DENVER – Before the season began, veteran players up and down the Thunder roster said they knew the team was going to face a heaping pile of adversity at some point this season, a stretch that would test them in previously unexplored ways. The team just didn’t realize that it would come at this stage of the season, and in the form of four straight losses.
“Every season you go through adversity. Right now we’re going through ours,” point guard Russell Westbrook said.
It was a similar script for the Thunder during the final game of this three-game road swing, capping a stretch of seven straight games in seven different cities over the past week and a half. The Thunder jumped on the Denver Nuggets early, building a 21-10 lead behind eight second chance points in the first four minutes of play.
A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Nov 9, 2017 at 8:52pm PST
“Offensively, for a good portion of the game we moved the ball really well. We did some really good things and we struggled coming down the stretch,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “Where we struggled was when the ball didn’t hit the paint. We couldn’t get it there or didn’t get it there. When it did get there, generally and normally good things happened.”
Then, the discipline waned, the mental stamina faltered and Oklahoma City found itself in a dogfight again with a Western Conference foe. In the fourth quarter, the Thunder couldn’t get enough stops or make enough plays to get a win, ultimately falling 102-94 to Denver. After the game, the team met for longer than normal to openly discuss what’s been occurring, and what needs to happen moving forward.
There were positives on the offensive end in the first half, as the Thunder attempted just six non-paint two point jumpers, Andre Roberson filled a role as a facilitator with five assists for the game and Carmelo Anthony got loose from the three-point line. The Thunder’s catch-and-shoot marksman finished the night with 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting, with six three-pointers.
In the second half, however, the Thunder didn’t get as many easy buckets in the paint as it did over the opening 24 minutes, and the ball stuck more as players tried to score against Denver’s set defense. Too often, and by their own admission, Thunder players got caught standing still and spectating in the fourth quarter, and the result was just 19 points on 38.1 percent shooting and five turnovers.
The Thunder didn’t help itself on the other end of the floor, where it had been so good all season long. Because of blow-by drives, late help-side rotations and some ball watching on defensive rebounds, the Thunder allowed 54 points in the paint to Denver for the game. That was amplified by the 19 second chance points that the Thunder allowed, including 7 in the fourth quarter alone.
“We weren’t able to finish off some possessions in and around the basket,” Donovan said.
It was a back and forth affair in the second half until Denver fired off a 9-0 run midway through the fourth period behind and an outrageous spinning mid-range jumper by Paul Millsap, two fast break layups and a second-chance three-pointer. Just like that, the Thunder trailed 89-82 with 6:35 to go and was staring down twin barrels the rest of the way.
“A couple slips up on the defensive end, and they outrebounded us down the stretch. They got a lot of loose balls,” Roberson said. “We can’t let that happen.”
“Our defense has been really good, and I don’t think it was at the level it had been at,” Donovan added.
Behind a Westbrook three-pointer and a Carmelo Anthony tip-in, the Thunder managed to pull back to within three and four in the final minutes but once again Millsap had an answer, and then the Nuggets drew a foul on an offensive rebound. Those core fundamental areas of the game hurt the Thunder, and those types of details will have to be settled up before the Thunder can flip this losing streak into winning ways.
“We know what it takes. We just have to take ownership to it and collectively we have to make this thing happen,” forward Paul George assured. “We want to be a lot better off, obviously, but once we try to nip this problem that we’re having in the bud, we’ll move forward and get past this.”
“We just have to become a little bit more consistent from the standpoint of playing a full game for 48 minutes,” Anthony said. “Once that happens, you’ll see a totally different team.”
By the Numbers
24– Carmelo Anthony’s place on the all-time NBA scoring list, after he passed his former teammate Allen Iverson tonight
49 – Bench points for the Nuggets on the night, compared to the 27 for the Thunder
54-38 – The points in the paint difference in Denver’s favor, after that stat was tied at 26 at halftime
The Last Word
“We’re on a losing streak right now. We’re in a slump. We’re going to be fine. We’re going to get out of this. It ain’t no time to panic. I’m going to ride with these guys all day, every day. We’re going to stay together no matter what, because the only people who can control what’s going on is the people in this locker room. We can’t worry about anything else.” – point guard Raymond Felton