The Oklahoma City Thunder are a bewildering team. You have a reigning MVP in the second guy to ever average a triple-double for a season, a premier perimeter defender and three-point threat combo, a bonafide future Hall-of-Famer and professional scorer, the NBA’s best offensive rebounder and taller half of a terrifyingly effective pick-and-roll combo–and you can’t win when you’re up by six with a shot clock’s worth of time left in the game? ‘Tis the season for Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams. They blew it again, this time in Boston.
The March 20th matchup between the Celtics and the Thunder was meant to be a good one. But with Kyrie Irving sidelined with a mystery knee injury, Jaylen Brown on extended concussion protocol, and Marcus Smart out with a potentially season-sealing thumb fracture, it looked like an easy game for OKC to grab and tack onto a six-game winning streak. But nothing has been easy for the Thunder this season: a troubling trend of offensive stagnation despite three offensive superstars, struggling down to the wire against sub-.500 teams, a disappointing bench, and a blindsiding injury to defensive glue guy Andre Roberson derailed high preseason expectations. The Western Conference playoff race is going to come down to game #82, as seven teams push themselves to their limits for seeds 4-8. Every game is crucial, especially for the inconsistent Thunder, who have the most difficult remaining regular season schedule out of anyone in the league. Of all their issues this season, perhaps the most severe issue has been their crunch time execution (or lack thereof). It was on full display at TD Garden.
Russ hits two free throws with 24.7 seconds remaining to put OKC up six, 98-92. Brad Stevens calls timeout and draws up a possession that materializes into Jayson Tatum moving too easily past Corey Brewer and Carmelo Anthony for a quick 2-for-1 layup.
Terry Rozier takes a foul on Russ, who splits the difference at the line. Rozier races up the court and drills a three, cutting the lead to two.
Melo is fouled with just over eight seconds left, and the career 81.2% free throw shooter misses both opportunities to put the win out of reach for Boston. Tatum secures the rebound. Brad Stevens, a master at drawing up plays coming out of a timeout, begins to design the lethal injection to OKC.
You could feel it coming. Kevin Garnett could feel it coming. The Thunder could probably feel it coming too. Unlikely hero Marcus Morris fakes out Paul George, gets the shot off over Steven Adams, and earns a 1-point lead for the Celtics with 1.2 seconds to go. It was over–Russ couldn’t even get a shot off before the buzzer. So we find ourselves asking the same old question about this Oklahoma City team. What the hell is wrong with them?