For the third straight game, the Oklahoma City Thunder not only lost but lost a big lead down the stretch. On Monday and Wednesday, it was at the hands of the reigning NBA Champions who turned their effort level up to 11 to salvage a pair of wins from the jaws of defeat. On Friday, the Thunder went to Denver to take on the struggling Nuggets.
On Friday, the OKC Thunder stretched out a 19 point lead and punched the Nuggets in the mouth from the opening tip. Even without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maledon, George Hill, and the four G-League assignees, the Thunder offense won the first two quarters (28-18, and 24-24) before dropping the final two frames (30-26, 27-16) the Thunder have not been able to sustain their production level throughout the course of these games.
However, how could you expect them to? They are missing two-key pieces of what would be their closing lineup in these clutch situations, two big bucket getters, and are down to play with nine players. One of those nine is Darius Miller, who is coming off an Achilles Injury and the Thunder really need to be cautious with seeing him only log ten minutes.
In this game, the Thunder really relied on Al Horford who on top of his 16 points, facilitate the offense with four assists and grabbed five rebounds. Horford has been incredible since the birth of his child averaging 18 points, two steals, four assists, seven rebounds, 47-percent shooting from the floor, and 50-percent shooting from beyond the arc over the past eight games.
As the Thunder continue to grow and lose, these big leads come on the back of their effort levels. Teams are not expecting the Thunder to treat every possession like they are in the NBA Playoffs, but yet they do, and it catches teams off guard to start a contest. When their opponents match their effort levels, the game levels out. You have to monitor, how much longer can the Thunder continue to play at this level, with this energy, while still losing? Do they ever get discouraged? Do they ever break?
To me, this is just who this team is. It is all they know how to do. The players on this roster seemingly only know one speed. I am not worried about the effort levels waning, but it is something to watch for moving forward.
Hamidou Diallo earned himself a play that will live in infamy, gift-wrapping the Nuggets three points at the half with a goaltend in a game in which OKC lost by two points. Sadly for Diallo, it overshadows a good game that he had, but this play will be the difference in the season. I know it feels like one of 72 right now, but the difference in where the Thunder finish in the standings will be a game, or a game and a half, in either direction. This is a game they could’ve had back.
However, the game was not lost only due to Diallo’s goaltend, the team only produced 16 fourth-quarter points. Monday, SGA poured in 13 points by himself in the final frame. The Thunder scoring trended down each quarter from 28 first-quarter points to 25, then bumped to 26 before dropping down to that disastrous 16.
Finding a way to maintain their offensive output throughout the entire game will be key for the Thunder.