The Oklahoma City Thunder came into tonight’s matchup with the Charlotte Hornets hoping to get back to .500 for the first time in nearly a month. The Thunder started off the game struggling as the Hornets went on multiple runs to take an early lead.
After Oklahoma City scored the first two points of the game, Charlotte went on an 11-3 run. Shortly after that, the Hornets would go on an 8-2 run to put the Thunder down 9-19. Oklahoma City would close in to make it 20-22, but Charlotte would go on a 14-4 run before the Thunder would score the final four points of the quarter.
Despite Paul George’s 10 points in his return after missing two games due to a right calf contusion, Kemba Walker led the way for the Hornets with 8 points and three assists to give the Hornets the 34-26 lead after the first period.
The Thunder looked much better from the get go in the second quarter as they went on a 14-5 run to take a 40-39 lead as George poured in five more points. Oklahoma City and Charlotte would trade buckets the rest of the period. Russell Westbrook would lead the way for the Thunder with seven points, three assists, and two rebounds in the period to give him 11 points, six assists, and 4 rebounds for the half. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard would tally six points and three rebounds for the quarter. At the half, the game was all tied up at 52 apiece.
The back-and-forth play continued to start the third quarter, and the Thunder desperately needed something to light a fire underneath them and break open for a lead. Russell Westbrook seemed to have the answer as Steven Adams grabbed a rebound and found Westbrook for an outlet pass. The Brodie took it coast-to-coast for a monster dunk to tie the game up at 66-66, and it seemed to blow the roof off at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
What happened next is almost too shocking for words. Marvin Williams hit a three on the next possession to silence the crowd, and the Hornets went on a wild tear from there. Over the course of the next two minutes, Charlotte would complete a 13-0 run led by Williams hitting two threes and three free throws before Russell Westbrook would stop the bleeding and get to the free throw line to knock down two shots of his own. But the Hornets weren’t done.
With three-and-a-half minutes left in the quarter, Charlotte would continue their scoring domination and finish the period on a 26-8 run. Marvin Williams led the way for the Hornets with 13 points in a quarter where they scored 40 points to the Thunder’s 22, and with only twelve minutes left in the game, the Oklahoma City trailed 74-92.
As hard as it is to amp up a home crowd when trailing by 18 points headed into the final period of the game, Oklahoma City fans were as loud as they had been all night to start the fourth quarter. Billy Donovan opened up with an all-bench lineup, which seemed like a terrible idea at first. The second unit actually started off well, scoring on their first three possessions, but it got ugly from that point forward. Charlotte opened up their largest lead of the night when Dwight Howard knocked down a free throw after being fouled on a made layup to give the Hornets a 105-84 advantage over the Thunder with just over seven minutes left to play.
Raymond Felton would hit a three, and after a timeout and some substitutions, Oklahoma City would continue scoring to go on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 11 points with 5:39 left in the game. That was as close as they would get the rest of the way unfortunately, and the Hornets would close out the game to pick up only their second road win of the season 116-103.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Talk is Cheap: For almost two months now, the Thunder has been trying to find some type of chemistry with this new squad. For almost two months now, they have been talking about figuring it out, and they have even showed some signs of turning the corner. For two months now, Thunder fans have waited patiently to see some form of progress. The waiting period is over. The clock is ticking on Oklahoma City to start figuring things out, because as of right now, the Thunder is not even in playoff contention. A team with a minimum of three future hall of famers has no excuse to have a losing record at this point in the season. Oklahoma City has not been at .500 since November 15th when the Thunder beat the Chicago Bulls at home. Enough with the talk. It’s time for the Thunder to start walking the walk, or else it’s going to be a painfully long season.
- Andre Roberson was Sorely Missed: I cannot count the number of times that someone has made the suggestion that perhaps Andre Roberson should come off the bench while someone else who is a more capable scorer starts. Roberson was unable to play at all tonight as he rested a left sprained ankle, but Alex Abrines picked up his third start in a row, this time filling in for the injured Roberson. Coming off a career-night in Memphis, questions were up in the air about whether or not Abrines might be able to take over the starting spot for good. After tonight, there should be no question that that should most definitely not happen. Abrines shot a miserable 2/9 (22.2%) from the field, including 2/7 (28.5%) from three. He was also pretty awful on defense, whether he gave up a big shot, or he fouled a three-point shooter. One bright side to his game was that he was 6/6 from the free throw line, but his team-worst -22 +/- is probably a sign that he is best-suited for coming off the bench.
- What’s With the Perimeter Defense? Oklahoma City has been burned so often from the perimeter lately, and the answer is probably more obvious than it seems. Over the last three games, Paul George had to sit out twice, and Andre Roberson sat out tonight. Both of these guys play defense at such a high level that they are extremely difficult to replace. When those guys have to sit for an entire game, whoever has to fill in, in this case Abrines, being able to play defense at the same level is just an unrealistic expectation. The Thunder put up their second-worst defensive rating (118.9) of the season tonight. If Oklahoma City is unable to guard the perimeter, they will be incapable of defending at a high level altogether because of what that will do to spread the floor for opposing teams. Something has to give with this team, and it needs to start on the defensive end of the floor.
On the Road Again
The Thunder head back out on the road, and this time, they are on the way to Indiana to take on the Pacers on Wednesday night. This will be a marquis game in the sense that it is Paul George’s return to his former team, where he played the first seven seasons of his career. The Pacers are 16-11 and are on a four-game winning streak. The game will tip off at 6 PM and will be televised on FSOK and ESPN. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.