Five Thoughts 11-22-17 (Thunder 108, Warriors 91)

1. Well, hopefully everyone feels better now. I mean this in all sincerity and not just in post game euphoria hyperbole: I would rather the Thunder be 8-9 with THAT performance against Golden State as opposed to being 13-4 with a loss tonight. Dead serious about that. The entire point of forming this team was to make a run at the Warriors. Even while acknowledging they’d still be underdogs, this formation’s goal was to be in that conversation. What we needed to see was that they are capable. No one expects this is how every meeting with the Dubs will play out. But we needed to see it— at least once. While it was one game and one game that mattered WAY more to OKC than it did GS, it wasn’t a fluke. There were real, tangible things that happened out there tonight that prove that the Thunder are a totally different team from last year. And a team that can legitimately give GS fits. As far as I’m concerned the other 9 losses can be put on a shuttle and sent to the Moon. They don’t matter. Not saying that the issues that plagued them in those games aren’t real or that they won’t reappear. But now that I’ve seen THAT, I can live with some ups and downs and even some clunkers.

2. Not sure I’ve ever seen the Dubs offense look that out of sync. We put forth an A+ defensive showing tonight. The scheme was great— our guards went over EVERY screen tonight. And Adams or Grant or whoever was guarding the screener also stayed out by the line. We were absolutely not going to allow open looks beyond the arc. The only time the Warriors saw those was on the break or scramble plays. Curry shook loose for a couple of launches, but those really weren’t good shots; can’t do much about it when those drop. When we had them in the half court, they struggled mightily to even get a clean shot off. It was remarkable. Thunder were committed 100% to remaining disciplined to that approach. While scheme is great, you can only do so much if you don’t have the horses to execute it. They could not have deployed this defense last year. They are able to do it now because of PG13. He was ALL OVER KD tonight. This also allowed Andre to slide over to Klay. And as Andre has proven time and again, as long as he isn’t up against a smaller, quicker guard, he can stick to anyone. It was also nice to see RW remain disciplined and not leave Curry to gamble elsewhere. No doubt the Warriors will adjust the next time we play. They will likely play with more urgency. They may very well shoot better. But what we did to them isn’t going away. We have the physical ability to do to them what no one else can do.

3. Mentioning this third is really burying the lead, but Russ was perfect tonight. That was a virtuoso performance. I’ve been saying all year, if you want to panic, go ahead— but call me when Russ gets back on track. If he gets going and we don’t look better, that’s when you should worry. Well, he got going tonight and we beat the Warriors with ease. We are going to be very, very tough to beat on nights where Russ is playing near peak level. And as this season progresses he will play at peak level more and more frequently. While we have three excellent options, this isn’t a democracy. They don’t all need to share the load equally. This is Russ’s team and PG and Melo need to fall in line behind him (in that order). Russ sets the tone, PG delivers stellar two-way performances, and Melo bails out the offense with his ISO game. That needs to be the identity. Russ was insanely aggressive tonight. He didn’t defer- he attacked. When he attacks the ball sharing will happen naturally. When he attacks the opportunities will open up for the others. Prior to tonight I think Russ has been trying to be polite, for lack of a better word. Then once things go a little south he tries to pull them out and it’s just all discombobulated. I don’t know this for sure, but I think both Melo and PG13 are ready to win. My guess is that they are both ok if Russ is the maestro. I’m sure tonight was pretty fun for all three of them. Russ left Curry in his wake tonight. It was a thing of beauty. That needs to be encouraged, not curtailed.

4. Donovan is patient. He doesn’t panic or fly off the handle. I think that’s a good approach to a team of NBA vets over the course of 82 games. I think he’s done his best job so far in his tenure with the Thunder in the bigger games/moments. I’ve mentioned this before, but he won me over in the 2016 playoffs against the Spurs and Warriors. Since then, I’ve always felt he was better in games that were played more like playoff games. I think he gives the guys a lot of room. I think he understands that going in too hard too often can be desensitizing. Tonight he had a plan for this specific opponent. Early in the game, he made a quick switch to Grant— much faster than normal. But he didn’t give up on Adams either. I watched as Adams exited the floor; Donovan walked stride for stride with him and was talking to him for quite awhile. Once Adams went back in, he had an excellent game. By picking your spots, I think you increase the odds of keeping the team motivated and emotionally engaged. You get a pay off on a night like tonight when the team executes the plan and it all works. Everyone files that away and begins to understand THAT is what winning basketball looks like.

5. Effort was off the charts tonight. Everyone is 100% lying when they say it’s just another game. They played it like a Game 7. They needed it. At the end, I thought Andre was going to need a stretcher to leave the court— he was exhausted. Crowd was awesome. It was a 23 point game in the 4th quarter and fans were reacting as if it was tied. This was a total exhale game for everyone involved with the Thunder. It’s been awhile since I left the arena feeling like that. I told my wife it’s like the Thunder waited until tonight to start the season. It would be nice if this propelled them into a winning streak; it’s about time to start making a move up the ladder. But even if things remain a bit rocky, tonight showed what this team CAN be. And now that we’ve seen it, it’s clear that it is worth the wait.

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.

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