OKLAHOMA CITY – Thunder general manager Sam Presti stood outside his team’s dressing room and watched the last few minutes of Wednesday’s game on one of the many TVs among the tunnels of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Then he watched Kevin Durant make an early exit. Presti gave the star forward a pat on the back, but no words were exchanged.
Maybe because there wasn’t much to say.
First, the Thunder got outworked, outplayed and out-everything-elsed by the Brooklyn Nets, and then Durant was ejected moments before it was officially a 110-93 loss.
It was troublesome that the steady disposition of Durant spiked quickly like he chased a RedBull with a 5-hour Energy as he got tossed for apparently arguing with official Danny Crawford. Durant then had a few more words for Crawford as he walked off the court. But more troublesome is the Thunder’s continuing ability to bring a who-cares effort to parts of home games.
“That wasn’t one of our better games,” said coach Scott Brooks. “We take pride in our defensive execution, and it wasn’t there tonight. I give them (the Nets) a lot of credit. We had one good quarter, and it wasn’t enough.”
Not even close, really, and by now, it’s more of a fungus than a trend. Something bad seems to be taking form.
Brooklyn scored 33 points in the first quarter in a game where Oklahoma City was trying to go 17-2 at home. Then the Nets had 34 points in the fourth quarter after the Thunder seemingly had righted themselves defensively, holding Brooklyn to 15 points in the third quarter.
Don’t be surprised. They’ve done this before. In home games this season, the Thunder got burned by Dallas a week ago for 29 first-quarter points. They got lit up by Atlanta for 30 points in the first quarter in November. Memphis went off for a 36-point second quarter. Even lowly Sacramento scored 35 points in the fourth quarter, forcing Brooks to put his starters back in the game. And Wednesday, the Nets scored 110 points, shot 50 percent, led by as much as 23 and never trailed after taking a 2-1 lead.
“We can’t play perfect,” said Durant, who was 11-of-17 shooting for 27 points. “Other teams are going to make shots. Guys who usually don’t make shots make shots against us. We’re Western Conference champs. Everyone wants a piece of us and wants to beat us. Everyone is going to come out and give it their best shot. We have to be ready for it. Most of the time we are; tonight we weren’t.”
Durant said he told Crawford, “It was a bad call.” He also said he was frustrated. Here’s why: Sure, Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson went all “Hero Mode” (33 points) but the Thunder were undone by way too many open jumpers from Nets center Brook Lopez, who finished 11 of 17 for 25 points. Oklahoma City also chipped in by committing 19 turnovers and hacking away for 23 fouls.
“I’m allowed to be frustrated,” Durant said after getting ejected for the first time in his career. “They (refs) have a quick trigger now. Players are allowed to be. It is what it is. Just move on. I just thought it was a bad call. Like I said, you get frustrated and show emotion.”
Be frustrated if you’re a Thunder fan, but not because your team lost. That’s allowed. Good teams do that. Instead, be frustrated because Oklahoma City is good enough to sleepwalk through parts of games and win. But sometimes it doesn’t seem to wake up.
“You have a job to do,” Brooks said. “We all are trained to do it for 82 games. But these are the best players on the planet, and it’s tough to win a game. This puts everything in perspective. It’s a fine line between winning and losing and it takes a commit on both ends of the floor to be a good team and we are a good team.”
Brooks spent a few minutes self-affirming his group’s status as elite, just in case anyone thought a December loss to the now 17-15 Nets would be a deal-breaker. The Thunder are 24-7. No one’s calling them deficient in any way, but they’re far from polished. Instead of talking about how his team is good, Brooks needs to talk about how he’s going to get the Thunder to come out ready to play.
“This game does not put us in a position where we don’t feel good about ourselves,” Brooks said. “We don’t feel good that we lost the game tonight, but we are a good basketball team and we will focus on the next game like we’ve always done.”