Game 4 Gets Away From The Thunder
Notes and observations from Monday’s 104-101 loss in Game 4 against the Denver Nuggets.
- It’s just one game. As ugly as it was, it was only one game. After a loss like this, it’s incredibly easy to lose sight of that. But the reality is the Thunder still holds a 3-1 lead, and Denver has to win three straight to take this series.
- Only eight teams in NBA playoff history have done that, win three straight after trailing 3-1.
- Is there any doubt the Thunder will finish off this series Wednesday? Throughout several stretches of this game, the Thunder played sloppy, played selfishly and played senselessly. And OKC still lost by just three. That says a lot.
- Take this for what it’s worth from Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “Trust me, we didn’t go into this series thinking we were going to sweep this team.”
- No matter the outcome, this was a significant game for the Thunder. In Monday’s paper, I wrote about this team’s inexperience in closeout games. These are notoriously known as the toughest games in a series for a reason. And the Thunder needed to experience it. Eight players on the roster had never felt this type of pressure, this type of intensity, this type of stakes. They have now. And they’ll be better because of it.
- Ty Lawson finally played like Ty Lawson tonight and had his biggest impact on any game this series. His 27 points were a playoff career high, and he scored 13 of those in the fourth quarter. The Thunder needs to find the lid it had for Lawson and quickly put it back on him.
- Lawson didn’t sugarcoat the significance of this win for Denver. Get this: “We didn’t get a monkey off our back,” Lawson said. “We got a 20-ton gorilla off our back.”
- If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Nuggets are an extremely confident bunch. And after finally notching a win, it’s no telling how far that confidence could carry them.
- The most significant thing about this game to me was Denver’s scorers coming alive. Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and J.R. Smith all had their best games of the series. Their ability to regain their rhythm is the only thing that gives me the slightest doubt about what will happen in Wednesday’s game. If they can continue their contributions, look out. The Nuggets could steal one in OKC. If that happens, this thing could grow legs. The series could snowball and suddenly we could be headed for seven games. That line of thinking might sound premature, over the top even. But don’t underestimate how quickly things can change.
- I’ll remind you of something Brooks said. It was included in the above article I linked to and it supports the thought of the previous bullet. “You don’t want to go home,” Brooks said about a team facing elimination. “You want to keep extended the series because you never know what can happen if another game goes by.”
- As Thunder fans, you can only hope that Russell Westbrooklearns from what he did wrong tonight. I want to believe he will. I want to believe his fourth-quarter performance became rock bottom on his occasional boneheaded displays of basketball. I want to believe he’ll be better for botching the game on such a big stage with the basketball world watching. I want to believe that the Thunder player with the biggest chip on his shoulder won’t try to silence his critics the next time around by attempting to prove he can make the same shots he missed in crunch time but by proving he can settle down and be satisfied delivering the smart play.
- Here is Westbrook’s final five minutes: A missed 20-foot pull-up. A rebound of his own miss. An offensive foul. Another offensive rebound. A missed layup. A missed jumper. A driving layup for a three-point play. A missed 3-pointer. An assist. A driving layup.A missed 3-pointer. A mandatory foul. A mandatory foul. A missed 3-point heave at the buzzer.
- I might be in the minority here, but I can barely blame Westbrook for what he did. In my eyes, the blame rests more with everyone who has enabled him to play so erratically. I don’t know who all that falls on outside of the obvious. But pick up a company directory and go down the list. This time bomb has been ticking for some time. It just happened to blow up tonight.
- I love how everyone on the team supported Westbrook in spite of his shortcomings. No one threw him under the bus. No one blamed him for the loss. Even though someone clearly needs to teach Westbrook a lesson, there are other ways to get your point across. Calling him out in the press wouldn’t have done any good. The show of team unity will go much further in the long run.
- Again, I don’t think anyone on any team should be prohibited from speaking up about any problem. But Kevin Durant has got to be the main guy outside of the coaching staff to to rein in Russ. One of Durant’s best traits off the court is one of his biggest detriments on it. He wants to see everybody happy. He’s going to have to learn to be the bad guy sometimes.
- A few people asked about a blow-up between KD and Russ on the bench. I didn’t see it and don’t know what it was about.
- When I saw it live, I thought Nene definitely threw Kendrick Perkins to the ground in the final minute. I couldn’t believe a technical wasn’t called on Nene. But after a few replays, it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. Definitely not tech worthy.
- The Thunder’s effort clawing back from a 10-point deficit shouldn’t be taken for granted. Give the Thunder a lot of credit for how it fought back.
- Lost in all the chaos of this game was one of the Thunder’s best inbound plays of the season. When KD came off a screen and quickly hit a 3 off an inbound pass from Thabo Sefolosha, it kept the Thunder alive with 4.1 seconds left. It was a huge shot and terrific execution that will be overlooked because of the outcome. We’ve often scrutinized the Thunder’s inability to make plays in those moments. But the Thunder got it right that time.
- Too many turnovers for the Thunder in this one. It helped Denver get out in transition too much. The Nuggets, meanwhile, had just eight, a series low for them. That was a big factor in the outcome.
- That’s it for now. But I promise you we’ll have much more on this one. Stay tuned.
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