Author - Marshall Clayton

Thunder drop another one to Minnesota

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost another tight one in the last moments, 119-116, to the Minnesota Timberwolves dropping to 0-2 to the Wolves on the season. It was another high-scoring affair against this physical Minnesota team. The Thunder are now 2-3 on the season.

The Thunder have been very good defensively up until tonight, only giving up about 96 points per game. That was not the case tonight, as the Timberwolves lived off of second chance points and points in the paint, all the while putting up a whopping 119 points.

The whole story of the game was Minnesota wanting it more, especially late in the game. They seemed to get every loose ball, and killed Oklahoma City on the offensive glass. Too many times tonight the Thunder were giving up second chance points and were just plainly out hustled by the Wolves.

“I thought we played really really well in the first 18 minutes,” Billy Donovan said about the second half play by the Thunder, “I thought the last six minutes of the fourth quarter we really struggled on both ends of the floor.”

When asked about what the difference was, Donovan mentioned the rebounding.  “That was really the difference in the game,” Donovan said. Oklahoma City was out-rebounded by nine boards tonight. They also gave up 17 offensive rebounds.

Oklahoma City also put the Timberwolves on the charity stripe a lot tonight, 35 times to be exact. Minnesota shot 10 more free throws than the Thunder did. There might’ve been some questionable officiating, but the Thunder were also not defending without fouling tonight.

With all that said, Oklahoma City still had a chance to tie this game and send it into overtime. After a Jeff Teague missed free throw, Carmelo Anthony had a decent look at a potential game tying three-pointer but missed it.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Thunder looked overall as a unit, as good as they looked all season despite the tough loss. Four different Thunder players scored more than 20 points and as a team they shot 50 percent from the floor.

Both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George found their groove early on, both finishing with 23 points each. They finished both shooting better than 50 percent from the floor.

Adams also had a monster game, much like he did the last time these two teams met. Adams finished the night with 20 points and eight rebounds. He also shot an excellent 80 percent from the floor.

Westbrook was very methodical on offense, picking his spots when to attack and when to find the open man. He had another all-around night finishing with 27 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists.

Though with all the positives offensively, the Thunder just could not get the job done defensively. Karl Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler led the way for Minnesota.

Towns had a huge night, on both ends, putting up 33 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. He struggled defensively last time the Wolves played the Thunder but he was a monster tonight.

Butler finished his night with 25 points and closed the game very well to seal the win for the Timberwolves.

Billy Donovan also loved what he saw with the bigger lineups for the Thunder tonight. Often he went with Jerami Grant and Josh Huestis over Andre Roberson in the lineups. These taller lineups were successful but obviously struggled to get stops defensively. With the emergence of Huestis, these type of lineups could be seen a lot more down the road.

Roberson only played nine minutes tonight. That could be because of the bigger lineups ran by Donovan and also him being too much of a liability on the offensive end, though his defending was definitely missed.

Both games versus the Timberwolves have been very close, but still losses for Oklahoma City. It is still early, but these two losses to a divisional rival could have big implications when it comes to playoff-seeding time in April.

The Thunder will have to shake this loss off quickly though, since they travel to Chicago to face the Bulls tomorrow night. Chicago being just 1-3 on the season, it is a good chance for Oklahoma City to bounce back before facing off against a very good Milwaukee team.  Thunder tip is set for 7 p.m. CST on Saturday night.

Keys to the game

Win the rebounding battle: F

This was obviously the biggest problem Oklahoma City struggled all game with. Towns and company dominated the glass and kept possessions alive all game long. If the Thunder could’ve just secured a couple more rebounds, we might be talking about a different outcome.

Limit the turnovers:  C

Oklahoma City has been a turnover machine early in this season, and they could not afford to do that against a Minnesota team that is good in transition. The Thunder only turned it over 14 times, which isn’t too bad all things considered, but they still took the loss so they only get an average grade here.

Big night for big three: A

Even though with the loss, there is a slight moral victory here. Oklahoma City’s big three continue to improve their chemistry and they all three looked comfortable offensively tonight. They combined for 73 points on better than 50 percent shooting from the floor. Hopefully they can build on this Saturday night versus Chicago.

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Thunder Digits: OKC dominates behind Westbrook triple-double

It was a reunion in the Chesapeake arena as the Oklahoma City Thunder took on the Indian Pacers. Domas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo got a nice ovation from the home crowd, while Paul George faced off against his former team. The Thunder cruised to a 114-97 win behind a spectacular game from Russell Westbrook who recorded another triple double in this early season. Here are some interesting digits from tonight’s game:

2

Westbrook was a monster tonight, and continues to play like one of the best players on the planet. He recorded his second triple-double of the season in just four games played for Oklahoma City. He finished the night with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists.

25

It was a nice night for Josh Huestis, who saw himself play 25 minutes off the bench. It was probably because of Terrance Ferguson not being healthy the past couple days, but also how Huestis performed in the preseason he earned these minutes. It will be interesting moving forward if Huestis can play his way consistently into the rotation.

17

Steven Adams had a heck of a game, feasting on the Indiana frontcourt. He finished with 17 points, along with 11 rebounds. Adams also shot 62 percent from the floor. Steven continues to look very good early in this season, and has gotten better and better each game so far.

35

The officiating at times was very weird tonight, going from a lot of ticky-tack calls, to players being mauled and no-call. Nonetheless, Indiana capitalized and got to the free throw line 35 times, hitting 30 of those attempts. Knowing that, it is even more impressive Oklahoma City held the Pacers to 96 points, almost a third of those points coming from the charity stripe.

19

It was a frustrating night for Paul George, who could not stay out of foul trouble. That factor kept George to just 19 minutes played tonight, with only 10 points. He did shoot 50 percent from the floor, just not much time to get his offense going considering the little amount of time he was able to be in the game.

35

The number 35 was obviously a popular number tonight, as Victor Oladipo put up 35 points, a game-high. Victor looked very comfortable tonight and seems to embrace being “the” guy in Indiana. Oladipo has had an insanely great start to the season.

8

The Oklahoma City defense was very impressive tonight, finishing with eight steals and eight blocks. Adams had two blocks and two steals, while Westbrook had three of the eight steals. Carmelo Anthony was also active on defense, finishing with three blocks.

28

Carmelo Anthony continues to look very comfortable on his new squad, putting up 28 points tonight on 53 percent shooting from the field. He led the team in scoring, while also chipping in ten rebounds.

3

All in all, it was an all-around effort from this Thunder team. Three different Thunder players, Anthony, Westbrook, and Adams finished with a double-double. Tonight was a good night in showing this team’s improvements in playing together, and how the chemistry is building each game.

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Thunder Digits: Oklahoma City drops first road game of the season

The Oklahoma City Thunder had their first road game of the season and it was pretty ugly from start to finish. Oklahoma City could never seem to find a rhythm offensively, and the Utah Jazz defense gave them fits all night. A lot of turnovers and constant mishaps led to the nine-point loss. Here are some digits from tonight’s game:

14

The Thunder couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean for a lot of the game, especially in the first quarter. They were missing shots left and right and only managed to score 14 points in the whole first quarter. They shot just 27 percent from the floor in the first 12 minutes.

6

Russell Westbrook had a night he will not want to remember. He just seemed out of sync offensively all game, and his shots refused to go in. He only scored six points all game while shooting 18 percent from the floor.

20

Utah’s largest lead of the night was 20 points. They ended up only winning by single digits, but led by more than ten for most of the final quarter. Oklahoma City battled back a couple times, but could never really get back in striking distance.

2-of-28

One of the main reasons for Oklahoma City losing this game is because the hole they dug themselves into early in the first half. Oklahoma City over a period of 15 minutes throughout the first half, shot the ball 28 times and only hitting two of those attempts. The Utah defense was playing very well, along with the Thunder just missing everything.

20

Rudy Gobert is a defensive monster and he absolutely made a huge impact on Oklahoma City tonight. The Thunder refused to go into the paint to score points and it was for good reason. They only scored 20 points inside the painted area and had to rely heavily on jump shots all night. Gobert was the main reason for that and he is going to be a defensive stopper for many seasons to come.

29

Alex Abrines played nearly 30 minutes tonight, and obviously the sixth man of this Thunder squad. With all the new additions, Abrines is still searching for his niche but he has been pretty solid in these first two games, despite tonight’s loss.

2

The physicality of the game was intense for most of the game, and it definitely started to frustrate Oklahoma City. Both Adams and Carmelo Anthony were hit with technical fouls at separate points in the game. Utah is one of those teams that will grind you down to win games since they aren’t the most athletic or heavily talented. That type of play was successful for them against the Thunder.

5

Utah scored by committee tonight, as five different Jazz players finished with double digits in the scoring column. Ricky Rubio and Gobert both chipped in 16 points each while Joe Ingles had a team-high 19 points.

8

Oklahoma City is at their best when they get out and run, and tonight they could not do any of that. The Jazz slowed them down and only allowed the Thunder to score eight points in the fast break.

14

The big three had a combined 14 turnovers, as it is apparent this chemistry thing is a work in process. The 14 turnovers seem to mostly stem from the guys being a little too unselfish at times and over-passing the ball. That will improve over time, as the big three continue to gel together and play more together.

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Thunder top Nuggets 96-86 in preseason finale

The Oklahoma City Thunder finished their preseason on the road in Denver with a 96-86 win over the Nuggets. It was a very physical game and had a much higher intensity level than expected, with it being preseason. Thunder’s physicality on defense and Russell Westbrook’s 20 points led the way to victory.

Russell Westbrook might’ve had a bigger scoring night had it been a regular season game. He put up 18 points in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor. He finished the night with 20 points and seven assists in only 26 minutes played.

Westbrook also picked up a weird flagrant foul early in the first quarter, after completely shoving Nikola Jokic to the ground when trying to set a screen. From there on out, the physicality and intensity of the game picked up immensely.

Oklahoma City jumped out to an early lead and kept a fair distance between them and Denver for most of the night. It was only a late third quarter run by Denver that got them back in the game. That was answered by a plethora of threes midway through the fourth quarter by Oklahoma City to essentially seal the win.

Paul George was also impressive tonight, and seems to be the guy Billy Donovan wants to run the second unit with. He was a little too passive in the first half, but made the right adjustments in the second half, and caught fire from three in the fourth quarter. George hit four of his five made three-pointers in the fourth, putting this game away for Oklahoma City. He finished the night with 19 points, 11 boards and five steals.

Carmelo Anthony did his part as he chipped in 16 points of his own along with nine rebounds. Anthony seems the most comfortable so far with playing with Russell. It is very clear fast breaks are going to be very fun with this big three.

Thunder’s defense as a whole tonight was very physical and caused Denver problems all night. The Nuggets only shot 34 percent from the floor, and seemed out of sync for most of the night, offensively speaking. Steven Adams, who did an excellent job guarding Jokic, set the tone early defensively for Oklahoma City. He had three blocks by the end of the first quarter, finishing the game with five total.

Tonight, even though it was just preseason, The Thunder looked the part as a western conference title contender; Big plays from their big three, physical defense, and solid contributions from the role players.

Oklahoma City now has a good amount of time off until their next game, which will be the regular season opener on Thursday, Oct. 19. They will open the season at home versus the New York Knicks, in front of a Thunder crowd ready to see what this revamped Thunder team can do.

Things To Watch

How the big three play together: A

The big three combined for 55 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists in limited minutes, which is pretty impressive. When all out on the court, the ball movement was efficient while the shot making was even better. It was just preseason but the Thunder’s three will continue to develop chemistry, but it seems to have developed pretty well so far.

Stay healthy: A+

No one for Oklahoma City left the game because of injury, so this was a success. Patrick Patterson was held out but he should be ready to go for the season opener next week. We did see the first minutes of the season from Alex Abrines tonight. He looked healthy, and obviously hit the weight room this past offseason. He hit both of his shot attempts tonight, one being a three-pointer. He played about 15 minutes.

Hey bench, show up: B+

The bench was once again pretty solid, led mostly by Terrance Ferguson and Josh Huestis. It should no longer be a question if Huestis will get real minutes or not this year, because he’s proven once again they need to give him minutes. He finished the night with 15 points and nine rebounds. He hit four of his nine attempts from three, and was very active defensively. It is also a huge advantage knowing Billy Donovan will have at least one of the big three out on the court at all times this season when the bench is in the game.

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Thunder Digits: Thunder knock off Pelicans

The Oklahoma City Thunder got their first win of the preseason, with a 102-91 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. It was the preseason home opener, Russell Westbrook’s first game back, which made it everyone’s first look at the big three in action even if it was only for a small portion of the game. Here are some interesting digits and stats from tonight’s preseason win:

9

Only nine minutes logged for Russell Westbrook, but man, were those nine minutes a lot of fun. Westbrook put up nine points, four assists, and one rebound in that little span of playing time. The chemistry between him, Melo and George was surprisingly pretty good for their first real playing time together. All three got wide-open shots on different possessions, and all were the right amount of unselfish.

25

It was a really productive night from Paul George who played the most minutes out of the big three. He finished with 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor. He was also very active on the defensive end, with a lot of deflections on help defense and also added two steals to the stat sheet.

16

Oklahoma City had their largest lead late in the second half, up by 16 points at one point. They let New Orleans creep back in, and even let them lead briefly in the second half, but essentially won the game by double digits after it was all said and done.

20

It was another turnover-prone game from Oklahoma City, as they turned it over 20 times. They turned it over 18 times in their last game, and the turnover bug was back tonight. The Thunder turned it over 14 times in the first half, and limited their mishaps to just six turnovers in the second half. So if there is a silver-lining with all the turnover problems, at least they got better as the game went on.

18

As Billy Donovan brought in the reserves in the fourth quarter, it was an impressive defensive outing from them as they held the Pelicans to just 18 points in the fourth quarter. It was just a four point lead for Oklahoma City after three quarters, so the bench did a good job of playing discipline defense in the fourth to lead the Thunder to a nice double-digit win.

27

Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins both barely played 14 minutes tonight, but they were both very productive in the time they were out on the floor. They combined for 27 points, and just thrashed the Thunder low post defense. Those two will be a tough matchup for Oklahoma City, and pretty much every NBA team this season.

45

This game seemed to drag on at times, as the officials seemed to blow their whistle at every little contact they’d see. There was a total of 45 fouls called tonight, as both teams shot over 25 free throws each. Paul George has had nine total fouls called in his first two preseason games, four of those coming in tonight’s game.

24

Another bright spot in Thunder’s win tonight was Terrance Ferguson. The rookie was impressive tonight, as he led the bench with 24 minutes played. He shows a lot of confidence on both ends of the ball and is not shy to pull the trigger from three. He has been very active on defense in these first two games, and is a guy that will definitely get meaningful minutes this season.

14

A bunch of Thunder players saw minutes tonight, 14 to be exact. There was a lot of young guys who had some very positive minutes including Josh Huestis and even Dakari Johnson. The Thunder organization has a lot of guys that show promise, which is a great problem to have. It will be interesting to see who gets more minutes off the bench as the preseason and training camp continues on.

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Paul George’s turn in OKC’s 102-91 win over NOLA

In their first official game as the Big Three, all three players looked the part as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 102-91 on Friday night to earn their first preseason win.

Paul George led all scoring with 25 points on 7-of-14 shooting in only 27 minutes. He was the only Thunder player to finish in double figures.

Russell Westbrook also made his first seasonal appearance since being crowned the MVP. He only played nin minutes but really shined with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, getting to the line five times and a pretty two hand dunk that made SportsCenter. He also four assists and one rebound

Westbrook played for the first time this preseason after getting a platelet rich plasma injection in his knee. He missed the team’s Blue-White scrimmage and the preseason opener against Houston in Tulsa on Monday. Westbrook has said that he is fine and the injection is something he does each year, but he did it later than usual this year because he spent a lot of time at home focusing on his newborn son.

Anthony added nine points and six rebounds.

Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 14 points and seven rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins scored 13 points and Ian Clark and Jrue Holiday each scored 11.

What to watch for

How the big three play together: B+

It was a very small sample size as Westbrook only played nine minutes, but it was enough to see that should have the Thunder fan base very excited. With Anthony, George, and Russell all out there, the ball movement was smooth and crisp. Scoring the ball came at ease and the offense flowed very well. We will see more as the preseason goes on and Westbrook gets more minutes, but tonight was a very good start.

How OKC guards Boogie and AD: C

With Davis and Cousins both only playing a handful of minutes, this is also hard to grade but it was a very average performance from Oklahoma City when guarding these two all-stars. Both finished with double digits points and made their presence known when on the floor. Thunder’s low post defense will be an interesting thing to watch as the season gets started.

Hey bench, show up: A

The bench was very impressive tonight, especially with closing out the fourth quarter the way they did. Billy Donovan pulled all starters midway through the third and the reserves answered the bell the rest of the way. It was impressive play from guys like Terrance Ferguson, Josh Heustis and even Semaj Christon. The bench held New Orleans to just 18 points in the fourth quarter and led the Thunder to a double-digit win. Obviously Oklahoma City is still without Patrick Patterson and Abrines, but it was impressive nonetheless without them.

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Thunder Digits: Thunder drop preseason opener

It was Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener, as they took on the Houston Rockets in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Rockets took the win at a score of 104-97, but Thunder fans all over got their first real look at the Thunder and all their new additions to the roster including Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Here are some interesting digits from tonight’s game:

19

Even in the loss, Carmelo was a bright spot catching fire early, putting up all 19 of his points in the first half in just 19 minutes played. He shot 54 percent from the floor, while hitting three of his five attempts from three-point land.

24

Houston seemingly couldn’t miss from deep, hitting 24 three-pointers tonight. They looked like they were in mid-season form, as they hit an impressive 44 percent of their attempts beyond the arc. Eric Gordon led the way as he hit six of the 24 makes.

26

Paul George played 26 minutes tonight, most of those minutes coming in the first half, but also played a little in the third quarter. He finished the night with 15 points on just over 45 percent shooting from the floor.

12

Twelve different Thunder players saw the floor tonight, including the rookie Terrance Ferguson and other young guys like Dakari Johnson and Daniel Hamilton.

18

Oklahoma City was very sloppy with the ball tonight, turning the ball over 18 times. It was their first game of the pre-season so there will be some kinks to workout, but it is not something to write off. Turnover numbers will be something to pay attention to, especially with all the new faces on the team this season.

5

Five different Thunder players finished with double digits in scoring tonight, including Isaiah Canaan and Daniel Hamilton with 11 points each. Jerami Grant also put up 10 points of his own.

+10

Kyle Singler got his fair share of playing time tonight, logging 13 minutes played. Even though he was 0-for from the field, he was still a plus-10 in the plus/minus column, which means nothing, but is also quite hilarious.

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Thunder to meet with Zach Randolph

The Oklahoma City Thunder have reportedly shown interest in Grizzlies’ unrestricted free agent Zach Randolph, the soon to be 36-year old veteran power forward.

According to Turner Sports reporter David Aldridge, Randolph is set to meet with teams in Los Angeles tonight. Interest is coming from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, and Los Angeles Clippers. Free agency officially begins tonight at 11 p.m.

In a sixth-man type role for the Grizzlies last season, Randolph appeared in 73 games averaging 14.1 points a game and just over 8.2 rebounds. He will be entering his 18th season in the association, and could be a very solid veteran player off the bench for Oklahoma City.

The Thunder have been looking for more consistency off their bench and Randolph could be a good start, as he is a veteran who knows what exactly is role is in this league.

Oklahoma City, with the situation as is, does not have much money to spend on the free agency market. But with an older veteran like Randolph, they could get him for a pretty nice bargain, considering his age. He will be 36 by the end of the month and has a lot playing on his resume. Even so, Randolph could be a nice addition to the very young core the Thunder have right now.

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Draft Prospectus: Derrick White

With only a few days to go until the NBA Draft, we’re going to break down a few mock draft selections for the Thunder. We’ve already done six, Semi Ojeleye, Luke Kinnard, Terrance Ferguson, Harry Giles, Justin Jackson, OG AnunobyJawun Evans, and TJ Leaf.We’re going to break down a couple more. Stay with us as the NBA season ends and the NBA offseason ramps up.

Who: Derrick White
Position: Combo guard
Class: Senior
Age: 22
Where: Colorado
Ht: 6-5
Wt: 200 lbs.

Derrick White, is one of the more unique prospects in the NBA draft on Thursday night. White, was not heavily recruited out of high school, and had no division I offers. He was just about six feet tall when graduating high school, and shot up five inches when he arrived at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, a NCAA division II school. That is where Derrick spent his first three years of college, starting every game for the Mountain Lions. After an excellent junior season, White chose to transfer to the University of Colorado, playing out his last year of eligibility there for the Buffaloes. That is where Derrick began to gain national attention, as his efficient offense and play-making ability led the Buffs to a 19-15 record and a post-season NIT birth. White averaged 18 points along with four assists and four rebounds his senior year.

Strengths

Probably the biggest strength of White’s game is his outside shooting, and how efficient he is on the offensive side of the ball. Derrick shot 57 percent on two point field goals, and an impressive 40 percent from beyond the three-point line. White also showed some great court vision in his senior year at Colorado. He averaged a little over four assists per game, and has some very solid play-making ability. He is able to create his own shot, and also find the open man showing his strength as a combo guard. White seems to flourish in a pick-and-roll situation, which can bode well for him as the NBA is a pick-and-roll heavy league. Lastly, another of his strength’s is probably his size. He matches up pretty evenly height wise with shooting guards in the league and at 200 pounds, but can maybe bully some smaller point guards by using his six foot and five inches body frame.

Weaknesses

White is a pretty solid defender, but athletic guards could cause him trouble. He isn’t the most athletic player in the draft, and that could hinder is ability to defend at an elite level in the league. White could make up for that in his help defense, as he averaged a block and a steal each per game his senior year. Another weakness is his tendency to get tunnel vision when driving to the basket. He has shown the tendency to force shots when driving, even when there is an open man above the arc. This could be fixed with more experience as his career goes on. Finally, some would say maybe his age is a weakness, or a reason not to draft him. White is 22 years old, soon to be, 23. Many General Managers in this league like to draft as young as possible, because that usually means more upside. But with White, you could argue is a late-bloomer and while being a little older, has a lot of growth left in him as a basketball player.

Why Thunder Need Him

Last season, it was apparent the Thunder were totally out of sorts when Westbrook went to the bench. The bench production was inconsistent, and that can be mostly blamed on not having a consistent back-up point guard. White could be that guy, as a 22-year old who is more mature than most of the young 18 and 19-year olds in the draft, he could contribute right away. His play-making ability would be huge, able to get other guys involved and able to create his own shot. Oklahoma City also is in dire need of more outside shooting, and drafting a guy who shot the ball as well and efficient as Derrick does would be a good start. He isn’t the most eye popping candidate, and not necessarily well known by average fans, but he fits that Thunder mold that Sam Presti and company are so well known for when it comes to the NBA draft.

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Five Thoughts: Thunder split back to back on Texas road trip (3-28-17)

5 thoughts

The Oklahoma City Thunder split their short two game road trip, with a loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday, followed by a come from behind victory on Monday night versus the Dallas Mavericks. It was a tale of two games on this short Texas road trip, as Oklahoma City was in a barnburner with Houston, and a defensive battle with Dallas. Here are five thoughts from the bizarre back to back:

SECOND UNIT OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES ARE UGLY

This was more apparent in last night’s game versus Dallas since it was already a low-scoring game, but the second unit needs major fixing. I don’t think it is much of a lineup problem, as it is a game-planning problem.

All season, the second unit has ran the offense through Enes Kanter in the post, letting him go to work or trying to find an open man for a three. As the season went along, it was very successful as Kanter became good at passing out of the double team, or uses one of his numerous post moves to get an easy lay-up.

Now, as we get to the end of the season, teams have many times to play against the Thunder and scout that offensive game plan. As we have seen on this road trip, when Kanter struggles, it causes the whole second unit to struggle. That is due to how valuable he is to the second unit, but also due to Oklahoma City not having a plan B when teams shut down playing through Enes.

That is why I would like to see more of the plays ran through Victor Oladipo when he is in with the bench to start the second and fourth quarter. He is good enough to play make on his own, and would be great in a high pick and roll situation with Kanter, Jerami Grant, or even Doug McDermott. Overall, it would be good to see some more variation within the second unit’s offense, to keep the opponent guessing.

THUNDER WILL GO AS FAR IN THE PLAYOFFS AS THEIR DEFENSE LETS THEM

It is well known, at least this season, Oklahoma City does not have the firepower offensively to “outscore” a good opponent, let alone a great opponent like the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors. It starts on the defensive end where the Thunder have a proven defense that can get consistent stops when they are locked in. Versus the Rockets, it was a terrible defensive effort and the end result showed it. Houston scored at will, and showed they could embarrass Oklahoma City in a playoff matchup if the Thunder put out that kind of effort.

Then last night against Dallas, though a lesser opponent, the Thunder showed that with defense like they played in the fourth quarter, they can overwhelm an opponent and beat them by locking down.

Simply put, if Oklahoma City defends, they won’t have a disappointing playoff run. But if they defend like they did versus Houston, Thunder will be out with a quick, painful first round exit.

WHERE WAS DOMAS SABONIS?

Sabonis had his first ever DNP last night since being drafted by the Thunder this past summer. It was weird since Sabonis just seemed to be getting comfortable in his second unit role, but maybe should have been expected since Oklahoma City was going up against Dirk Nowitzki. This DNP from Sabonis was much more a matchup thing than anything else. Billy Donovan is not afraid to tinker with lineups, and he thought the tested veteran in Nick Collison would be a better choice than the rookie. It won’t show up on the stat sheet, but Donovan seemingly made a good choice, because Collison defended very well in the short amount of time he was out there. Donovan also played Jerami Grant in the small ball lineup which also took away a big chunk of Sabonis’ minutes.

That brings me to my next thought:

JERAMI GRANT NEEDS MORE MINUTES

Since the deadline trade the Thunder made bringing in Taj Gibson and McDermott, Grant has seen his minutes decrease from 20 to even 30 minutes a game, to maybe only 10 to 15 minutes a night. Rightly so, Gibson and McDermott need their minutes. But I hope by playoff time, Billy Donovan has found Grant a spot where he plays on a consistent, nightly basis. Jerami has been solid on defense, being able to guard the perimeter, and also can protect the rim with his insane athletic ability.

He has also been the second best three-point shooter on the Thunder roster percentage wise, and plays well alongside Westbrook or Oladipo. He has to work on his finishing ability around the rim when he isn’t putting someone on the poster, but it has gotten better as the season has progressed.

In my opinion, Grant is the closest thing Oklahoma City has to a two-way player off the bench and can be a big factor for them come playoff time.

DO NOT TAKE FOR GRANTED THE WESTBROOK HEROICS

Russell Westbrook did again last night what he has done all season long, by putting on an unreal fourth quarter show to will his Thunder squad to victory. You could see it in his emotion after the Thunder secured the win, in how badly he wanted this one and not to see his team suffer another inexcusable loss.

The Thunder aren’t quite built for a title run, and maybe their ceiling is a first round win, but do not let that stop you from enjoying this historic run from Westbrook. With his team down 13 points when he checked in early in the fourth quarter, Russell scored 16 of his 37 points in magnificent fashion, including the game winner with less than five seconds left. He also made key defensive plays late to go along with his offensive explosion.

Westbrook ‘s heroics, or “clutch-ness” if you will, have won the Thunder games that they probably shouldn’t have. He is doing MVP type things night in and night out, whatever takes for the win. The season is long, but it is nice to see Westbrook is somehow still able to make these types of plays this late in the season. Enjoy these heroics, as it could also lead to some wins in the playoffs that the Thunder probably should not get, if it wasn’t for Russell.

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