Five Thoughts 4-9-18 (Thunder 115, Heat 93)
1. At the end of the game tonight as the starters exited for the last minute or so, I am pretty sure I FELT the same way the team LOOKED. That was the happiest/most relaxed looking Thunder team I’ve seen all season. There was relief (I was definitely feeling that), but I think there was a bit more than that. It wasn’t just relief that “oh we clinched a playoff spot finally.” It was more along of the lines of “oh, we can be pretty good after all.” These last two games have been essential for obvious reasons, but not only did they GET the Thunder into the playoffs, it feels like they also have some real momentum now. They’ve won three of four. The three wins were all on the road against playoff teams (Pelicans, Rockets, Heat). The middle team there just so happened to be riding a 20 game win streak in their arena. All three games required fourth quarter comebacks. The Thunder delivered all three times. Quite frankly, in those three fourth quarters the Thunder have looked awesome. Dominant even. Tonight was off the charts. 39-12? Goodness. So while I am of course happy to finally shake free of the potential deflation of missing the playoffs entirely, I am genuinely excited to see what this can do now that they are there. There could be a silver lining to our struggles throughout the year. Thunder were forced to focus and gel at the end. They now enter the playoffs as underdogs of sorts. And as long as they win Wednesday, they will avoid Houston and GS in round one. It’s not a terrible spot to be in.
2. I was not feeling relief or happiness early on. As a matter of fact, that brutal start had me feeling about as frustrated and tense as I’ve felt all year (and that’s saying something). They started the game 0-10 and were down 23-5 for crying out loud. Even early, that’s a tall mountain to climb. The fact that they somehow managed to get it down to 6 by the end of the quarter was huge. Abrines may have hit one of the bigger shots of the year. He made their first shot from the field; after that things started to flow. The starters literally didn’t make a shot before that sub was made. Miami helped by missing a boatload of three’s (although they were killing us in the paint). I also thought Melo was key to the game not getting away early. Good energy and one huge block on the defensive end to stop a momentum turning play. The bench overall was massive tonight. I didn’t like the way we played the third quarter—especially Russ. Rushed, sloppy, quick shots. The game was starting to slowly slip away. Bench saved the day. Just huge to start the fourth with a big run like that. Patterson hasn’t been putting up big numbers, but he has been far more effective lately. And what can you say about Grant? He’s a beast. Glad to see Donovan extending him deeper into the rotation in the fourth quarter. He’s earned it. Starters did a great job of closing the game out, but the bench teed it up for them.
3. Been saying it for over a week now— I’m concerned about Adams. Everyone else is sort of rounding into shape and he is regressing. He’s struggling a bit to score inside, he’s missing more free throws, and he isn’t making as many impactful plays on either end. I wouldn’t say he’s been bad by any means, but he just sort of been so-so out there. I really wonder about him physically. He takes such a beating. He’s also had some tough match ups lately with Jokic, Anthony Davis, Capela, and Whiteside. Kind of looks to me like he is on fumes. I guess they really can’t with seeding on the line, but I’d love to see him sit against Memphis. They should be able to beat them regardless. It would be nice for Adams to get a legit 5-6 days off before the playoffs begin. Of everyone on the team, it seems he needs it the most.
4. Gotta give PG credit where it is due. He cost us the GS game (he admitted as much himself), but with our backs against the wall these past two games he has gotten the job done. Not a huge fan of seeing him hoist 13 three’s in a game, but the ones he made were pretty timely. Even with that volume of outside shots, he still drove the ball fairly frequently as well. Early in the game he helped keep us from drowning by getting to the free throw line— and he’s the one guy this year that has been reliable once he gets there.
5. Thunder answered the call over the past week or so; certainly over the past two games. Now the Thunder can perhaps have a little fun. Memphis is a bad team when relatively healthy/trying to win. Right now, they are in a mad dash to get this season over with and get as many ping pong balls in their favor as possible. They essentially sat down half of their team tonight with various ailments. In the case of Marc Gasol they just called it “rest.” Because I guess he won’t get enough of that over the next 5-6 months once their season ends Wednesday. They actually hung with the Wolves through three quarters tonight because even when teams “tank” the actual players on the floor don’t. These are generally guys trying to stick in the NBA, so they will play hard— at least for awhile. On Wednesday the Thunder need to come out focused like it’s a playoff game and put it away early. Memphis will absolutely wave the white flag early if the score is ugly. Potential is there for Thunder to coast and an easy win with additional rest isn’t going to hurt at all at this point. They shouldn’t take the game for granted, but in all reality, this should be an open and shut game. For the first time in well over a month the Thunder SHOULD give us a stress free night. If they do, the guarantee the six seed at a minimum with the 4 or 5 still very much in play depending on other results that evening. This is a much more comfortable place to be than I thought it would be prior to the Houston game. If indeed the Thunder have figured something out, the my did so at the absolute latest point possible without causing irreparable damage to their chances. Hope lives.