Tramel: Don't worry yet about the Thunder's propensity for close wins
The Thunder is up to its newfound tricks.
The Thunder a year ago scripted a heartwarming story, about a team that played far above expectations, made the playoffs and took the Rockets to seven games in a first-round playoff series.
That Thunder team excelled by winning close games.
Now this Thunder team is doing the same. Oh, not so much excelling as staying afloat. The Thunder is 6-6, one sixth of the way through a season in which OKC was not expected to reach 30 wins.
- Related to this story
- Article: Thunder vs. Bulls: Five takeaways from OKC's win vs. Chicago
- Article: How to watch Thunder vs. 76ers: Live stream, TV channel, game time, lineups
- Article: Thunder: Analyzing 12 trends through first 12 games, from Lu Dort's 3-point shooting to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's solo attack
- Article: Thunder-76ers game postponed due to COVID-19 protocols
- Article: How to watch Thunder at Nuggets: Live stream, TV channel, game time, lineups
- Article: Thunder without Al Horford, Ty Jerome on five-game road trip
- Article: Thunder vs. Nuggets: Five takeaways from OKC's loss at Denver
- Article: Tramel: Mark Daigneault is a gift to Thunder fans & media
- Video: Thunder Update: The Lu Dort show
- Video: Thunder Update: Thunder's 22-point comeback clinches win over Bulls
And the Thunder is doing it by winning close games. OKC beat Chicago 127-125 in overtime Friday night. The Thunder trailed by 22 in the third quarter, by 16 with 4:40 left and by 10 with 1:56 to go. Yet just like a year ago, the Thunder repeatedly rallied, then won in the end.
Chicago’s Zach LaVine missed 3-pointers at the buzzer of both the fourth quarter and overtime. Either would have won for the Bulls.
The Thunder this season is 3-1 in games decided in the final couple of minutes.
OKC won 109-107 at Charlotte, on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper with 1.4 seconds left.
OKC won 111-110 at New Orleans when SGA’s cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, missed 3-pointer in the final second.
And OKC lost 110-109 to Utah, when Donovan Mitchell scored on a drive with seven seconds left and Gilgeous-Alexander missed on a drive at the buzzer.
Some are worried that the Thunder is playing itself out of prime lottery position for the draft. Too early to worry. For one thing, the schedule is about to get ferocious, starting with Philadelphia on Sunday night, then a road trip consisting of Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers, Blazers and Suns. Then home against Brooklyn.
If the Thunder is 10-9 after those seven games, let’s talk.
But just the flip the close-game results, and the Thunder record looks much different. If OKC had gone 1-3 in close games, its record would be 4-8 and among the NBA’s worst.
And flipping close-game results is not revisionist. Close games tend to even out over time. Good teams don’t win an inordinate number of close games. Good teams avoid an inordinate number of close games. Chicago didn’t lose Friday night in the final seconds. Chicago lost because it had a blowout in its hands and let it become a tossup. Tossups can be won by anyone.
A much better read on the Thunder status is point differential. OKC’s 6-6 record is among a five-way tie for 12th in the NBA. Eleven teams are better. Fourteen teams are worse.
But point differential is the best long-term indicator of team strength. And the Thunder’s minus-6.1 point differential is tied for the NBA’s fourth-worst. OKC has been blown out, big-time, three times. That’s a better gauge of a team than winning close games.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the Thunder’s propensity for winning close games. Not yet.