Archive for Net Proceeds

An ominous omen

Radio guy Matt Pinto served up that tautology early on, while the Spurs were busily digging out from an early hole. And he seemed prescient, because whatever holes the Thunder were able to push the Spurs into, the Spurs managed to escape with seeming alacrity. While OKC wasn’t quite so disorganized tonight as they were in Game 1, there were enough discouragingly familiar lapses to keep Thunder fans anxious, and one question remained unanswered: “What the heck do we do about LaMarcus Aldridge?” Billy Donovan seemed reluctant to double-team him, perhaps fearing that if Aldridge were doubled, Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard — but mostly Green — would just collect that many more treys. Maybe not Leonard; with the Spurs down three with 48 seconds left, Leonard put one up, and Steven Adams took it away. So Aldridge made the next trey himself, giving him 38 points. (Where have we heard that number before?) At :18, it was OKC 98, San Antonio 94; four seconds later, having persuaded Serge Ibaka to buy a pump fake, Aldridge went to the stripe to shoot three and got them all. The last Thunder possession went nowhere, Green swiping the ball from Dion Waiters; then Patty Mills readied a corner trey, and when the ball somehow ended up on the floor, Ibaka jumped on it. Ninety-eight to ninety-seven, the Thunder go back home 1-1, and suddenly it’s a whole new series.

In the meantime, we can enjoy a few OKC lines: Russell Westbrook, 29-7-10; Kevin Durant, 28 points; Steven Adams, 12 points and 17 rebounds. Only two Spurs besides Aldridge climbed into double figures: Leonard, of course, with 14, and Manu Ginobili, because he’s Manu Ginobili, with 11. And San Antonio ended up with only six treys in 23 tries; Green made half of them. Still, Aldridge has 79 points in two games. What the heck do the Thunder do about him? I guess we’ll find out Friday.

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Torched and then some

Everyone pretty much figured that the Spurs would come out breathing fire. What they didn’t figure was the temperature of that fire, which would turn out to be somewhere between Texas fire ants — dipped in sriracha, no less — and a Bessemer converter. After the first quarter, it was 43-20, and things would only deteriorate after that. Now one could reasonably expect that some of the calls, or lack of calls, would go the home team’s way, the home team having won 40 of 41 during the regular season; however, I don’t think anyone anticipated that the Spurs would be hitting better than 60 percent of their shots all night. There is dominance, and there is being crushed like, well, a Texas fire ant. Tonight, the Thunder were flattened under San Antonio’s sneakers, 124-92, and you have to wonder what sort of adjustments are going to have to be made for Game 2 on Monday.

At the very least, OKC is going to have to figure out some way to contain LaMarcus Aldridge, who went 18-23 for 38 points in less than 30 minutes. (Thirty-eight points, by coincidence, is twice the production of the Thunder’s leading scorer, Serge Ibaka, who managed 19.) And maybe they’ll have to glue Danny Green to the near end of the floor; Green was 5-6 from beyond the arc and took only one other shot. The Spurs certainly seem to have figured out how to render Enes Kanter relatively ineffective. And any night in which Kevin Durant finishes -31 (16 points on 6-15 from the floor) would seem to be devoid of hopeful signs.

Still, this is only Game 1. This is about as badly as the Thunder spanked the Mavs in that Game 1, and Dallas came back to win Game 2. I wouldn’t recommend going beyond that for an example, though, since the Mavs dropped the next three. And I can’t really deny this:

Right now, though, I’m trying to remember what it’s like for the Thunder to have a 12-point lead.

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And they’re outta here

Desperate times, as the phrase goes, call for desperate measures. The Mavericks, facing elimination, kept finding strength at exactly the moments they had to. One of those moments was at the beginning of the fourth quarter: down ten, Dallas hit all their shots for the first four and a half minutes, pulling to within a single possession. But there was one factor neither the Mavs nor Rick Carlisle had considered, and that was some head-steam emitted from the Dallas front office:

Westbrook, who never reads the papers, obviously read this paper. And with 27.2 left, Justin Anderson dropped an elbow in Westbrook’s face. Frustration will do that to you. Oklahoma City 118, Dallas 104. If you had “Thunder in five,” take a bow. The Only Superstar had a creditable 33 points for the night; but Westbrook racked up 36 (on one fewer shot) and came one dime short of a triple-double. And this despite high-meh performances from Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter, who accumulated fouls nearly as quickly as they did points.

Still, if I’m Rick Carlisle, I’m looking at all five of my starters in double figures, Dirk, sweet Dirk, with 24, and I’m asking: “What just happened here?” If anyone asks Westbrook, he’ll say something to the effect of “I dunno, man, I just play the game.”

Like hell.

The Spurs are next.

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This way to the brink

During the two middle quarters, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 61-56, which demonstrated that they’re not entirely out of this series; what’s more, the Mavs, who had not shot well early on, brought their shooting percentage over 50 percent in the fourth. But the dreaded Injury Bug paid Dallas a couple of visits: Deron Williams, who did not look at all well, was pulled within a minute and a half, and Salah Mejri, who’d been effectively bothering the Thunder, bruised his hip in the second half and did not return. With J. J. Barea reduced to a nonfactor — Andre Roberson pestered Barea all night, leaving him 0-7 from the floor — it was left to Raymond Felton and Dirk Nowitzki to carry the Mavericks’ banner, and that’s a big flag for just two guys, even two guys with that much court cred. With two and a half minutes left, radio guy Matt Pinto pronounced the Mavs, then down 13, “exhausted,” and maybe they were. But at the 50-second mark, Kevin Durant disappeared in a wholly unexpected manner: a Flagrant Two at the expense of Justin Anderson. With KD thumbed, the Mavs had an opening, and by 0:38 they’d shaved that OKC lead to a mere eight. They would not get further. Oklahoma City 119, Dallas 108, the Thunder are up 3-1, and the series goes back to OKC on Monday.

And really, KD wasn’t missed that much; he was having a fairly mediocre (for Durant) night, with 19 points on 7-20 shooting. And he only hit four free throws, out of eight. But being the third leading scorer for the night didn’t hurt, with another Russell Westbrook double-double (25 points/15 dimes) and a spectacular showing, especially in the fourth quarter, from Enes Kanter, who finished with 28 on 12-13, including four free throws. Out of four. Yeah, Dirk had 27 for the night, but it took him 40 minutes; Kanter, the most expensive sixth man in the NBA and darn well worth it, did it in 26.

Still, the Mavs do not roll over and play dead. If Dirk’s okay Monday, and there’s no reason at the moment to think he won’t be, he’ll be a factor. And Raymond Felton, who’d never seemed like quite the A-list guard anywhere else he’s played, has absolutely blossomed in this series; tonight he had 19 points and 11 assists. The reliable Wesley Matthews continues to be, well, reliable. And the Thunder still have ways of giving it away: they missed ten free throws tonight. Still, it’s do or die for Dallas at the Thunderdome on Monday. Whatever tricks Rick Carlisle may have up his well-tailored sleeve, he’d better have them ready.

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We got your fusillade right here

Thunder defense has been sporadically, perhaps even legendarily, iffy, which makes me wonder if the discussion in the locker room today was along the lines of “Screw it, let’s just score all over the place.” Which they did, starting from the tipoff; OKC led by six after the first quarter, ten at the half, nineteen after three, and they weren’t done yet. With J. J. Barea back, the Mavericks were bound to show some offense now and then — they shot a respectable 47 percent — but with 3:48 left and Dallas down 28, somewhere in his accoutrements Rick Carlisle found a white flag, and ultimately Game 3 went to the visitors, 131-102.

Clearly some things got shaken up a bit. The usual Russell Westbrook double-double — 26 points, 15 assists — came with no rebounds whatsoever. (The Thunder did have a 42-30 rebounding edge.) OKC shot 58 percent from the floor, and sank 15 of 27 treys; on-again off-again Dion Waiters was on again, with four of those treys and 21 points. Kevin Durant, after a horrible night earlier this week, jubilantly collected 34.

It wasn’t like the Mavs were terrible, either: Wesley Matthews, about due for some breakout scoring, led Dallas with 22, and the usual suspects turned in lines with double figures. (Raymond Felton and Steven Adams had words, then actions, then offsetting technicals.) Unexpectedly, every Maverick was on the minus side for the night, Devin Harris, at -30, being the minus-est. Harris did distinguish himself with five fouls, though. And if there was any dancing at the AA, Charlie Villanueva didn’t mention it.

Game 4 will be in Dallas Saturday night, after which the series comes back to OKC. We’re sort of hoping it ends there.

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Not quite so easy

“One thing you never want with Dallas,” said Alex Roig in the Pregame Primer, “is a close game with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor.” Unfortunately, that’s what the Thunder got for Game 2: nothing at all like the laughable blowout Saturday night, though Dirk wasn’t that much of a factor. It turned out that he wouldn’t have to be. This time around, the Mavs were ready to roll, and they rolled to an eight-point lead early while the Thunder seemed to be napping. The wakeup call came soon enough, but Dallas, after falling behind by seven halfway through the fourth quarter, went off for an 8-0 run to take a one-point lead. You’d figure that this would be the sort of thing that would spur Kevin Durant to going All KD. This was, however, not the night for All KD. With just under ten seconds left, Durant finally nailed a trey, his second in 11 tries; unfortunately, the Mavs had been up four. Raymond Felton obligingly missed a pair of free throws, but neither Durant nor Serge Ibaka could score on the last Thunder possession, and a Steven Adams stickback was just a fraction of a second too late. Dallas 85, Oklahoma City 84, and the series goes to Dallas even up.

It’s rare you see the Thunder shooting under 34 percent. But that’s what happened tonight, with Durant going an absolutely abominable 7-33 for his 21 points. (Felton, who picked up 21 for the Mavs, did so on 16 shots.) Even with KD’s numbers factored out, the Thunder was shooting only 40 percent for the night, with only Ibaka and Russell Westbrook in double figures. Statistically, the Mavs were not a great deal better; but they were better the one place where it mattered. If they had a secret weapon tonight, it was Salah Mejri, who turned in a plus-18 with 5-7 shooting (12 points) and three blocks.

The Loud City crowd, of course, was stunned after that Adams putback was negated. I’m just trying to imagine how much worse it could have been if Deron Williams had been able to stay in the game, or if J. J. Barea had been well.

Game 3 in Dallas on Thursday. Durant should be awake by then, right?

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Debacle starts with a D

The Dallas Mavericks will vouch for that, having scored a mere eleven points in the first quarter of this playoff game. Amazingly, things got worse for the Mavs after that: they lost J. J. Barea to a groin strain after sixteen minutes and two points, they scored only 33 in the first half, and only 37 in the second. “Blowout” doesn’t even begin to describe the Thunder’s 108-70 win.

And if that’s not enough, try this: Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ leading scorer, went 7-15 for 18 points. He finished -28 for the night. Which wasn’t the worst on the team, either. I’m not quite sure what happened to Dallas, although I’m inclined to think they were a trifle spooked after having dropped four games to OKC during the regular season. The Mavs shot less than 30 percent — 25-84, 29.8 percent — missed ten of 26 free throws, collected only 33 rebounds, and blocked no shots. Meanwhile, the Thunder were turning in numbers that look like Thunder wins by considerably smaller margins: double-doubles for Russell Westbrook (24/11 assists) and Enes Kanter (16/13 rebounds), and 23 from Kevin Durant in 27 minutes. Then again, Serge Ibaka was ultra-fierce: 7-8 from the floor — good on all three of his treys — and three blocks.

What does all this mean for Game 2 on Monday? Not a blessed thing. (Radio guy Matt Pinto was insistent on that very point: past performance is no guarantee of future results.) But I mean, we expected to see the Warriors pound the living stuffing out of the Rockets, which they did, 104-78. Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition the total collapse of the Mavericks. Still, Monday is another day.

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Almost with a flourish

Perhaps I spoke too soon. Billy Donovan did opt to rest Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka tonight; however, the only Spur getting time off, other than the wounded Boris Diaw, was Manu Ginobili. And it is the last home game in San Antonio before the playoffs; why not give them a spectacle? The Thunder certainly did that for Loud City last night. That said, the Spurs came to life rather slowly tonight, bottoming out 18 points behind during the second quarter and still down 10 at the half. Came the third quarter, and suddenly things were different: OKC managed only 19 points, with the Spurs picking up 31, and we had a barn-burner on our hands. With 1:50 left, the Spurs were up five, up to that point their largest lead; at the :16 point, the game was tied at 93 on a Dion Waiters and-1. Kawhi Leonard went up for a buzzer-beater jumper, but Andre Roberson was having none of that, and for the only time this season, the Spurs had to play overtime. Not that this worried anyone: Leonard kept on scoring, Tony Parker knocked down two freebies with ten seconds left to put the Spurs up 102-98, and that’s where it ended.

And really, it’s fitting that Parker and Leonard would finish the job; they were the only guys out there into the 20-point range. (In a reversal of the usual Thunder two-guys-get-all-the-shots scheme, four OKC players finished at 17, though Enes Kanter, the only bench player to score that much, also reeled in 16 rebounds.) Pop will rest some guys, we are told, tomorrow night in Dallas.

So it’s 55-27 for the Northwestern champs. By coincidence, the 2010-11 Thunder finished 55-27; they made it through two rounds of playoffs before losing to the Mavs in five. And we still don’t have all the Western seeds in place, so we don’t know the first-round opponent yet: it might be Memphis, it might be Dallas. The Griz are half a game up on the Mavs right now, but they’re on their way to Oakland to hand the Warriors their 73rd victory. Maybe. Weird things can happen, even at this stage.

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Calling on the party line

It was the last home game of the season, which was one event: it was Kobe Bryant’s last-ever road game, which was another. The combination of the two was a bit baffling at times, but the desired results were obtained: Kobe knocked down 13 points in the first quarter, in Kobe-like fashion, and the Thunder, after a 10-point lead at halftime, went on to trounce the Lakers 31-13 in the third quarter on the way to a 112-79 blowout. And there was lots of purple and gold in the house, an appreciation for a man who almost always played like he had his eye on the Hall of Fame. Sentimental value, even in a 33-point loss.

Also evocative: a decent line from Metta World Peace. The Artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest hasn’t been taken seriously since returning to the NBA from China, but World Peace played a darned good game, 12 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. Like all the Lakers, he shot relatively poorly: at 3-10, he was actually ahead of the team average for the night; but once again, sentimental value, despite his checkered past. And those 12 points were second only to Bryant.

The Thunder contributed to the festive atmosphere by jacking up a ridiculous 37 treys, managing to make 12. (L. A. was 7-31.) Kevin Durant went over 20 by, um, 14, and Russell Westbrook put together a triple-double in a stirringly negligible 18 minutes, one off the league record. Kyle Singler hit two treys; Josh Huestis missed one. Just another night at the ‘Peake.

At this point, of course, nothing really matters. There’s one more game in the regular season, tomorrow night at San Antonio, where the Spurs finally got beaten — by, of course, the Warriors. (Golden State now has 72 wins. Will they get a record 73? Their last game is at home, against the Grizzlies, and any year other than this I’d go with Memphis.) For all I know, both Gregg Popovich and Billy Donovan will rest everyone possible. If you’ve nailed down your playoff spot, you’re like the Armed Forces short-timer: at this point, nothing really matters.

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Nobody sleeping here

The last NBA game ever at Sleep Train Arena, formerly Arco Arena, might well have been every bit as loud as the games during the Good Old Days, one of which made it into Guinness, and the Sacramento Kings took full advantage of that noisy crowd to administer a thrashing to the Thunder, 114-112, evening the season series at two games each (1-1 in both Oklahoma City and Sacramento) and making some folks wonder how OKC is going to get through a whole playoff round if they can’t beat a team with 48 losses. It was mostly close all night, with the Thunder managing to win the first and third quarters, the Kings the second and fourth. This is not to say that the Kings had it easy in that final frame: with 24 seconds left, the Kings were up seven, but seventeen seconds later, that lead was cut to three, and Russell Westbrook knocked out three free throws to tie it. After “the longest five-count” radio guy Matt Pinto said he’d ever seen, a foul was called, Rudy Gay, who’d obligingly missed a few free throws in those waning moments, hit two of them, and that was the end of that.

Part of the problem for the Thunder was Curry. No, not Steph, but his younger brother Seth, coming off the Kings bench to collect 20 points, hitting six of ten treys. Darren Collison, running the offense while Rajon Rondo got some rest, had 27 points, his season high, and those Rudy Gay freebies brought him up to 22. The Kings, as noted, had problems from the stripe, hitting only 11 of 20, but they more than made up for that with actual field goals, 45-94 versus 39-80. (Weirdly, both teams were 13-32 from outside the arc.) And as has been often the case, the glaring number was 21: the number of turnovers given up by the Thunder. The Kings coughed it up only 11 times. Westbrook ended up with 24 points and 10 assist, the game’s only double-double; Kevin Durant made it up to 31, but he had to make 29 shots to get there.

None of this changes the playoff picture. OKC, third in the West, will play the #6 team; both Portland and Memphis lost tonight, leaving the Blazers in fifth, half a game in front of the Griz. The Rockets are in ninth, one game behind the Jazz with three to play. The marquee game tomorrow, of course, is Golden State at San Antonio: no team, not even the mighty Warriors, has beaten the Spurs at home all year. It says something about this season that even that game doesn’t change the playoff picture.

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Have one on us

Preview of the playoffs? Let’s hope not. Billy Donovan seems to be on a “Let’s see how many players we can rest” kick, and his current Magic Number is four: of the usual starting five, only Steven Adams actually played tonight. Some of this might have been justifiable if (1) the Trail Blazers had given any indication that they might do the same or (2) the Thunder actually had a point guard out there. (You know how they used to say that Russell Westbrook is not really a point guard? Randy Foye is not really a point guard like Michael J. Fox is not really a point guard.) Not that Cameron Payne, who is a point guard, had such a great night. (On the other hand, Payne served up six assists, Foye four, and Foye played five minutes more.) Then again, Enes Kanter starting next to Adams worked out to be a swell idea; in the absence of Kevin Durant, Kanter turned in a KD-like line and was instrumental in cutting a 23-point Portland lead down to ten. Still, the utter absence of perimeter defense — the Blazers knocked down ten treys in the first half — would prove to be the undoing of this version of the Thunder. And maybe it’s just me, but I’m not keen on simply handing a game to a team that needed a win just then to clinch a playoff slot. That said, no one pays me to make these fine judgment calls. For the record, the season series was split 2-2, each game won by the home team.

Oh, yeah, the score. Portland 120, Oklahoma City 115. And that Kanter line deserves more attention: 33 points, a career high, and a startling 20 rebounds. If that man could block shots he could be a demigod. Well, okay, a semidemigod. (Okay, he was credited with a block.) The Thunder next encounter the Kings, for the last game ever in the Sleep Train Arena, on what promises to be a raucous Saturday night, assuming the players actually play.

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Rocky Mountain hives

If I were running this team, I thought, I’d take out all my frustrations on the unsuspecting Nuggets. Well, I’m not running this team, and there are very good reasons why I’m not, but this advice seemed obvious enough, and the Thunder did exactly that to Denver tonight, getting a sweep of the four-game season series with the Nuggets to the tune of 124-102. It didn’t look like that in the first quarter, with Denver down only two thanks to a D. J. Augustin 70-foot (!) bank shot at the buzzer. The second, however, brought an 18-0 run, and the Thunder never looked back.

Still, any game in which both Billy Donovan and Nazr Mohammed are rung up for technical fouls is at least slightly weird. Mike Malone decided to hand out some DNP-CDs to starters and give the bench a chance, which probably didn’t help the Nuggets’ chances, and while it makes a certain amount of sense to rest the A-team before playing the Spurs, that Spurs game is three days away. But hey, it’s the end of the season, and for 14 of 30 teams, Denver included, it might as well be preseason, amirite? The Nuggets’ twin guards, Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay, did pretty well, though Joffrey Lauvergne, the only non-minus on the Denver plus/minus card, squeaked out a double-double from the, um, bench. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook was adding to his list of triple-doubles, this one a few degrees out of phase: 13-14-12. Yes, Kevin Durant got his 20, for the thousandth game in a row; yes, Enes Kanter led the reserves with another double-double. So maybe this game wasn’t so weird after all.

Third place in the West is now clinched. Had this been the season finale, the Thunder would be playing the sixth-place Trail Blazers in the first post-season round. As it happens, the Thunder are playing the sixth-place Trail Blazers in Game 79, tomorrow night. Really weird things can happen in Portland. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers have failed to make history by winning their 10th game out of 78, thereby insuring they will finish at least one game better than the 1972-73 Sixers, who went 9-73. (We won’t mention the Pelicans the team they beat.)

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Ignominious splashdown

The game plan for the Rockets today seemed simple enough: put up a hell of a lot of shots, and hope enough of them fall. This is doable if half your rebounds come off the offensive glass, as Houston’s were, and if you get at least 20 more shots than the opponents, as Houston did. It didn’t hurt that the Thunder were at least fairly lethargic during several stretches of the game, and with OKC up five with five and a half minutes left, the Rockets utterly shut down the Thunder to earn a 118-110 win, a 2-2 split of the season series — each team won twice at home — and a bit of momentum as they try to climb above ninth and into the playoff picture.

“A hell of a lot of shots” sounds unspecific, so let’s get the numbers: 41 of 102, just a tick above 40 percent. Thirteen of 42 made treys. Twenty-two offensive rebounds out of 45. The only place where the Thunder got bigger numbers was in, you guessed it, turnovers: 21 for OKC, a mere nine for Houston. James Harden went off for 41 points on 12-25, with Trevor Ariza going 5-13 for 18 points. Patrick Beverley did not shoot well until the fourth quarter, but his +14 was the highest of all.

Kevin Durant shot well until the fourth quarter, when the Rockets ratcheted up the defense. He finished with 33. Russell Westbrook came up just short of a triple-double, at 23-13-9. Nobody else into double digits except Enes Kanter, who managed 16.

The rest of this road trip may or may not be fraught with peril. Denver (Tuesday) is decidedly more dangerous at home; Portland (Wednesday) is dangerous everywhere; Sacramento (Saturday) is, well, Sacramento. (The Kings have beaten the Thunder once already this season.) It’s not likely that the standings will change, though theoretically OKC could fall behind the Clippers if they lose the rest of the way. Then again, if they keep playing like they did in the fourth quarter — but never mind, let’s not go there.

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Barrage sale

First thought: this game would be a heck of an audition for Sixth Man of the Year, with both the Thunder’s Enes Kanter and the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford in the hunt. This was before I found out that Doc Rivers had decided to rest J. J. Redick, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. With that dread threesome left behind in Los Angeles, and with Paul Pierce injured and Blake Griffin still suspended, Crawford wouldn’t be coming off the bench: he started in the backcourt alongside Austin Rivers. And some strange synergy between Rivers and Crawford created something amazing in the first half, with the two combining for 40 of L.A.’s 69 points, each hitting four treys with such alacrity you had to wonder if the Thunder’s famed defense had been rested. Or if not that, you had to wonder how it was that OKC was shooting 58 percent, had four more rebounds, hadn’t missed a free throw (out of 11), and was still trailing by four.

Crawford and Rivers didn’t slow down much in the second half, either, though they did actually miss a trey here and there. With 40 seconds left and the score tied at 117, Wesley Johnson grabbed a Kevin Durant miss, and Russell Westbrook stole it back. Westbrook couldn’t knock down the shot, but a Steven Adams putback gave the Thunder an actual two-point lead. Rivers saw an opportunity for an almost-last-second layup, but the ball wouldn’t drop, and Westbrook took that one away. Then came the Last Gesture, and it was a beaut: to avoid drawing a foul in those last two seconds, Westbrook cast the ball skyward. Buzzer, W, cheers. 119-117, despite 32 from Crawford, 32 (a career high) from Rivers, and 48 Clipper points off the long ball (16-29). Season series ends at 3-1 OKC, and if third place in the West isn’t officially clinched, it’s pretty darn secure.

Oddly, with this profusion of scoring, there was only one double-double all night: Westbrook (of course), with 26 points and 11 assists. (Eight rebounds, so two away from the triple.) KD finished with 31, because of course he did.

Next outing: Sunday afternoon at Houston. The Rockets just fell out of the eighth playoff spot, and will have something to prove.

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Not what they meant by “rest”

As speculated, a couple of Thunder starters — Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant — were given the night off: in their stead, Billy Donovan opted to start Kyle Singler and Dion Waiters. He probably needn’t have bothered; after sort of holding their own through the first half, the Thunder basically fell asleep in the third quarter, outscored by an embarrassing 25-9. Detroit, of course, is actually fighting for a playoff spot: at gametime, they were occupying the #8 spot in the East, 2½ games ahead of the Bulls and the Wizards. And while the Pistons weren’t entirely brilliant, the Thunder were utterly terrible, especially in that third quarter, during which Royce Young observed: There is absolutely zero offensive movement for the Thunder. Just standing around waiting for Westbrook to create a shot for somebody.” Things improved a little in the fourth, with OKC briefly pulling to within one point; however, nothing, up to and including deliberately fouling Andre Drummond, would close the difference. (And once Stan Van Gundy saw successive hits on Drummond, the Notorious S.V.G. immediately swapped in Tobias Harris.) A Russell Westbrook trey in the last minute brought OKC to within two, but Reggie Jackson got two freebies to ice it, and Aron Baynes finished the job with two more, making the final 88-82 and evening the season series at 1-1. For a team averaging over 110 points the last couple of weeks, this qualifies as, um, feeble.

Then again, you want points, you gotta hit shots. The Thunder mostly didn’t do that: 38 percent from the field, 6-21 from Way Out There, and only two players in double figures, which would be Westbrook, who took 28 shots to get 24 points, and Enes Kanter, again making his case for Sixth Man of the Year with 14 points and 14 boards. Between them, Waiters and Singler managed a whole ten. Meanwhile, Marcus Morris, written off after being shipped out of Phoenix, turned in a 24-point performance on a mere 13 shots to lead the Pistons.

I don’t think the Thursday-night clash with the Los Angeles Clippers will be a snooze-fest like this, but I could be wrong. And once that happens, it’s back on the road for four more: Houston, Denver, Portland and Sacramento. Grind time is upon us, boys and girls.

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T owed

The Raptors administered a fair thrashing to the Thunder in Oklahoma City in early November, so payback was the first order of business. But this would not be an easy proposition: Toronto is a better team now than they were then, and hey, it’s their house. It was going to take at least another 20-point, maybe a 30-point performance by Kevin Durant, and at least a double-double, maybe even a triple-double, from Russell Westbrook. Even harder, the Thunder would have to figure out some way to DeTer DeMar DeRozen. How did they do? KD, 34 points; Westbrook, 26-11-12; DeRozen, 8 of 22 for a team-high 19. The occasional lapse aside, OKC made it look sort of easy, dispatching the Dinos, 119-100.

In fact, this game was so unexpectedly uneventful that radio guy Matt Pinto spent a fair amount of time speculating who, if anyone, might be given the night off tomorrow against the Pistons. Of course, resting a starter or three — or four, as the Spurs did the other night — puts additional pressure on the reserves to perform, and the OKC bench has been somewhat inconsistent of late, rolling up only 25 points tonight, 15 of which came from Dion Waiters. (How hard can it be for both Waiters and Enes Kanter to get hot on the same night?) And the DeFense against DeRozen, largely the work of Andre Roberson, gave the too-lightly regarded Norman Thomas — how lightly? Not even his own Wikipedia page — the opportunity to crank out 18 points on 7-13.

Still, one should shed no tears for the Raptors, who still enjoy a five-game cushion over the third-place Atlanta Hawks. And perhaps one should think forward to Detroit tomorrow night; the Pistons lead the Bulls by two, the Wizards by two and a half, to hold, however tenuously, the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. And they’re 24-13 at the Palace, nothing to sneer at. Then again, the Raptors were 28-8 at the Air Canada Centre until tonight.

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The JV comes to town

Gregg Popovich has rested players before, but usually not so many that Boban Marjanović actually gets to start at center: tonight four starters — Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge — plus super sixth man Manu Ginobili were given the night off. That said, the Substitute Spurs outplayed the Thunder for the first 15 minutes or so, until OKC started to get a grip on the situation, and the Thunder were up four at the half. A 35-19 third quarter settled the matter, and OKC went up 2-1 in the season series with a somewhat unsatisfying 111-92 win.

There are things Billy Donovan will not like, and one of them is that the Thunder bench scored only 22 points — and Enes Kanter had 20 of them. (Randy Foye got the other bucket; forget the other guys, especially Kyle Singler, who missed one shot and collected three fouls in seven minutes.) On the upside, shooting was a more-than-respectable 52 percent, Kevin Durant went up for 31 plus 10 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook, despite one little bout with temper that cost him a technical, threw down 29.

The Spurs, perhaps unsurprisingly, were led by two bench guys, David West and Jonathon Simmons, each with 17 points. And Andre Miller’s line — 11 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes — is pretty darn good for a guy who just turned forty, you know? And yes, Marjanović got into the act, with 13 points and six boards. Still, you have to wonder if at least one of the chaps on the bench cringed at the debacle.

With Sunday off, the Thunder now face a road trip consisting of a single back-to-back: at Toronto on Monday, at Detroit on Tuesday. Both are playoff-caliber teams, the Pistons having fought their way from ignominy back to eighth in the East, the Raptors comfortably ensconced in second. The Clippers come to OKC on Thursday, and then it’s back to the road once more.

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Curiously Jazzless

The Jazz were on a roll of sorts: they’d beaten up on Houston last night, displacing the Rockets from eighth place while assuming that position themselves. But that was last night: tonight, the Thunder forced them to assume the position for the fourth time in four tries this season, and unlike the last two — two days apart in December — it wasn’t particularly close. OKC 113, Utah 91, though if the Jazz were tired, they made the effort not to look like it.

Still, this one was enough of a blowout that Josh Huestis, the bargain player of the decade — after being drafted, he was stashed in the D-League for two seasons, earning Burger King dollars — actually got minutes; after bricking a couple of free throws, he took a pass from Dion Waiters and knocked down a trey from the left wing. You might infer from this that the Big Names checked out early, and they did: Kevin Durant played just barely thirty minutes (20 points, of course), and only Waiters exceeded 29. (The Russell Westbrook line: 15-7-9. Not a triple-, or even a double-double, but heck, he was busy enough for the 27 minutes he was out there.) The Utah scoring leaders: basically, everyone named Trey. Trey Burke had 17 points off the bench, Trey Lyles 14. (Only Burke actually hit a trey.) Unfortunately for the Jazz, this loss drops them into a tie with Houston, and worse, the King Missiles own the tiebreaker and get to claim eighth.

Meanwhile, the Thunder, now 50-22, have moved six games ahead of the fourth-place Clippers; the Grizzlies are pretty solidly ensconced in fifth, but sixth is still up in the air, with Portland a game and a half in front of Dallas. Complicating matters: next home game is against the mighty Spurs, and the rest of the season, except for two visits from Angelenos (the Clippers next Thursday, the Lakers on the 11th of April), is on the road. And while winning out, thus finishing at 60-22, seems unlikely, third place in the West seems fairly secure; the Northwest championship has already been clinched.

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Blood and gore and guts

Thunder/Rockets games have long been amazingly physical, ever since Patrick Beverley did a number on Russell Westbrook in 2013, and maybe even longer than that. No blood was drawn tonight at the ‘Peake — at least, we didn’t see any being mopped up from the floor — but there were plenty of menacing snarls. Kevin Durant, for instance, didn’t seem at all pleased by having Trevor Ariza epoxied to his backside, and James Harden exhibited his long-standing talent for looking like he was fouled on just about every shot. (To be fair to the Beard, he was more efficient at the free-throw line than anyone else tonight: eight out of eight.) Of course, the game was close all night: OKC up by one after the first quarter, Houston by one after the second, OKC by one after the third, and enough lead changes to make your head spin. With half a minute left, the Thunder had the ball and a four-point lead; a Durant free throw made it a five-point lead, a Jason Terry trey cut it to two, Durant dished to Andre Roberson for a dunk, a Harden trey cut it to one, Serge Ibaka hit one of two freebies. Then Dion Waiters (!) popped the ball away from Dwight Howard, Westbrook snagged it, Harden fouled him — his sixth — and Westbrook calmly, to the extent that Westbrook does anything calmly, sank two free throws and the Rockets with them, 111-107.

Harden, who played longer than anyone else (40:23), did come up with 24 points, game-high, and 16 assists, a personal best. All the starting Rockets scored in double figures, as did reserve Michael Beasley, who knocked down 11 points in 15 minutes. The long ball served the Rockets well, the Thunder a little less well: Houston made 13 of 37, OKC 8 of 35. (Wait a minute. Seventy-two treys? Is this artillery school?) Somewhere in the second quarter, I decided that if Westbrook got another triple-double, which would have been his 15th of the season, this game was a cinch. And Westbrook delivered, to the tune of 21-13-15. KD had a KD-ish 23; when was the last time he scored less than 20? And the OKC bench was either wonderful (Waiters 17, Enes Kanter a 10/10 double-double) or absent (Randy Foye took five shots, four of them from beyond the arc, and missed them all).

Next time (3 April), these two teams meet in Houston. In the meantime, the Thunder have to deal with the Jazz and the Spurs at home before going back on the road.

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Breaking through in Circle City

Alex Roig predicted in the Pregame Primer: “This just feels like a game where [Paul] George will get hot from deep. Maybe 30+ points on 5+ 3’s.” Ask Roig whom he likes in the World Series, because Paul George got hot from everywhere through three quarters, right until the moment when Kevin Durant swatted away a sure thing, accompanied to the sound of the third-quarter buzzer. The Thunder were up one at that point, having frittered away a ten-point halftime lead, but a couple minutes into the fourth they suddenly seemed to remember that they could still play defense. With a minute left, OKC was up by eight; George, not dead yet, hit a wicked trey and got fouled, erasing half that lead, and with 13 seconds left, the Pacers were within three. George got a clean look, but backrimmed a trey, and Durant’s retrieval, followed by two free throws on the inevitable foul, made it a four-point game; Myles Turner came up with a dunk, but KD ended up back on the line; he missed the second foul shot, but he gathered the rebound, and the Thunder won over the Pacers 115-111, tying the season series.

Statistic of note: The Thunder bench scored 45 points. Paul George scored 45 points. (He was 4-10 on treys, just missing Roig’s prediction.) The Indiana bench managed only 14 points, one fewer than Enes Kanter, though you have to wonder how much that matters when all the Pacer starters hit double figures and, as noted, Paul George had 45 freaking points. Then again, Kevin Durant was doing Kevin Durant things all night, finishing with a 33-point, 13-rebound double-double. And only Russell Westbrook could collect a triple-double while shooting 4-17: he finished 14-11-14. You have to wonder how this would have looked with Kyle Singler in the rotation. (Singler apparently was a late scratch, after lower-back pain during workouts.) Or maybe you don’t. Saving Serge Ibaka for tonight didn’t prove miraculous; Ibaka logged only 24 minutes, scored eight, rebounded four.

So three in a row against the East, which was not something I would have predicted: the Thunder have lost 22 games this season, 11 against Western teams, 11 against Eastern teams — but they’ve played the East only 28 times, the West 42. Only two games remain against the East, both on the road: at Toronto a week from Monday, at Detroit the next night. Between now and then, three Western foes will keep OKC busy at home.

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Tricky clinch

The math is settled: the Thunder will be in the playoffs, the third team in the West to clinch a postseason berth. God only knows when the 76ers were mathematically eliminated, but it must have been pretty early in the season, inasmuch as they lost their first 18 games and they’ve now lost 60 games out of 69. Still, Philly played it close in the first half, aided and abetted by a ridiculous number of Oklahoma City turnovers, and murmurs of “trap game” were heard in the Thunder fandom; there is, after all, a game against a really good team, the Indiana Pacers, tomorrow night. Up six at the half, the Thunder waxed Philly 32-21 in the third quarter, and there would be no more surprises: the final was 111-97, which fell into the category of “Hey, it’s a W, what do you want?”

Well, fewer turnovers would be nice: the Thunder coughed up the rock 20 times, the Sixers only eight. And Philly was far defter at forcing the turnovers, with 11 steals. What’s more, the Sixers drew lots of fouls: they earned 27 free throws, the Thunder only 18. But being the Sixers, they missed ten of those freebies, and fell short of 40-percent shooting from the floor. (Rebound count was absurd: OKC 63, Philly 36.) Still, reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas outscored everyone on the floor except Kevin Durant, bagging a season-high 23 points; Durant had a fairly typical 26, and Russell Westbrook had yet another triple-double, 20-15-10.

Something we hadn’t seen from Billy Donovan this year: a player given a rest. Serge Ibaka did not play, presumably so he can be fresh for the Pacers; Nick Collison started in his place. We can call this, I suppose, Not a Scott Brooks Move.

After Indiana tomorrow, the Thunder come home to meet two, maybe three, playoff teams in a row: the Rockets, the Jazz (just barely behind the Mavs), and the Spurs. But after that, there are only two home games left, one against each of the Los Angeles clubs. File away under Scheduling Quirks, and go get your playoff-game tickets.

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Madness beyond March

While the Thunder are on the road, the ‘Peake will be overrun with March Madness: four first-round games in the West will be played here in OKC, and everyone watching will presumably have access to all manner of statistics for the duration.

Then again, that’s the men’s tournament. The women’s tournament, not being held here but going on at the same time, presumably won’t draw as much interest. But what’s maddening, to me at least, is that so many of the metrics are gone:

Until recently, the one repository for advanced statistics such as usage, true shooting percentage, pace-adjusted player statistics and adjusted team ratings for women’s college ball was WBBState.com, a vertical of data company National Statistical. But that source disappeared Feb. 29, when ServerAxis, the company that provided server space to National Statistical’s hosting company, suddenly took all its equipment offline. There are reports that ServerAxis was having financial problems, but the company has so far not responded to requests for comment. National Statistical also declined to comment on the situation on the advice of lawyers as it works to recover its data and bring the site back online.

Exactly how a web hosting company pulls up anchor, ditches its Miami headquarters, and ends up 1,300 miles away in Chicago, allegedly waiting for its servers to find their way home, is almost certainly a fascinating story, but it’s secondary to the reality that an entire sport’s advanced metrics wing can be wiped off the map by a few nerds absconding with a few hard drives and turning off their phones. This is a corollary to the more global lack of statistical interrogation of women’s basketball — the data isn’t just shallow, it’s scarce, and that scarcity makes it fragile.

Okay, you may not be a stats freak. I’m not that much of one. But I have to believe that there’s a demand for this sort of distaff data:

In the landscape of women’s sports, college basketball in general and the NCAA Tournament in particular are enormously important. The nation’s attention has turned to college basketball, expecting rich, compelling and thorough analysis, and the women’s side, already handicapped by neglect, has lost one of its legs to a freak woodchipper accident. This leaves the writers who cover the tournament, missing servers be damned, in quite the lurch.

One might argue, perhaps, that if the audiences were equal, statistical availability would be maintained in some sort of equal measure. But if these numbers aren’t available, it becomes harder to build that audience.

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Unbaked in Beantown

It was a light schedule in the NBA yesterday, and the Thunder had the night off, but two of the five games were important. The Clippers, just behind OKC in the standings, ventured into San Antonio, and the Spurs did unto them what the Spurs have done unto everyone this year. And the Pacers played host to the Celtics, thrashed them, and sent them back home to Boston. The Greenies, mostly, are pretty darn good on the second night of a back-to-back. Not tonight: it started off with seven points in a row from Kevin Durant — he ended up with 28 — and while Boston battled back, kinda sorta, they would never catch up, and four minutes into the fourth quarter, all the starters for both sides were relaxing on the bench. Maybe it just wasn’t the Celtics’ night: when Isaiah Thomas knocks down a game-high 29 points in 29 minutes and still finishes -17, something is definitely askew. Whatever it was, the Thunder earned a split of the season series by a fairly convincing 130-109, despite a 12-0 run by Beantown midway through the fourth.

The secret, I think, lies in the fact that OKC actually took care of the ball for once: only ten turnovers, from which Beantown could snag only nine points. The Thunder’s long-ball prowess, on the roller coaster all season, was on the up side of the curve tonight: 12 of 29, 41 percent. (The Celtics took only 19, made five.) And the boys in Sunset Orange can rebound: 53-42, the sixth consecutive game in which they’ve outrebounded an opponent. What may matter most, though, is that this is the first time OKC has been over .500 on the road against Eastern teams: 6-5 now.

The Eastern trip continues Friday at Philadelphia. Radio guy Matt Pinto seemed anxious about the possibility that the team might be concentrating, not on the 9-58 Sixers, but instead on the Saturday match at Indiana. I just wonder if they’ve filled out their March Madness brackets.

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Oxygen removal

The Blazers came out breathing fire, and the Thunder were being burned badly. And suddenly the wind, or something, changed: OKC finished the first quarter on a 15-0 run, and the Portland offense went asthmatic. It was 66-42 at the half, 102-72 after three, and fifteen seconds into the fourth, something happened to one of the nets. (No, not one of the Nets; I’m talking an actual physical net.) If nothing else, it gave the fans a chance to, um, catch their breath. Garbage time ensued quickly thereafter, and after a terrible post-All-Star start, it was something of a relief to see a team, and a potential playoff team at that, pounded into tapioca. Oklahoma City 128, Portland 94, going up 2-1 in the season series. (In each of those games, the home team won; the fourth game will be at Portland on the 6th of April.)

The Damian Lillard/C. J. McCollum combine, so explosive so often, were pretty well snuffed out tonight: they managed 36 points between them, but it took them 33 shots, and only one other Blazer — Al-Farouq Aminu — scored in double figures. While Portland was adept at the foul line, making 25 of 27, they shot only 34 percent from the floor, and for a team that regularly nails the trey, 7-27 is — well, the Thunder has had worse games than that. Not tonight, though. Russell Westbrook, with yet another triple-double (17-10-16), retired early, Kevin Durant (20 points) even earlier, and Enes Kanter, given more or less free rein, turned in a 26-point outing, a new season high. Even Nazr Mohammed, who was not expected to do anything more than provide locker-room inspiration in these final days, hit a bucket.

Next three games are on the road: at Boston (Wednesday), Philadelphia (Friday), and Indiana (Saturday). Both the Celtics and the Pacers appear headed for the post-season. However, the Sixers, who aren’t going anywhere, are looking for that tenth win, which would guarantee them a better finish than the ’72-’73 Sixers, who hold the NBA record for futility at 9-73. After that Thunder loss to the Timberwolves, I think I’d be very wary of Philadelphia.

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Death wears black and grey

Royce Young, contemplating this game in San Antonio: “What’s so amazing about the Spurs is they have like six guys that look so washed and they’re still 55-10.” And those ten losses came on the road: on the home court they’ve been literally unbeatable so far. The Thunder made some noises about ending that 31-0 streak, and actually had a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter, later increasing it to six. The Spurs tied it up, and then followed it up with a pair of treys, just to make sure OKC got the message. They needn’t have bothered; the Thunder’s by-now signature fourth-quarter collapse made it easy for the Spurs to claim that 32nd home win, 93-85, evening the season series at 1-1.

One of those washed-looking fellows, Tony Parker, got his first point in the game with 33 seconds left, finishing with four. And Manu Ginobili, in the same draft class as Methuselah, scored two. But none of that mattered: Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge worked extremely well together, David West led a spirited Spurs bench, and the Thunder managed only 36 points in the second half, with no points other than free throws in the final four minutes. About the only good news for Oklahoma City was that Andre Roberson, who fritzed up his ankle against the Timberwolves last night, didn’t seem particularly affected by it tonight.

Other than that, nothing much is going on. The hapless Lakers — who, unlike the Thunder, have managed to beat the Warriors once this year — and the unaffected-by-hap Sixers have been unceremoniously escorted out of the playoff race. And the Spurs’ next three opponents are all at home: the Clippers, the Trail Blazers, and the Warriors. We wish them well in the task of disposing of those guys, since apparently it’s not going to get done otherwise.

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Hungry like the Wolves

The scary part of that first quarter was not that Minnesota had jumped out to a 21-8 lead — the Thunder would make up most of that deficit before the quarter ended — but the sensation that OKC was focusing, not on the opponent at hand, but on the opponent to come. That way lies, if not necessarily madness, certainly a lot of lead changes, and 47 minutes into the game things were still decidedly undecided: in that last minute Karl-Anthony Towns bagged back-to-back buckets to put the Wolves up 96-94. Then with 10.8 seconds left, weirdness struck: Towns looked like he goaltended a Kevin Durant floater, but it was ruled that he didn’t, and Steven Adams got credit for a stickback to tie it up. But Ricky Rubio drained a trey 0.2 before the horn, and that was that: Minnesota 99, Oklahoma City 96, the Wolves’ first win in four tries against the Thunder this year and their first win in OKC in seven years.

It did not help that Andre Roberson tweaked his ankle in the second quarter and did not return. And it definitely did not help that Serge Ibaka played 20 minutes, scored absolutely nothing, and fouled out. For the most part, the Thunder were efficient at clearing the boards, 54-37 on rebounds, but they were otherwise outworked by the Wolves, and there’s always the question of how you survive after 24 turnovers. (Only once have the Thunder done worse than that this season, against the Rockets, and they lost that one too.) At least Enes Kanter was around to collect a double-double (17 points/14 rebounds), and the Durant/Westbrook Axis of Amazing managed 54 points, but gave up the ball 11 times. Meanwhile, while all the talk in Minnesota is about Towns or Andrew Wiggins, the solid rock this evening was Gorgui Dieng, 7-12 from the floor and 11-11 from the stripe for 25 points. (Wiggins finished with 20, Towns with 17.)

Oh, and that opponent to come? The Spurs. In San Antonio. Tomorrow night. When was the last time the Spurs lost a game at home? Hint: it wasn’t this season.

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Fast-breaking id

After three quarters, the Thunder were up by ten, and the general air seemed to be “Don’t get cocky, kids”; last time these two teams met, less than a week ago, the Thunder were up by seventeen after three quarters, and somehow lost by five. At the time, it seemed like they’d forgotten how to finish a game. Tonight, it looked like they’d learned something: halfway through the fourth, OKC had run that ten-point lead up to 19. This was about the point that the Clippers remembered that earlier in the game they were actually making three-point shots, and decided to go back to them. J. J. Redick promptly snapped off a pair of them, cutting the lead to 13; a minute later, he nailed one more. But the boys from L.A. would make no further progress, and at 2:25 Doc Rivers threw in the towel. The Thunder go up 2-1 in the season series, 120-108, a game in which they never trailed, but a game in which there were a whole lot of ties; the last tie was 75-75, in the middle of the third.

The usual Clipper offensive weapons were deployed competently, for the most part, but starting with that last tie, they started to miss shots, something they hadn’t done for most of the game. The most consistent shooter, in fact, was Jeff Green; Uncle Jeff knocked down 10-13 for a team-high 23. And while J. J. Redick (22 points) was 5-8 on treys, so was Kevin Durant (30 points/12 rebounds). One thing I always wonder about in Clippers/Thunder games is whether Russell Westbrook is consciously trying to show up Chris Paul. In this game, at any rate, CP3, good as he is, was seriously outclassed; Westbrook’s triple-double, 25-11-2019, included a new career high for dimes. The Telltale Statistic, though, doesn’t show on the box score. Oklahoma City had 15 second-chance points. The Clips? Zip.

The Timberwolves will be here Friday night, after which everyone must clamber onto the plane and head for San Antonio. The Spurs haven’t lost at home all season, like another team whose name we won’t mention, lest we jinx the whole scheme.

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Entirely too Deer

After twelve minutes in Milwaukee, the Thunder led the Bucks 32-12, which is fairly odd; OKC was 11-19 on shooting, which is not too weird; but neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook made any of those 11 shots, which is unheard of. (Westbrook, in fact, took no shots at all, and KD only one; but they’d combined for 11 assists and six rebounds during the quarter.) The Bucks, of course, weren’t going to lie down and die after that quarter, and outscored the Thunder 67-52 over the next two quarters, eventually pulling to within a single possession early in the fourth. Oklahoma City then proceeded to “struggle to embrace prosperity,” in the phrase of radio guy Matt Pinto, and did close out the Bucks, though not efficiently; Milwaukee ran off ten points in a row to pull within six in the last minute, but OKC picked up the win, 104-96, sweeping both games from the Deer and salvaging a 2-2 mark for this road trip.

Billy Donovan, despite having a roster spot filled — veteran big man Nazr Mohammed, a member of the Thunder Finals team in 2011-12, returned this weekend — has cut the rotation further: only nine men played until the last three seconds, when Anthony Morrow was brought in for God knows why. As usual, the starters shouldered most of the heavy lifting, with a Durant double-double (32 points/12 rebounds) and a Westbrook triple-double (15/10/11). The bench scored 27, two-thirds of which were accounted for by Enes Kanter. And that Milwaukee frontcourt is indefatigable: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker split 52 points between them on 43 shots. Not so much the backcourt: Khris Middleton methodically knocked down 18 points, while O. J. Mayo took only three shots and missed them all. (Jerryd Bayless did the hard work at point for the Bucks.)

So it’s back home and bloodied. The Clippers will be waiting on Wednesday, followed by the Timberwolves on Friday, and then things get hairy again in a hurry: to San Antonio on Saturday, a brief stop at home to welcome the Trail Blazers, and then off to the East, the Celtics, the Sixers and the Pacers, those three games in four days. Given the Thunder’s lack of efficiency against Eastern teams, that stretch could be more than merely hirsute.

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This is not when to fold them

For 36 minutes, the Oklahoma City Thunder might be the best team in the NBA. Unfortunately, NBA games run 48 minutes, and the Thunder have developed a distressing tendency to fold in the fourth quarter. Admittedly, for a minute there — let’s say, between 5:00 and 4:00 left in the third quarter — this game looked almost doable; the Thunder had a nine-point lead over the mighty Warriors. Those of us who remember all the way back to last night, where OKC frittered away a lead far bigger than that against the decidedly less mighty Clippers, made a point of not mentioning it. Sure enough, the Warriors were back within one at the end of the quarter, and reclaimed the lead shortly thereafter. With 4:00 left, Golden State was up nine, and things would get no better for the hapless Thunder, who essentially were forced to watch the Warriors execute. The final was 121-106, with Steph Curry (of course) delivering the finishing touches before a delighted Oakland crowd which hasn’t had to witness a loss in over a year.

Several things went wrong tonight, but this number sums them up: 8-24. That’s Russell Westbrook missing 16 shots. From long distance, he was 1 of 8. You want more? Kevin Durant was one assist short of a triple-double (32-10-9), but he also had nine turnovers. (The Warriors played 11 men, and they turned it over a mere eight times.) But really, there’s no getting around Steph Curry, and while the Thunder curtailed his three-point game (5-15), Curry compensated by taking shorter shots, finishing with 33 on 12-23. Even lame stuff like “Hey, let’s foul Andrew Bogut!” failed to produce for the Thunder: big Andy swished three of four free throws. And does this sound familiar? Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all bagged at least 20 points, but no one else managed even ten.

So congrats to Golden State for their 3-0 sweep and their 55-5 record; the Warriors are now on pace for 75 wins, something unheard of in an 82-game season. And if you ask me, they have the sharpest home whites in the league. But I tell you, I’m glad we don’t have to play them again this season. (Post-season? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, if we haven’t burned it down already.)

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A state of Blakelessness

If you were wondering how much depth the Los Angeles Clippers might have in the absence of Blake Griffin, the answer, for this evening anyway, seems to be “Almost enough.” Still, whenever the Clips were in a deep hole, they were able to dig themselves at least part of the way out; down 22 late in the third quarter, L.A. ran off eleven straight before the Thunder were able to knock down a shot. It took a pair of Wesley Johnson treys inside the five-minute mark, though, to get the Clips within single digits, and they kept coming: by 2:30, L.A. was down only four, and a DeAndre Jordan stickback with 1:12 left gave them the lead. (“What a meltdown,” sniffed Royce Young.) L.A. was up 101-98 with 30 seconds left; a Russell Westbrook trey failed to connect, and the Clips pocketed two J. J. Redick free throws to finish the job at 103-98. That fourth quarter: Clippers 35, Thunder 13. This is called “not giving up,” and someone in Thunder blue — Kevin Durant, maybe? — probably should have been taking notes.

Five Clippers nailed double figures, with Jordan (20 points/18 rebounds) and Chris Paul (21 points/13 assists) collecting double-doubles. And by the end of the game, the Thunder’s shooting percentage had dropped a point below L.A.’s; they finished just below 40. There were three Thunder double-doubles — Durant (30 points/11 boards), Westbrook (24 points/12 dimes), and Serge Ibaka (11 points/11 rebounds), but no one else came up with even 10 points.

So two splits: 1/1 for the road trip, 1/1 for the season series with the Clippers, with two to come. Before that happens, though — in fact, before anything else happens, because it’s tomorrow — there’s another meeting with the Warriors, who haven’t lost at home since approximately the War of 1812. Things are not looking pretty right about now.

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