Wizards 101, Thunder 99
Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s loss at Washington.
- Here’s exactly what Kevin Durant said before the game. “We can lose to any team in the league, so we got to be prepared and not take these guys lightly.”
- And yet that’s precisely what the Thunder did.
- If you’re like me, you saw the possibility of this result coming. It was clear as a San Diego summer day. From the opening tip, the Thunder wasn’t into this game. Oklahoma City was going through the motions, certain that it would put away the short-handed Wizards with little trouble whenever it wanted. Washington, in the minds of the Thunder players, wasn’t worthy of being on the same court. And so the Thunder decided it could sleepwalk through the first half, fool around in the third quarter and turn it on in the fourth. By then, the Wizards had built enough gall to entertain other ideas.
- “We gave them a lot of confidence early, and down the stretch they hit tough shots to win the game,” Kendrick Perkins said.
- That was the biggest key to the ballgame. The Thunder’s first quarter defense, especially on the perimeter, was so shoddy Washington basically was taking warm-up shots. And as each one splashed through the net, the Wizards confidence grew bigger and bigger. If they didn’t before, they began to believe they could ball with the league’s best team, even while being without their three best players. On the Thunder’s part, it was the equivalent of playing with fire and getting burned.
- “We weren’t making them miss shots early,” said coach Scott Brooks. “We were just hoping that they missed some 3s. We were (allowing) too many ‘dare shots.’ When you give a guy a dare shot the basket becomes bigger and they make those tough shots like they did tonight.”
- Losing to the Wizards is one thing. Losing to the Wizards while they’re without John Wall, Nene, Jordan Crawford and Cartier Martin is just unacceptable.
- And giving up 101 points to the team that averages the fewest points in the league is just shameful.
- “We just ain’t come out with the right mind-set as a team,” Perkins said. “Defensively, we had too many breakdowns. It’s not like us to give up 101 points, especially if you look and see the Wizards only average like 86 or 88 points and we gave up 101 today.”
- “It was a combination of a few things,” Brooks said when asked what happened. “We didn’t play well and they did. They played inspired basketball. They played hard. They deserved to win this game. There’s no way around it. They played better than us.”
- Emeka Okafor had more points (eight) at the end of the first quarter than Durant and Russell Westbrook combined (six). That about told you all you needed to know about where the Thunder’s head was tonight.
- “We just got to play better,” Brooks said.
- The locker room was about what you would expect after the game. Silent. Long after the game players were still in uniform, sitting at the lockers staring into their iPhones. Maybe the delay had something to do with water temperatures from the showers that players said were cold. But more than likely it had more to do with the outcome. Nearly every player took so long to get showered and dressed that by the time they were interviewed the sting of the loss seemed to have worn off.
- My first question to Westbrook: “So, Russ, are we allowed to go bananas after this one?” He didn’t answer the question, which I fully expected. And when Westbrook doesn’t answer a question, he doesn’t answer a question. In other words, he doesn’t say anything. He just looks around or rolls his eyes and looks away. I was hit with the look away after repeating the question twice. Without uttering a single word, Westbrook just moved on to the next question.
- Obviously you know that’s two losses at Washington in as many seasons. Naturally, it makes you wonder what it is about these Wizards that is making the Thunder stumble. Nobody in the Thunder’s traveling party had an answer, and it’s likely because they couldn’t share the truth. Oklahoma City overlooks Washington. Plain and simple.
- Nick Collison when asked if it’s hard to win on the road against a bad team that’s only had a few wins: “I think that it can be depending on what your mind-set is. We want to be a team that isn’t affected by that, though. We want to be a team that’s worried about how we’re playing and where we’re trying to go. And it wasn’t a good night for us tonight.”
- Perkins on if the Thunder overlooked the Wizards: “Nah. We always come out and play. I just think we came out worrying about offense instead of defense. We were playing one side all night. We just ain’t take care of the defensive end.”
- Durant on what went wrong: “We weren’t disciplined. We weren’t solid on defense. We went stretches without moving the ball. You’re playing against a team who’s playing hard every game and got nothing to lose and you can be beat. We weren’t disciplined at all and we can’t have lapses like that.”
- This is as close as anyone came to speaking the truth. “We up seven or eight points and we’re letting them stick around just because we’re not taking it serious enough,” Durant said. “We can’t do that, man. And that falls back on the leaders of the team.”
- Durant said the something similar after the game that he said before it when asked what he wanted his team to take away from this loss. “That we can be beat by anybody,” he said. “That everybody’s going to bring their best against us, man. No matter who we’re playing, they want to beat us. We just can’t be too relaxed. We can’t be too relaxed.”
- We thought the Thunder was past these types of losses. That’s because the Thunder had been better in games like this. OKC had two blowout wins at New Orleans, a thrashing of Toronto, a cakewalk against Cleveland, a beat down on Charlotte that set the Bobcats back on track to last year’s futility and a pair of routine, runaway victories against Sacramento and Phoenix. Tonight’s game, specifically the four quarters of bad basketball, wasn’t at all typical of this year’s Thunder.
- Durant on the toughest challenge for the defending Western Conference champions: “Playing up to our standard every night. No matter who we’re playing we know what we have to do. We have to hold teams to under 43 percent. We have to out-rebound them. We have to get 20 assists. Playing up to our standard is tough to do every night. We set a high standard here, and every guy coming in has to know what we’re building for. It’s tough to do it every night, but if you put in the energy and effort then you give yourself a chance.”
- The Thunder went nearly 11 minutes without a field goal, a period that stretched from the third quarter into the fourth.
- Turnovers and defensive rebounding killed the Thunder in the fourth. OKC allowed six offensive rebounds in the final period, leading to 12 second-chance points for the Wizards. In the first six minutes of the fourth, the Thunder also turned it over three times, punctuating that 11-minute stagnant period.
- I’m tired of writing negative things about this game.
- Here’s something positive. DeAndre Liggins. With the Thunder struggling in the third, Brooks called on the seldom-used shooting guard to provide a spark. It’s worked in the past with Reggie Jackson against New Orleans and Jeremy Lamb against Atlanta. Liggins was good, just not enough of a good luck charm. But he provided a brief spark, grabbing a pair of quick rebounds, drawing a charge and making a hard cut to the basket before getting fouled and earning a trip to the free throw line. He finished with two points and three rebounds in 4:50 of play.
- “I’m always ready,” Liggins said. “When I got in, I just did what I do. That’s play hard. That’s my job. I just got to stay ready. Anything can happen. I just got to stay ready and keep working hard.”
- Serge Ibaka was another bright spot. He scored a career-high 26 points on 12 of 17 shooting. His 12 made field goals are a career high as well. He added 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and an assist. He also made a 3-pointer for the third time in five games. “He had a good game,” Brooks said. “Unfortunately, when you have good games and don’t win you don’t feel good about it. And I know Serge, I know him very well, he’s not going to feel good that he had a good game because we didn’t win. But he has played well. He’s been playing well all season.”
- Along those same lines, it’s a shame Durant’s dominant fourth quarter went to waste. Durant did everything he could to win the Thunder this ballgame.
- Durant got an ovation like a hometown hero as he was introduced. Emphasis on hero.
- Meanwhile, you could count how many fans clapped for each Wizards player as he was introduced.
- I think it’s time we start giving Westbrook some credit for making Ibaka a better offensive player. Westbrook is setting up Ibaka for wide open jumpers. To Ibaka’s credit, he’s canning them. It’s becoming reminiscent of the two-man game Westbrook used to run with old friend Nenad Krstic. Ibaka, for the most part, isn’t scoring on isolations. He’s relying on Westbrook, and without him Ibaka wouldn’t be having a career year.
- Bradley Beal in his previous 11 games: 13.6 points on 36.9 percent shooting. Beal tonight: 22 points on 41.1 percent shooting and the most important basket of the night.
- That was a heck of a shot by Beal. It was a two-dribble pull-up which he wisely gave a pump fake on before releasing his shot. And then he ducked under Perk and let go of a one-handed leaner. He looked like a nine-year vet on that bucket, not a 19-year-old rookie.
- The Wizards got a favorable matchup when Perk and Thabo Sefolosha switched on the screen set by Kevin Seraphin. Sefolosha said after the game that “looking back, we probably shouldn’t have switched.”
- Sam Presti was on hand tonight to watch this debacle. I can’t help but wonder what Beal’s performance tonight did for Presti’s impression of the rook. Probably doesn’t matter. No way Washington trades him now. Then again, these are the Wizards.
- I had a mini Twitter rant late in the game tonight while giving my customary League Pass Alert notifications in a close game. In the last five minutes, this game was an absolute thriller, one that I’m sure any sports fan would have enjoyed. Of course, the Twittersphere had to been a bunch of smart alecks and fill my timeline with the usual “Dude, the national championship game is on.” My response? So. It was 21-0 at that point, early in the second quarter no less. Meanwhile, in Washington, the league’s best team was on the ropes against the worst team. The best scorer on the planet was going bananas in crunch time and an undermanned bottom feeder was on the verge of upsetting the Western Conference champs. Every play down the stretch was pivotal. Yet the widespread response was “Uh, game 34 of 82.” That’s what I never will understand about us Americans and our football. We act like just because it’s football it must be watched. But, hey, I’m a basketball junkie so maybe I’m just different than most.
- Programming alert: these nuggets slowly but surely will get shorter. I’ve been trying to scale back but can’t seem to do it. But it’s necessary. I know many of you enjoy these. So my advice is to speak up now or forever hold your peace. What would you would like to see remain, and what can you live without? Something’s got to give, though.
- Up next. Minnesota on Wednesday with no Kevin Love.
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