The last game of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder presented an opportunity for them to increase the odds of obtaining the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. When looking at the schedule, seeing the Los Angeles Clippers, who, with a win, would have clinched the third seed in the Western Conference, everyone assumed that Sunday night would be OKC’s 10th straight loss and their 26th loss in 28 tries.
That was until it became clear that the Clippers wanted no part of potentially playing the Los Angeles Lakers in a first-round playoff meeting, provided the Lakers won against the New Orleans Pelicans along with a Portland Trail Blazers loss.
The Clippers accomplished their goal, losing to the Thunder 117-112.
OKC’s loss came with immense discontent from Thunder fans, who were once coined as one of the most competitive fanbases in the league. Despite the season’s circumstances, OKC will have to lay to rest that reputation, at least for the time being, along with the naming rights of the Chesapeake Energy Arena, which will be renamed by the commencement of next season.
While Thunder fans are undoubtedly one of the most passionate fanbases in the NBA, it’s hard to rave about their competitiveness after witnessing near-celebratory reactions after 31, 37, 38, 48, and 57-point losses, along with eight 20-plus point losses in between. Seeing a fanbase as laissez-faire about getting blown out nightly is bizarre and something I haven’t witnessed in sports.
My take on this has been misconstrued throughout OKC’s losing streak while being flipped into something that I don’t endorse. The issue isn’t Oklahoma City losing games. That’s what was needed to give them the best chance to get top draft picks, which could be the only way a small market like OKC could reach national prominence again. That’s understood. But in no world is getting outscored by 490 points over a 25-game span commendable. It’s etched as “the worst losing stretch in NBA history” in the record books.
The season is over, and so is that sad display of basketball that we were forced to watch and cover for two months. Still, for the record: the Thunder could have lost 26 games in 28 tries in a relatively competitive fashion, and they’d be in the same position, with a 22-50 record and the fourth or fifth-best odds in the draft lottery. The most significant difference is, the Thunder wouldn’t be the laughing stock of the NBA after this blatant display of forfeiting the season for an unverified result.
The final game appeared as if the players either took it upon themselves to end the season on a high note or wanted one last audition for playing time or a potential roster spot next season. Either way, their career-high performances were met with discontent Thunder fans, and an ‘all is lost’ reception on social media. To make it worse, while so many Thunder ‘faithful’ were boohooing on social media, a couple of guys came back out on the court after the game to put more shots up before their offseason officially started.
Imagine playing the best game of your basketball career, winning the last game of the season, and getting minimal congratulations from your home crowd because they wanted a couple of percentage points higher of a chance to get a top-three pick.
To highlight those career performances, Moses Brown headlined them all with a dazzling stat line of 24 points, 18 rebounds, and seven blocks. The most surprising of the bunch, Josh Hall, shattered his previous career-high of 10 points by scoring 25 and pulling down ten rebounds, which was also a career-high. Aleksej Pokusevski gave the Thunder the most brilliant display of his potential all season by tallying a career-high 29 points and eight rebounds on 10-of-19 shooting.
Three unlikely Thunder players got their career-highs in the last game of the season. Instead of applauding them, especially one (Poku, who fans crowned as one of OKC’s rising stars before he stepped on the court), some ended the season complaining, which also…is a bad look.
Through this season, while I believe the young roster of the Thunder got discouraged at times, as any young team will do during a lengthy losing streak, they stayed positive and kept their spirits high (at least on the court). The person to credit for that primarily is Mark Daigneault, who had one hell of a ride in his first season as head coach for the Thunder.
On June 22, there’s nothing the Thunder have control of. It’ll be up to the ping-pong balls in the draft lottery. Hopefully, the basketball gods are in OKC’s favor. Regardless, this is a season that’ll be forgotten by many, but not by me.