It has come down to the final two games of the season to determine the Western Conference playoff seeding and the Thunder, have found themselves fighting for a spot in the bottom half of the playoff race.
The sixth through eighth seed is up for grabs right now, with the fifth seed being an unlikely sleeper before OKC’s game against the Houston Rockets who are fighting for positioning between the second or third seed in the Western Conference.
As expected, the late tip against the Rockets in the Chesapeake Energy Arena was just as energized as advertised. Contrary to most teams this late in your typical season, both were playing for something which took these already rival teams to the next level of intense competition, providing a playoff-like atmosphere in what could be a first-round matchup.
The Thunder won, 112-111 after Paul George hit a corner three off of a near-busted play with 1.4 seconds left in the game. What made this win impressive was the 15-0 run the Thunder went on early in the fourth quarter to get in position to win this game. What made things more impressive was the way OKC completely locked up James Harden in the final quarter, where he was 0-4 from the floor for only five points, all of which coming from the free throw line.
As mentioned, the Western Conference is a craze right now when it comes to playoff seeding, so let’s refrain from talking about that and talk more about what almost cost the Thunder in this game.
James Harden hit 39 points on the night but never did the Thunder play bad defense against him, he just finally started missing shots in the fourth quarter. Harden was inefficient shooting from the field, shooting 11-of-28, which is just 39.2 percent. He’s going to get his points. You’re not going to shut him down in that way. It’s just important that you slow everyone else on the Rockets down while making him work for every shot he takes and that’s what the Thunder did.
Shot selection and overall offense:
Where were the Thunder slipping? Offensively. Second chance points were the issue in the first half and their shot selection continued to deteriorate as the game progressed into its final stages. Ill-advised three-pointers have been a sore spot for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder offense throughout the season as well as there not being enough ball-movement. All that was highlighted in the final minutes of the game. Luckily, George nailed the shot that counted the most with a second left in the game.
The officials have to be more consistent. In the first half of Tuesday night’s game, they were understandably letting the players defend with a little more physicality, presumably prepping for the playoffs, further adding fuel to the playoff atmosphere in Oklahoma City. In the second half, they took a detour in the way they officiated, straight back to the regular season where a simple slap on the wrist was called a foul. For most of the second half, the calls were consistently bad against both teams but in the final 6 minutes of the game, a lot of critical calls went against the Thunder and believe me, they were unwarranted. It got to the point where it would have held half the responsibility if the Thunder dropped this critical game.
Something has to give when the playoffs start. Both the Thunder shot selection and NBA officials are going to have to be more consistent or this season could end earlier than expected for a team that had stern expectations to contend this season.