By Randy Renner
The Thunder laid it all out there Saturday night at The Peake, a fantastic effort in from of a cranked up crowd and they still came up short.
14.5 seconds short.
Maybe a little better defense does it, maybe hitting another free throw or two, or calling a timely timeout when Kevin Durant was trapped in a corner or one fewer turnover.
Remember the Thunder came roaring back out in Oakland and almost beat the Warriors out there too. Sure they might have looked clueless against Cleveland and pitiful against the Pelicans recently but there just may be something to this thing about matching up well with the Warriors.
So how do the Thunder react? Do they taken encouragement from those close calls? Thinking just another tweak and we’ll have them? Get excited about the possibility that over a long playoff series things could finally break OKC’s way?
Or do they go the other way and decide hey, we played as good as we could play and it still didn’t happen. 47 minutes and 45 seconds of fanatical effort flushed away by 15 seconds of mistakes. No matter what happens or how good we play, it just doesn’t matter.
It’s probably a good thing the Thunder are away together on a long, tough road trip so they can focus on the business at hand, like say not falling out of third place in the Western Conference standings.
That mission will be the focus as this trip begins tonight in Sacramento and continues in Los Angeles on Wednesday against a Clippers team suddenly barking at the Thunder’s heels. Then of course comes another rematch with the Warriors on Thursday in Oakland and then the trip finishes in Milwaukee on Sunday.
Four tough games probably and the Thunder probably need to win three of them.
The Kings continue to struggle but remember they beat the Thunder for the first time ever in OKC earlier this season. They’ll be handicapped quite a bit tonight if point guard Rajon Rondo can’t play and at this point he appears doubtful with a thumb injury. Rondo handed out 19 assists in that earlier Kings win.
The Thunder have had some time to think and reflect about the Golden State game. Hopefully they focus most on what coach Billy Donovan told his them and the media right after the game.
"I thought all of the guys really played their hearts out and did a lot of good things," he said. "It's disappointing to come up short like that, but I think there is a lot we can take from it in terms of what we can do and what we are capable of doing defensively with a tremendous amount of energy and focus."
Remember the Thunder finished with a 62-32 rebounding advantage over Golden State and even though they’ve lost four of their last five while giving up more than 100 points in each game, they had held the highest scoring team in the NBA more than a dozen points below their average until those last 14.5 seconds of regulation.
"If we can give that defensive effort every night that would be really great for our team," said Russell Westbrook, who had 26 points and 13 assists but shot 10 for 29.
Sacramento coach George Karl rarely gets a good defensive effort from his Kings, who are now 24-33, and giving up a league-worst 109.2 points per game. They've yielded more than 100 in 14 straight while allowing an average of 115.6.
Westbrook could have a particularly easy time if Rondo doesn't play after missing Friday's 117-110 loss to the Clippers with that thumb situation. Without Rondo, who has made two All-NBA Defensive first teams, the Kings let an ailing Chris Paul score a season-high 40 points and hand out 13 assists.
Russ must be lickin’ his chops thinking about that.
Of course the Kings do have some other guys who can impact things, DeMarcus Cousins is never easy, he had 33 points and 19 rebounds against the Thunder in OKC and Rudy Gay can hurt them but Rudy’s banged up too with a sore right shoulder.
The Thunder will need another steller effort from Serge Ibaka who scored 15 points and grabbed 20 rebounds against the Warriors. He and Steven Adams will need to bang around with Cousins and hopefully not got into foul trouble.
No it likely won’t be easy but the Thunder need to power through and realize all is not lost.
Not yet anyway.