The win in Miami against the Heat was a microcosm for the entire season for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There was the absolute brutal start which saw the Thunder go 0-for-9 from the floor with three turnovers. — akin to Oklahoma City’s 8-12 start in the beginning of the year. This was followed by a strong stretch of play which saw the initial 12-0 deficit end in a respectable 27-21 Miami advantage.
Some inconsistent play in the middle of second and third quarter where Oklahoma City could not get over the hump — you know, the entire season for the Thunder. Despite some nice defense and a fortunate amount of misses from beyond the arc for Miami, Oklahoma City was able to keep it close.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
The same team that shut down everyone’s eventual MVP in James Harden two nights before showed up to help clinch a playoff future for the Thunder. A 39-12 Oklahoma City margin in the fourth helped break the 81-76 Miami advantage heading into the final 12 minutes. It was started by a barrage of scoring from reserves Raymond Felton, Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson.
Grant was particularly impressive in the game. Coming off a strong end to the Houston game which say Billy Donovan stick with the backup Grant over Steven Adams to close, the third year player hit shots, got to the free throw line and helped the Thunder stay in a game early that they could have very well been blown out.
Why is this important? The Thunder need their reserves to play well. Felton hadn’t shot the ball great at all, notably an 0-for-5 performance in a four-point loss to Golden State last week. Patterson’s inconsistency has been well-documented.
If Oklahoma City is going to have a strong playoff run, the role players will have a lot to say about it.
This is all of course, helped by the fact that the Thunder still have a great cast of scorers. If the shots fall and the reserves play well, anything is possible.
The following day after practice, Thunder players were joyous and aware that they had clinched a playoff spot. With one game left and a lot of scenarios that still dictate Oklahoma City’s ultimate playoff destination, no one seemed worried about where they could end up.
“We don’t care,” Carmelo Anthony said at practice. “We want a good seed, of course. But what we do, our destiny will always be in our own hands. The way we see it, we have to play someone seven times. You have to beat us four times. I’ll take my chances with that.”
When you have players like Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, a high-level of confidence considering many disappointments throughout an 82-game grind is understandable.
“NBA is a grind man,” Corey Brewer said earlier today. “You know, 82 games, you’re going to have your ups and your downs. But it’s all about playing your best at the right time and the right time is now, its playoff time. Anything can happen, we have a chance to win a championship.”
This is a Thunder team that had a bad habit of starting strong in games, only to fall prey to the lulls of the second and third quarter dives who then had to depend upon a strong fourth in order to win. They now have two wins which featured strong defense, efficient play from all players and the type of final minute performance you want to see from a team like this.
Heading into the postseason, it is easy to buy Anthony’s confidence.