Kevin Durant couldn’t get a shot off at the end of regulation and he could barely get one to fall all night.
In overtime, Russell Westbrook’s miserable night continued with a pair of terrible decisions.
But then it looked like things were going to work out.
Durant responded with a jumper. Westbrook’s dribble-drive and layup gave the Thunder a lead before Marc Gasol’s tip-in with 0.8 seconds left beat the Thunder, 90-89 in Memphis.
Westbrook struggled, going 7-of-25. Durant wasn’t much better, making just one of his final eight shots and finishing 11-of-28, but the biggest shot wasn’t Gasol’s, it was the one-two combination punch the Thunder have absorbed in the last two nights.
Losers to Denver because they couldn’t slow down the Nuggets’ offense, the Thunder followed it up 24 hours later unable to get their own offense going, falling to Memphis.
The result is a public relations nightmare when talking about who the top teams in the Western Conference are. It’s hard to believe in the Thunder after losing two in a row to their challengers. They still are in second place in the Western Conference, but no one is signing onto the OKC bandwagon.
Undoubtedly Durant and Westbrook give this team a chance on any night, in any building, but the hype machine that is the Thunder is losing a lot of momentum, not to mention stature in the standings.
Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Thunder were a game back of San Antonio for the top spot in the West, 3.5 games ahead of both Memphis and Denver. It might be time to forget about overtaking the Spurs and spend more time concerning themselves with holding off Denver and Memphis.
Certainly no shame in losing to the Nuggets and the Grizzlies, and the back-to-back combination makes it a lot tougher, but the way Oklahoma City lost is the greatest cause for concern.
The Thunder are the fastest team in the West, but they couldn’t run with Denver Tuesday. And they are the most-explosive scoring team in the league, but struggled for good looks Wednesday.
It started bad and didn’t finish any better. The Thunder shot just 4-of-18 in the first quarter. Westbrook and Durant went a combined 1-of-11. Oklahoma City shot 35.7 percent for the game and made just 2-of-18 3-pointers.
And ahead by three points in the closing regulation, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks elected not to foul, so what happened? Guard Jerryd Bayless got away from Thabo Sefolosha on a switch, then faked Reggie Jackson off the ball before making a game-tying 3-pointer.
Durant lost the handle on the next possession and he and Westbrook really never got a good handle in overtime. Check out these possessions in the last 5 minutes.
Durant missed a 27-footer then a 26-footer. Westbrook’s wild, running 15-footer barely got the backboard and his 31-footer missed badly. Durant then missed a pair of shots in the paint after Oklahoma City fell behind by three. They each made their last shot before Gasol’s game-winner.
But none of that will be the talk of the town come Thursday morning in Oklahoma City. It’s going to be focused on how this Thunder team, void of defense one night and then offense the next, will figure things out going into the final few weeks of the season. They had a number of chances to beat Memphis, but didn’t, giving up the lead at the end of regulation and then with Durant unable to block out Gasol on the last-second tip in overtime.
The good news is the schedule lightens. The Thunder will play at Orlando Friday before coming home for games against Portland and Washington. After that, it’s road games at Minnesota and Milwaukee. A 6-0 record wouldn’t be a stretch.
A 6-0 record might be what it takes to get some momentum and some positive energy back.