OKC Thunder show their age in their loss to the Pacers

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, despite Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returning to the lineup with 39 points in the loss. This capped off a tough week of Thunder hoops. The flaw for the OKC Thunder this week? They are acting their age.

At 38-40, the Oklahoma City Thunder continue to cling to the tenth seed in the NBA’s Western Conference. If the season ended today, they would play in the play-in tournament against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a win-or-go-home game. However, they sit just a half-game up on the Dallas Mavericks, with the saving grace being the tiebreaker that OKC owes.

The Oklahoma City Thunder fall to the Indiana Pacers on Friday. So is age the fatal flaw of the OKC Thunder?

The Thunder just wrapped up a 17-game March Marathon. Of those 17 games, nine of them were on the road. A stretch that featured four back-to-back sets. This OKC roster is the second-youngest in league history, only passing last year’s Thunder squad. Many players on this roster have yet to endure an 82-game season, and it showed down the stretch of this month.

As energy, and at times effort, slipped these last few games, the Thunder turned in a disappointing 2-2 record since Sunday and nearly lost all four if not for a miraculous tip-in by Jalen Williams against the Pistons and an intense close to the game in Portland on Sunday.

The OKC Thunder dropped two of the most disappointing games of the season this week with a loss to the Hornets on Tuesday and a 121-117 loss to the Pacers in this contest.

Despite the heavy workload this month, Mark Daigneault gave the fans what they wanted, only playing ten players, just nine of whom saw over ten minutes of action tonight. Unfortunately, more was needed to beat a banged-up Pacers squad without Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, or Chris Duarte.

Beyond just the legs possibly giving out, this team is in an entirely different head space than they are used to. The Thunder are supposed to be the underdog, the team playing free, surprising teams at the end of the year, and without a care about their record.

Instead, these games have flipped to must-win games internally, as the players have made it clear they are aiming for the postseason—specifically, this candid Instagram caption from star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Now, with each miss, each mistake, each turnover, it feels like the walls of the Western Conference standings are closing in. That can lead to pressing the issue and letting games slip away.

This team is ahead of schedule; even that phrase does not do the Thunder justice. Oklahoma City is the “Young Sheldon” of the NBA, a Prepubescence fifth grader launching into High School. The only difference is OKC might not be ready for that stage yet, which is perfectly fine for a rebuild that is only two years old, and they have not seen a single top-ten pick lace up the sneakers yet.

Young teams typically struggle to close games. Whereas the teams with experience and development find ways to win these games, create their energy, and survive these weekday scares.

This loss does not doom the OKC Thunder entirely, especially when the team on their coattails is a dysfunctional Dallas team coached by Jason Kidd, and OKC holds the tiebreaker over them. However, they each have a challenging path remaining the rest of the way.

For OKC, they will return home for a one-game pitstop against the Suns on Sunday, then jet West to take on the Warriors and Jazz before closing the season at home against the Grizzlies.  How many of those games will the Thunder be favorites in? One? OKC has surprised us a ton this season, so it is premature to count them out.

Ultimately, these bad losses happen to young teams, and the Thunder have now played in 42 clutch-time games. Over half of their games (with four more to play!) have featured what the NBA deems as clutch minutes, representing a tremendous learning opportunity for this young squad moving forward.

Regardless of the outcome of these final four games or how the standings shake out, this season has been a surprise and much better than anyone could have hoped for. So, after a few more spins around the NBA, think of what this core looks like.

Beyond the tip-in, regardless of finish, Jalen Williams saved the season. dark. Next