Tramel: OKC Thunder's treasure chest of point guards became scant in loss to Nuggets
Long before overtime, before the Thunder’s legs were gone, it played in second gear Monday.
No real reason for it. The Thunder was playing a team from altitude, not a team in altitude. Lake Buena Vista, Florida, sits 95 feet above sea level. I assume some of Disney’s rides are higher than that.
But welcome to the Orlando bubble. We kept saying the NBA restart would make for some kooky basketball. And that’s what we saw Monday in the Thunder’s 121-113 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets.
The Thunder, so crisp in its bubble restart against Utah, was clunky against Denver.
Slow-footed. Stagnant. Worse yet, not clutch. Clutch had been the hallmark of this Thunder season, but OKC blew a seven-point lead with 3:30 left in the game, missed three foul shots down the stretch and let Denver dominate overtime.
It didn’t help that Dennis Schröder missed the game, leaving the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their child. Then Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got his fifth foul with 6:51 left in the third quarter.
Suddenly, the Thunder’s treasure chest of point guards was down to just 35-year-old Chris Paul, whose minutes must be monitored.
“Of course, we miss Dennis,” said Danilo Gallinari. “Which for us is a key, because of the energy he brings. He’s able to change games for us with the energy he brings.
- Related to this story
- Article: OKC Thunder's Hamidou Diallo retakes key bench role: 'We're starting off fresh'
- Article: 'This is the next best thing': OKC Thunder fans find a way to cheer virtually in NBA bubble
- Article: OKC Thunder vs. Nuggets: Lineups, tip-off time, how to watch
- Article: OKC Thunder: Billy Donovan voted NBCA co-coach of year
- Article: OKC Thunder: Dennis Schröder leaves bubble for birth of child
- Article: OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from loss to the Nuggets
- Article: Disney plot twist in NBA bubble: Chris Paul's missed late free throw denies OKC Thunder win
- Article: OKC Thunder journal: Abdel Nader provides bench boost as Dennis Schröder leaves bubble
- Article: Michael Porter Jr. enjoys career day in Nuggets' OT win vs. OKC Thunder: 'I just wanted to bring energy'
- Video: OKC Thunder surges past Utah Jazz in NBA season restart
“All of us, we need to bring more energy for 48 minutes. This was a very winnable game with us bringing the right energy.”
The strange game led to some bizarre Thunder lineups. SGA played part of the first quarter with Darius Bazley, Andre Roberson, Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo. Paul played part of the second quarter with Lu Dort, Diallo, Bazley and Noel. Talk about offensively-challenged.
Then late third quarter, Billy Donovan rested Paul before Gilgeous-Alexander’s return, so Dort played a little point guard, with Abdel Nader, Bazley, Diallo and Noel on the court.
The Thunder will get no pity from Denver, which was playing without Gary Harris, Will Barton and star point guard Jamal Murray. This was opportunity lost for the Thunder, which with a victory would have drawn within a half game for third place in the Western Conference standings.
But Denver’s decimated lineup gave rookie Michael Porter Jr. a chance to blossom. Porter scored 37 points and missed just four shots, in 44 minutes.
When the Thunder allowed Denver to get to overtime, advantage Nuggets, because with everyone gassed, Denver has the ultimate weapon in all-NBA center Nikola Jokic. Jokic plays in slow-motion anyway; when everyone else must slow down, too, Jokic has no weakness. Steven Adams, saddled with five fouls, had to start the overtime period being careful, and Jokic scored easily on back-to-back possessions, and the Thunder didn’t even make an OT basket until Gallinari’s final, meaningless minute.
“I don’t think we had a great flow or a great rhythm,” Donovan said. “The game got really slow, to be honest with you.”
Part of that was the whistle-happy referees, which has quickly become an Orlando tradition. Denver had 37 foul shots, a Thunder opponent season high, and OKC had 29.
But don’t blame the officiating. Even early, before the whistle parade, the Thunder was stagnant.
A mosh-pit game was to Denver’s liking. With so many backcourt players sidelined, the Nuggets went big. Real big. Down the stretch, Denver at times played centers Mason Plumlee and Jokic together, along with power forwards Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
The counter to that is play fast and deploy the battalion of quick, penetrating point guards. But the pace was slow, and with a hamstrung Gilgeous-Alexander and no Schröder, the Thunder didn’t make Denver pay.
And now the Thunder is 1-1 in Disney World, where Monday the Thunder expectations came back to Earth.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.