The OKC Thunder delivered a game for the bubble record books – but not in a good way. Game 5 player grades tell the story.
With the entire bubble in a holding pattern for three days, the OKC Thunder and Houston Rockets Game 5 got delayed until Saturday. During this mini-hiatus, the Thunder captain was knee-deep in making sure the players presented a united front.
For that reason, if Chris Paul had a terrible night on the hardwood it would’ve been more than understandable, but he didn’t. Instead, the majority of his teammates simultaneously had their worst individual performances of the season. The resulting effect was the lowest scoring output of any team who’s completed in the bubble, and with the loss find their backs against the wall needing to win two games in a row or have their season come to a screeching halt.
The game began as many have this season for the Thunder without aggression and listless offense. By the 7:00 minute mark, the Rockets held a nine-point advantage 16 – 7 and the only good news was PJ Tucker had to sit with two early fouls.
The Thunder nemesis of slow starts bit them again as they trailed 24-14 after the first frame. The second quarter improved behind a robust effort from Dennis Schroder saw the Thunder briefly take a lead and the fact the Thunder entered halftime only trailing by three was a minor miracle. Especially considering Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot a combined 1 of 8 for two points.
Unfortunately, the Thunder didn’t learn their lesson as they began the third quarter apparently having left all the energy and focus in the locker room. In a matter of a little over four minutes, the Rockets turned a three-point half-time lead into a 20 point lead as Houston went on a 17 to 2 run forcing Donovan to call a timeout which was far too late in coming.
In fact, the third quarter was a nightmare for OKC as the only player who was rolling (Dennis Schroder) got ejected for hitting PJ Tucker below the belt on what the refs deemed was a deliberate act. Without their spark plug, the Thunder trailed 63-85 by the end of the third frame.
The Rockets also took turns in the game exposing the Thunder youthful core. First, they baited Luguentz Dort into firing away from deep with no defender remotely close to him. Houston was more than willing to let Dort shoot away and adjust if he happened to be hot on this particularly evening — he was not.
Next in a true rarity, the Rockets managed to expose the OKC Thunder future cornerstone almost as if they’d been saving his piece of business until the old face of the franchise made his debut in the series.
Thunder Nation would be hard-pressed to find a game where the opponent capably limited Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both offensively and defensively. Worst of all – they managed to get in the youngster’s head causing him to constantly second guess himself which was reflected in his stilted offense, turnovers, and spread into his defense. Mike D’Antoni and his crew discovered something in the game film that allowed them to exploit SGA and they did so repeatedly Saturday night.
It was clear Chris Paul was ticked as he bounced the ball hard coming up the court and whipped passes at the corners. Undoubtedly, annoyed by the way the game was going and knowing his time over the past several days had been occupied ensuring this game and all the others scheduled for the 2020 playoffs would even come to fruition. He got an early exit when it became clear there would be no comeback on this night.
The OKC Thunder failed to reach 20 points in two of the four frames nor was their final score equal to how much the Rockets had after three quarters. Suffice to say this was the worst time to deliver arguably their worst game of the season. Fortunately, the other commonality of this Thunder team is they play best when their backs are against the wall.
With that let’s dive into the grades.