Malik Rose sat expressionless at his locker, staring across the Thunder’s dressing room while still in full uniform after many of his teammates had already showered, dressed and ducked out for the evening.
His only hope after a 117-99 embarrassment to the Indiana Pacers was that his Oklahoma City teammates haven’t officially packed it in.
“I don’t think we’re doing it,” said Rose, the 13-year veteran forward and the lone Thunder player with championship experience. “Until I see for sure I’ll say we’re not.”
Only hours earlier at the team’s morning shoot-around, it was Rose who all but guaranteed a different effort against the Pacers, assured we’d see a different Thunder team than the one that allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to bully their way to a 35-point drubbing two nights earlier inside the Ford Center.
“The effort is going to be really good,” Rose said Sunday morning. “I’m looking for us to really rebound from that loss.”
The Thunder trailed by as many as 27 points. Oklahoma City lost its last lead after the Pacers took a 2-1 advantage with 1:29 gone by.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, assuming his team also would come out with much better effort, said he was stunned. Rose said he was angry.
“The way to avoid being labeled as packing it in is to fight through it,” Rose said. “Have some pride and not let guys throw alley-oops and shoot 3s when they’re up 25 or 30 points. We got to send a message and not let that happen. Nothing dirty or flagrant. But there are certain unwritten rules in sports. You don’t steal second up 10 runs. You don’t play-action pass up four touchdowns. You don’t throw lobs up 30. That’s what I’m really disappointed about.”
Rose continued. He talked about how a “deflating feeling” has crept inside the locker room after yet another team came into the Ford Center and outplayed the Thunder both individually and collectively.
“As a team, once we get that deflated feeling we don’t know how to rebound and pump ourselves back up,” Rose said. ”And that’s what I want to see us do over these last six games.”
But who’s going to put an end to it? Who on this team has the heart, ability and esteem to say ‘Enough’ and demand that others follow their lead?
Desmond Mason has been lost for the season to a knee injury. Kevin Durant still is not a vocal leader. Russell Westbrook is a rookie. Jeff Green, while tough, is far from an enforcer. And Nick Collison is a quiet veteran who leads by example.
“It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to do it out on the court,” Rose said. ”We have guys who are well capable of doing that. We haven’t gotten a concerted effort from enough people on the court at one time to generate some momentum from it. But we have plenty of vocal leaders. We have plenty of emotional leaders. We have plenty of leaders period. We just need people to do it, to follow.”
When asked if he thought his young teammates understood the importance of finishing the final six games strong, Rose paused, then sighed.
“I hope so,” he said. ”But if not they’ll soon learn it.”