middle the rest of the series we should be alright.

4. I am fine with our rotations and strategy thus far in the series. Our defense has been really good. We allowed some easy stuff in the paint game one, but we cleaned that up tonight. Our perimeter defense has been fantastic. Utah is working for everything. Effort has been excellent and they’ve also been pretty smart. Not many breakdowns and we’ve forced turnovers and bad possessions. Rubio and Favors taking three’s is what we want— they hit them tonight, but that is not what Utah WANTS to do offensively. Offensively, we’ve struggled some. It’s due mainly to Utah being so good on D. I think Russ has been pretty patient though; tonight more so than game one. The one criticism I have is that Melo is being extended too long. I don’t like seeing him play the entire first and third quarters. He’s played pretty well thus far; he’s battled with their bigger guys and he’s given them some issues when we have the ball. He’s having a solid series. I just think he needs a slight minutes reduction— those minutes can go to Patterson and/or Grant. Jerami is often already in during those times so Patterson would be the main beneficiary. Not that I’m head over heels for what Patterson is currently offering, but a few more minutes might help get him going and may also result in a fresher version of Melo at the end of the game. Otherwise, in terms of strategic analysis, I think we’ve done fine through two games.

5. I let out a little sigh walking out of the arena tonight; not because I felt dejected, but because we were pretty close to taking this to 2-0 and while 2-0 guarantees nothing, it would have allowed ME to feel more relaxed these next few days in advance of games 3 and 4. Now, the playoff tension has officially set in. It’s a familiar feeling— and I’m grateful for that. It’s almost like that pain you feel when working out. You don’t like it in the moment, but you know it’s all for the best. Without that feeling, the fun of being a fan is sort of wiped out. So, I’ll take it. One of these teams is going to win three more games in this series. It is such a grind. Every possession seems so difficult for both teams. The Jazz fans will be rocking on Saturday night just like we were in OKC. It will likely light a fire early for their team. But then it will settle down and we will have these two teams waging a now familiar battle. I expect to see more of what we’ve seen already and I expect at least one of the next two games to be decided in the final minutes. I kind of wish we didn’t have to wait until (late) Saturday for Game 3 and I also kind of wish it was three weeks away. These games are tense, exhausting. I don’t foresee that tendon lifting until the series officially ends. Buckle up.

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 4-15-18 (Thunder 116, Jazz 108)

Five Thoughts 4-15-18 (Game 1 Thunder 116, Jazz 108)

1. As a die hard sports fan that has languished more often than not for the past 25ish years tethering myself to teams (Redskins, Reds) that have only experienced very brief (and very modest) levels of success, I am forever grateful for the Thunder and what they’ve brought to our city (and my fandom) for the past 10 years. Playoff time in OKC is truly awesome. I don’t take it for granted and I know for sure that someday I will look back on these years with fondness (regardless of how it all eventually turns out). One reason I love it is because so many other people reach “my level” this time of the year. Pretty clear that I’m a locked-in Thunder fan from the opening tip of the opening game. Once the playoffs roll around it ratchets another level and many others who may watch more casually join me and the other mentally unstable die hards for the playoff run. I welcome it. Makes it more fun. It was another typically raucous atmosphere at The Peake tonight. Crowd was pretty lit. Thing is for me, I love the build up to playoff games; the chatter; the anticipation. And I love the aftermath of wins. Makes the days in between fly by and just puts me in a great mood. But the actual games? Oh man, I really don’t like those. Can’t say I really enjoy them all that much. So tense. Lots of nerves. Such a grind. Tonight wasn’t too bad because the lead was comfortable enough throughout the second half. But I could feel it coming. I was still pretty tight. It’s just starting. Looking forward to it. Mostly.2. Don’t get too caught up in the carry-over from game to game in the playoffs. Thunder won tonight in large part because PG went bananas and the team overall was scorching from beyond the arc. You could easily spin it as “well, George was unconscious and the Thunder hit a trillion three’s and it was still close— what are the odds they do that again?” Well, the odds of THAT happening again aren’t good. It is highly unlikely PG is that insanely timely or efficient again in Game 2 or in any game this series. It’s unlikely the Thunder sniff 48% from three again. But don’t get lost in that. In the playoffs everything resets game to game. Tonight they were hot from deep and they rode that to a W. Game 2 is likely to have a different dynamic. Maybe the game will be decided in the paint. Or on the boards. Maybe PG will cool down and someone else will need to heat up. You do what you have to do to win THAT game. This differs from the regular season where you are pacing yourself. You sometimes do things that may lessen your odds in that game in the name of future rewards. That doesn’t happen in the playoffs. It’s all-in game to game and possession to possession. Thunder got the job done in Game 1. Book closed on that. No need to worry about repeating that performance; it’s a whole new show on Wednesday.

3. The formula was on full display tonight. How do the Thunder keep winning and ultimately advancing in the playoffs? You saw it tonight:

A) Either PG or Russ needs to play at a superstar level
B) The other one needs to at least be solid/productive
C) Defense needs to be on point and creating turnovers and break out opportunities
D) Melo (or someone else) needs to efficiently fill in any offensive gaps

Tonight it was check, check, check, check across the board. We had one of our two best players playing at an elite level. Russ wasn’t superb tonight, but he was good enough for sure. Defense was good all game with the exception of a few breakdowns in the paint leading to easy dunks for Utah. And I thought Melo was great— especially in the first half. He was active and made plays on both ends. With the team struggling a bit early he helped get things on track. It was really a perfect blending of three players.

4. No Thunder game is EVER over until the final buzzer. This cuts both ways— whether they are ahead or behind. I’ve never seen anything like it. They are capable of making amazing comebacks and they are capable of blowing seemingly insurmountable leads. It’s remarkable. Even when the other team waves the white flag and takes their starters out like Utah did tonight, it STILL isn’t over. Now, truth be told the Jazz never REALLY threatened late. But they did make it a little uneasy and they certainly added another five to ten minutes (in real time) that were totally unnecessary. Tonight, it was mainly due to Russ being careless/dumb at the end. With an 11 point lead and a little over a minute to go, Russ attacked the rim early in the shot clock for some reason. He could have bled it down to about 45 seconds. Even if they miss, eleven points and 45 seconds is virtually impossible to overcome (even against the Thunder). But a quick shot, followed by a quick three and now it’s an 8 point game with over a 1:00 remaining. Still a long shot, but you’ve now at least given Utah reason to keep trying. And it just muddies up the end of the game. Russ made a few shaky decisions tonight but that was the worst. I understand not wanting to go stagnant with the lead and just hoist something at the end of the shot clock, but with that little time remaining, it’s fine. Not a good “time and place” decision by Russ there. We’ve of course also seen him do the opposite and get a game within shouting distance that was long before lost. So it goes both ways. Luckily it only cost us a few extra heart palpitations and a few extra minutes tonight.

5. All around good effort. Team was well prepared, they played with great energy, and gave an excellent effort on the defensive end for 48 minutes. They did a good job of protecting the six point halftime lead. They didn’t slack to start the second half and maintained the lead throughout the remainder of the game. PG was sensational. Russ solid. Melo and Abrines with positive contributions. The Thunder are clearly the more explosive team here. Utah is going to have to win this series by grinding the Thunder down and frustrating us into consistently poor decisions. The bad news for Utah is that OKC is pretty adept at winning ugly— they’ve had a lot of practice with that this year. A grind doesn’t bother the Thunder. As a matter of fact, I think they welcome it. Now is the time for adjustments. Both coaches have seen the initial strategy from the other. Game 2 of a series is often where you will see the biggest changes/shifts in approach. For the Thunder, I don’t think much will change defensively other than maybe trying to throw a few different looks at Mitchell (he’s fantastic by the way). Utah defended us well tonight— we just made tough shots. Not really sure what else they might try and do that we didn’t see tonight. It was a really good effort and a solid win. Nice to be able to enjoy it for two days. Game 2 should yield results that get us farther down the road.

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 4-11-18 (Thunder 137, Grizzlies 123)

Five Thoughts 4-11-18 (Thunder 137, Grizzlies 123)

1. You know how in the movies there is sometimes a ridiculous scene where the protagonist narrowly escapes death by a matter of inches? You know, they untie themselves a half second before the train roars over them or they grasp on with their pinky to the ledge just before they fall 100 stories to their death? The kinds of scenes that can almost a ruin a movie because they are so absurd. You just don’t slip off the roof of the Sears Tower and save yourself by the narrow margin of a hangnail and then walk away clean ten seconds later. Yet, it DID happen for the Thunder this year. There were multiple occasions this year where the season was on the verge of tumbling over the cliff. Just five days ago, the Thunder were facing a road game at Houston with the VERY real possibility that they could miss the playoff altogether. Their last three road games they trailed in fourth quarter in all of them. They won them all. So here we are five days later… Not only did they make the playoffs, but they somehow managed to claim the 4 seed and home court advantage. And now they line up on the opposite side of the Warriors on the bracket. In a season full of tough luck and bad bounces, nearly everything went right for the Thunder over these final days. All the hand-wringing, all the frustration, all the worry about the colossal failure of potentially missing the playoffs…and here they are: home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in a highly competitive conference.

2. No sense in diving too deep into the Memphis game. I am neither going to gush over how we manhandled them for the most part and I am not going to be concerned about sleepwalking for much of the second half. The Grizzlies didn’t put an NBA team on the floor tonight. Dillon Brooks is a good looking rookie, but that was a ragtag bunch for the most part. They had their bags packed and were ready to get to the beach after that one. Been a long year in Memphis. So the Thunder did what they were supposed to do and buried them early. Then, they jacked around the last quarter and a half and allowed the score to be more respectable. I didn’t care. It was meaningless in my eyes. What I liked was that PG seems to have found his stroke again and Adams looked much more spry tonight than he has recently. Schedule has been brutal lately— it was nice to end with a game where the opponent was almost literally physically incapable of being you on any night.

3. Loved that Russ went ahead and attacked the glass to secure the triple double average. I viewed it as a bit of a middle finger to his critics accusing him “stat chasing.” Personally, I would be happy to field a team of guys who all “chase stats” the way he does. No doubt Russ snatches rebounds from his teammates on occasion. But when he rebounds the ball, the offense also starts much, much faster. By allowing Russ to grab a rebound that would otherwise be easy for a big man, is that it jumpstarts the offense. He so damn fast that he’s often at the mid court line in what seems like one dribble after the rebound. Averaging a triple double is insanity. Doing it two years in a row is double insanity. There is nothing wrong with chasing an accomplishment simply for the gratification of accomplishing it. He is in the record books (again) and I would have been disappointed had he just let others do the glass work tonight. He is who is he. Glad to see he didn’t pretend to be someone else.

4. The Nick Collison tribute tonight was both heartfelt and awkward. I figured there would be some acknowledgement of this potentially being his last regular season home game. I just didn’t expect it would come from Russ holding a microphone before tip. That was a nice gesture from Russ even if it produced a bit of red-faced moment for Nick. It was clear Russ wanted to let everyone know how he feels about Nick and it was clearly an honest statement from the heart. It was cool. Then the “we want Nick” chants made things a little uneasy. They came too early in the game. The other thing is that he isn’t the team trainer or some Rudy-esque walk on. Collison was a star college player and a darn good NBA contributor for over a decade. He’s now been relegated to something of a team mascot— and while I am sure he appreciates the love from the fans and understands it is completely well intentioned— he is probably also a little embarrassed by it. Then, what are the odds that a guy gets hurt shooting a three and the OTHER team is the one who decides to put Nick into the game? That was an oddly tense moment. Poor Collison had legit pressure on him with the entire arena wanting to see him score. It was kind of painful to watch him miss all those free throws. Then a relief when he finally got one to go. In the end, he got his well deserved ovation and acknowledgement. It’s cool that both the player and organization have felt it important enough for him to remain here his entire career. And we can’t forget that by all accounts Russ is a someone who prefers the routine, the familiar. He also appreciates loyalty and toughness. It’s no surprise he respects Collison. And keeping Nick around these past couple of years likely hasn’t hurt. Very nice to see Mr. Thunder have a little moment— even if it was a clunky moment.

5. Now, it’s on to Utah and the postseason. What to expect? Honestly it’s almost midnight and I’m tired. I mean this both literally and figuratively. It’s been a long grind. Five Thoughts multiplied by 82 games is well, a lot of thoughts. Let’s call it a night and drop a playoff version before the games start this weekend.

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!