Thunder miss chance to extend West lead
OKLAHOMA CITY — Time to start the scoreboard watching.
Like, as in time to hope for some help, because after Wednesday's disappearing act against the Clippers inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder are going to need some intervention if they are going to head into the playoffs as the Western Conference's top seed.
But, hey, there's still eight games left in the regular season, and there certainly could be some good news in the near future, which is something to hope for.
The Thunder lost again, this one a 100-98, two-steps-backward defeat in which Oklahoma City lost more than just an 11-point lead.
The team lost a chance to regain control of its destiny.
Coach Scott Brooks promises he doesn't pay much attention to the standings, doesn't study potential matchups or mark down lost opportunities to gain a game on the league.
But that doesn't mean the rest of us can't.
"I think about opportunity lost that we didn't play as well as we need to play to beat a very good basketball team," Brooks said. "You guys probably don't believe me, but I don't pay attention to the standings other than I love the game, I follow the game, I follow the teams, I follow the players. I'm focused on how we play. We didn't play good enough to win tonight."
Here's what "not good enough" means:
Chris Paul hit a driving layup over Serge Ibaka — the league's leading shot-blocker — with 8.8 seconds to go providing the final margin, but it wasn't that shot that lost the game.
Oklahoma City allowed 46.9 percent shooting, checked out defensively in a number of situations, including allowing Paul to gather his own miss and put back in a layup among three lifeless Thunder defenders. That play gave the Clippers a five-point lead with 1:19 to play.
Still the Thunder had a chance to tie, but Kevin Durant decided to shoot a 25-footer with 1.9 seconds left instead of taking the opportunity to drive and get a better shot. Durant finished the game just 7-of-21 from the field for 22 points and explained his final shot as necessary because he "didn't want to risk a turnover."
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook was just 3-of-14 shooting and scored 20 points, thanks to 13 made free throws.
"Not good enough" also manifested itself Wednesday night in a dreadful fourth quarter in which the Thunder went 6-of-19 from the field, including a two-for-nine stinker from Durant and an 0-for-3 from Westbrook, who played just 6:05 in the quarter.
"We got a couple of good looks," Brooks said. "The last shot I thought we could have gotten a better shot than that, but that's part of learning and that's understanding what we need. The execution was not as bad as you may think. We missed some shots down the stretch, but that happens. You're not always going to hit your shots."
The only positive the Thunder got from Wednesday was the fact the hard-charging Spurs lost at home to the Lakers. Oklahoma City (42-16) remains a game ahead of San Antonio (40-16) in the standings, but they're tied in the loss column and the Spurs own the tiebreaker. Simply put, the Thunder are going to need some help to be the top seed.
The Thunder have eight games to go, five of which will be on the road starting Saturday at Minnesota. But for now, it's officially a slump, as Oklahoma City has lost four times in the past six games.
Not that anyone is watching the standings, right?
"I don't watch it and tell our guys we're a half-game back or something like that," Brooks said. "Are we focused on getting the No. 1 seed? No, we're focused on playing good basketball."
Well, for now, the Thunder aren't the top team and aren't playing good basketball.
"It was tough," Durant said. "We missed some easy shots. That's how the game goes. It was a tough loss."