First, the Thunder played poorly. Then, the Thunder lost.
Moral defeat became literal defeat as the Thunder slump deepened Wednesday night with a 114-104 loss to the Cavaliers. Losing to the Heat and Clippers is one thing. Losing to the Cavaliers is another. And that’s exactly what the Thunder did Wednesday night, 114-104, a verdict that handed the Thunder its first three-game home losing streak since Year 1 in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder lost to Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng and a bunch of guys playing out the season. Cleveland entered the game with a 22-36 and in 10th place in the putrid Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers scored 42 points in the fourth quarter, when they scored on 20 of 26 possessions.
A loss like this brought out uncharacteristic actions. Kevin Durant kicked a chair in the waning minutes and sent Gatorade splashing onto patrons. Derek Fisher swam against truth when he declined to call the Thunder’s current slide a slump, even though OKC is 5-5 in February with more sluggish wins than close defeats. And mild-mannered Scotty Brooks talked as rough as we’ve ever heard him.
“Three games now, not up to our level,” said Foreman Scotty. “We’ve got to fix that immediately … defensively, were not getting after it enough. We’ve got to get better.”
OK. Not exactly Pat Knight ripping the Lamar Cardinals, but in Thunderland, that passes for a rant.
It’s more than the three-game losing streak. The Thunder hasn’t played well since a 10-game winning streak ended on Feb. 1, and OKC has allowed the Spurs and Rockets and Clippers to get back into contention for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
“I don’t know if you define it as a slump, really,” said Fisher, who’s been through a slump or 10, even on championship teams, during his 18 NBA seasons. “I think those are more individual. Any situation you get into as a team, you get out of as a team. That’s the best way I would sum it up.”
The human element, Nick Collison called it.
“We haven’t played well enough to win,” Collison said. “We haven’t been consistent enough throughout the whole game. There’s been bad stretches in all three of these games where we’ve let teams go on runs and haven’t been able to get stops when we need to.
“Sometimes communication, sometimes focus. That’s the human element of the season. You need to be engaged and play the play in front of you, and we’re not able to do that for long enough stretches right now.”
Couldn’t blame this one on Russell Westbrook’s recent return. Russ wasn’t rusty; he had 22 points and nine assists and looked like his old self offensively. And no one wants to think of what might have happened had Reggie Jackson been assigned to guard Irving (31 points) most of this game.
Couldn’t blame this one on Kendrick Perkins’ absence. The Cavaliers aren’t the kind of foe that calls for Perk’s particular defensive toughness, though if the Thunder keeps playing this way, Perk will be voted NBA defensive player of the year unanimously. Two games he’s been out with a groin strain; both games, the opponent has had a quarter of at least 42 points.
Couldn’t blame this one on the Cavs’ trade for Deng, who can play a mean defense on Durant. Deng defended Durant ferociously as always, but Durant still had 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while making 10 of 16 shots.
Nope, this was a team effort. Or lack thereof.
“What we do is difficult,” Fisher said. “We’ve been playing at a really high level. Best team in basketball for a really long time this year. It’s not the end of the world that you go through some tough times. You can’t allow that connection you have to keep as a team to break apart during these periods.
“Over the course of an 82-game season, you have some ups and downs, but you just have to stay focused on the we and not get focused on me.”
Fisher is right. The Thunder has had stretches like this in seasons past. And always snapped out of it. The Boomers will snap out of it this time, too. But this slump has come at a price. The Western Conference is a horserace again.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.