I feel like I’m always on teams on the second half of back to backs. I get so hyped up watching the games late and then it just consumes my memory when I look at the lines for the next day. So right now my memory is consumed by the Thunder. Granted they were able to take advantage of Nurkic being ejected late after his second technical. But the refs tried their best to give the game to the Blazers after that. I think they felt bad for having to eject Nurkic which allowed the Thunder to choose who would shoot free throws for him. Since it was a foul that turned into a double technical situation that ended up with an ejection. The Thunder chose Skal Labisierre who promptly bricked his first two free throw attempts of the season with a chance to tie the game. I am presuming the second was missed on purpose since there was only 4.4 seconds on the clock. But after the second miss the Thunder had secured the rebound when there was another whistle for a loose ball foul on Marcus Morris which sent Al-Farooq Aminu to the line with a chance to tie the game. He did just that and then the Thunder finished the Blazers off in OT winning by 8.
So I will tell you that the Thunder not only convinced me that they can win tonight’s game. But I also can see them winning the west. I know it sounds crazy because of the Warriors and blah blah blah but hear me out. The core of the Warriors have been to four straight NBA finals. When Kevin Durant arrived he was coming off a year where his team was in a 7 game western conference finals series. In the Rio 2016 olympics team USA had Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. That is a lot of basketball to be played. At some point every team has their breaking point. We saw it with the Lakers in both the early 2000s and late 2000s. After completing the 3 peat in 2002, the next year the Lakers lost to the Spurs in the 2nd round. Skipping ahead to 2011 the Lakers were heavily favored to win the west for the fourth straight year. They ended up getting swept in the 2nd round to the Mavs. These teams had nowhere near the amount of drama that today’s Warriors have. Kobe and Shaq had their issues but never had to deal with it on social media. The 2011 Lakers were basically a team Kobe put together himself so they did not have the same problems the Kobe and Shaq lakers had. But the constant questioning around Kevin Durant’s impending free agency decision has taken it’s toll on Durant and the team. There were reports of a blowout between Durant and Draymond Green after a loss earlier this season. Recent news of Kevin Durant’s warriors jersey being sold at a steep discount also strengthens those rumors. I like to think that the reason behind that is no real Warriors fan would ever buy KD’s jersey so there are a ton left over. There was probably a lot made with the thought that since he is a big star there would be a large demand for his jersey. But the truth is ever since he put that jersey on everybody has hated him. Every real Warriors fan also already had a Steph or Klay jersey.
I’m getting a little bit side tracked. Back to my original point. The Thunder have a team with playoff depth. Not fake depth like the Bucks have but players coming off the bench who can play real minutes in the playoffs. Dennis Schroeder, Nerlens Noel and Marcus Morris could be starters elsewhere in the league. I am not saying they are stars at their positions by any means. But other than Noel they have all played meaningful minutes for playoff teams in the past. All three of them will be extremely valuable both offensively and defensively. The intensity of the playoffs and playoff defense suits their playing styles. These are players who want to win but also know their role and play it well. The Bucks depth for example is just regular season depth. They can get away with their whole roster getting minutes with the laissez-faire attitude towards defense in the regular season. One look at their bench though and you know they can not be counted on in the playoffs. Mirotic and Ilyasova can come in and hit open shots but they’re not playing any defense. At guard their bench has Tony Snell Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVencenzo. Can you honestly see any of them doing anything meaningful in the playoffs? Because I definitely can’t. Lastly the corpse of Pau Gasol who can barely move these days is not going to be doing anything in the playoffs. Which means they are counting on Brook Lopez to play a lot of significant minutes. The Lopez twins (I am including both of them since they essentially have the same game and I can’t tell the difference between them) are both definitely pretty good. But neither one of them are going to be the difference that makes a team a championship contender. So the Bucks “depth” really doesn’t go past their starters.
Anyways back to the original point of this blog. I love the Thunder catching points in LA tonight. The natural thought process is always to bet against a team on the second half of a back to back and coming off an overtime game. I was wrong about the Celtics and Sixers who were also coming off a back to back the other night. But that still doesn’t scare me. Partly because LA is Paul George and Russell Westbrook’s home city and since it is a Friday night there will likely be a lot of support for them in the building. The Clippers are hot but have not played very good teams. That changes for them tonight.