Wednesday evening started well enough. The NBA fell on its sword. The league took care of the Thunder. Rooked in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night, the Thunder was granted absolution for the defeat. The NBA offered its version of an apology. A declaration that the no-call against the Jazz was egregious enough to warrant an "oops.”
No small thing for the Thunder as the playoffs near. But neither is this. The Thunder didn’t take care of itself. The Boomers lost to Denver 98-94 at the Ford Center, not because they were worn out, which they were, but because they didn’t fight through fatigue. They weren’t mentally tough down the stretch. The Thunder lost a 13-point lead in the final 7:13. Oklahoma City scored only on foul shots (eight of them) in the final nine minutes. The Thunder took shots that were too long or too wild. Missed its final 11 shots. Committed three turnovers in a four-possession span that let the Nuggets catch up quickly. Sure, the Thunder was tired, after the late-night drama in Utah, playing its sixth game in nine days and fourth in five days. Thunder legs were gone by the fourth quarter. Jumpshots lacked spring. Long arches fell short. But it wasn’t just its legs that went; brains were on short supply, too. Coach Scott Brooks did his team no favor, playing his bench less than normal. Eric Maynor and Serge Ibaka each played around 11 minutes. They needed to play more, not less, at the end of this brutal stretch. The Thunder opened the fourth quarter with four straight deep 3-point shots. All were short. Down the stretch, the Boomers took to shooting while floating sideways, as if they were avoiding dodgeballs. No penetration. No quick ball movement. "We settled,” said Jeff Green. "We didn’t try to be aggressive.” That’s a bad plan, because the league is primed to cut the Thunder a break. Go to the basket, and the whistles likely are to come Oklahoma City’s way.