OKLAHOMA CITY – Thunder coach Scott Brooks talked before Sunday’s game about how it was near impossible to plan for what his team has gone through this season.
No way to know his best players, his newest players and even players you wouldn’t expect to contribute, would be hurt before the season started and shortly after it began.
But sometimes you see something else you can’t predict, can’t plan for and definitely won’t forget.
What happened Sunday was definitely all three of those things, and that’s exactly what the Thunder will have to do for the next month if this team is going to have any real success while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are out.
Even in this short season where abnormal has become the new normal for OKC, Sunday was a surprise. The Thunder beat Sacramento 101-93, getting quality minutes, points and assists from Ish Smith, getting 14 points in 17 minutes from Sebastian Telfair, getting two 3-pointers from Nick Collison and getting nine points, five rebounds and two blocks from Kendrick Perkins.
"There’s a lot of unpredictability with this team," Smith said. "It’s fun to play like that."
But it’s even harder to win like that.
"It’s a lot more fun when you win," Telfair said. "It just makes you feel a lot better."
Feel good about this one. The Thunder got just their second victory of the season and will certainly be scrambling, mixing and matching and hoping for the best until some reliability and normalcy return with Durant and Westbrook, but scrambling and mixing and matching are the only way this team can win.
Smith is this season’s Derek Fisher, a third point guard, who is forced into minutes. Telfair was supposed to play 12-15 minutes per game this year. He’s averaged 28.7, more than any season since 2009.
Smith joined the team Friday and played Friday. Lance Thomas was a training camp invitee. Now he’s a starter. Collison made four 3-pointers all of last season. He’s got five this year. Perkins had seemingly worn down over the course of last season and was thought to be a downward trend as far as skill and as far as minutes played.
Hard to say this team is lucky, considering all the crushing injuries and the 2-5 start to the season, but there’s got to be a horseshoe or something around the lockerroom, because while Brooks hasn’t turned every negative into a positive, he has turned, what at most times looks like an overmatched team into a competitive group. That’s a surprising and unpredictable accomplishment.
"It’s fun to watch and fun to coach," Brooks said. "One thing I love about the group is we’re undermanned but they’re not using that as an excuse."
The Thunder have four losses on the road to playoff teams from a season ago. Their home loss came to Memphis and, except for one game this season, OKC has played close.
Maybe that’s what you get when cast-offs and second-teamers are thrown into a situation where extended minutes are expected.
It’s what the Thunder are going to need to stay afloat, too.
"We’re still trying to find out who we are," said Telfair. "But that was fun right there."
What they are is a mixed bag with equal parts unpredictability and effort. Everyone tries. Hard. Now it’s time to see if it will work.
Sunday, OKC had Smith, Telfair and Thomas in the lineup at the same time. And it did
And you thought you had seen it all. Well, there’s more to come.
"We can’t relax," Brooks said. "We can’t afford to do that."
Not even knowing that 14 of the Thunder’s next 18 games come against teams that didn’t make the playoffs a season ago. Like that even matters.
The life they’re living now is one where Brooks points to Smith and Telfair to "settle the ship."
That’s hard living. And in the super-competitve Western Conference where wins don’t come cheap, you have to count on games like Sunday a lot more than expected.
"There’s a lot of points out of the linep and a lot of roles have changed.," Brooks said.
Yeah, no kidding.
But those changing roles led Oklahoma City to a win Sunday night.
And that’s something no one would have predicted and something no has seen before.