Russell Westbrook left dejected and stunned after the Magic hand the Thunder another loss

Ball Don't Lie
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4390/" data-ylk="slk:Russell Westbrook">Russell Westbrook</a> was beside himself after the Thunder’s fifth loss in six games. (Screencap via FOX Sports Oklahoma)
Russell Westbrook was beside himself after the Thunder’s fifth loss in six games. (Screencap via FOX Sports Oklahoma)

With limited and notable exceptions — looking at you, annihilation of KD and the Warriors — the Oklahoma City Thunder just haven’t been able to get unstuck this season. The Thunder have struggled to find a consistent offensive rhythm, with their stars trading stagnant isolation possessions rather than working in concert. They’ve also really struggled to consistently stop opponents in the fourth quarter, allowing an obscene 138.7 points per 100 possessions in “clutch” situations; as a result, they’ve gone 1-9 in games in which the score’s been within five points in the final five minutes.

OKC’s top-tier trio — incumbent superstar point guard and reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, and new-addition All-Star forwards Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — have seemed to pair every step toward jelling with two steps back toward dysfunction. After a dispiriting 16-point defeat at the hands of the lowly Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, the Thunder had three nights off to collect themselves … and turned in perhaps their most disappointing performance of the season, a 121-108 loss to an Orlando Magic team that had entered on a nine-game losing streak.

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After the loss, Westbrook stopped on his way off the court and sat down on the bench, seemingly overcome with disappointment and frustration at the Thunder having lost their third straight game, and their fifth in six tries, to fall to 8-12 on the season:


It’s tough to blame Westbrook for looking like he was at a loss. The Thunder had just allowed Orlando, which hadn’t won in nearly three weeks after its hot start to the season and entered Wednesday in the middle of the NBA pack in offensive efficiency, to shoot a scorching 59.2 percent from the field as a team and score at an absolutely blistering pace: 121.7 points per 100 possessions, miles above what indomitable outfits like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors manage on a night-to-night basis.

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The bulk of the damage came from Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who torched Anthony, George, Jerami Grant and anybody else in a Thunder uniform unfortunate enough to draw the assignment to the tune of a season- and career-high-tying 40 points (13-for-23 shooting, 6-for-12 from 3-point range) to go with 15 rebounds, four assists, four steals, one block and just one turnover in 44 excellent minutes:


With Gordon and Evan Fournier leading the way, the Magic bum-rushed the Thunder after halftime, revving up their offense while clamping down on OKC’s (and benefiting from some poor Thunder shot selection and worse shooting) to rip off a 28-5 run over nearly nine minutes of game time spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. By the time the Thunder woke up, they were down 20 with just under nine minutes to go, and feeling some of those uncomfortable yet all-too-familiar bummerific feelings.

Westbrook tried to turn back the clock with the sort of one-man army attack that saved Oklahoma City from fourth-quarter misery last season. He scored 20 points over the final 8 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, finishing with a team-high 37 points on 11-for-23 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals with seven turnovers in 38 minutes.

But the Thunder, again, just couldn’t get the stops they needed when it counted, never getting the deficit back to single digits as the Magic finished off the victory, sending the Thunder to yet another defeat in a game they were expected to win.


At this point, though, maybe we should remove the phrase “expected to win” from our vocabulary when it comes to the Thunder until they prove they can fulfill even meager expectations — or that they’re even especially troubled by the fact that they’re not. For his part, Antonio Daniels, longtime NBA player turned studio analyst for the Thunder’s home broadcast, said he’s just not seeing enough of that:



After the game — and after going to the locker room for an X-ray that, thankfully, revealed only a bruised left hand — Westbrook insisted that the kind of spark Daniels believes the Thunder need has to come from him, and that it will:


“It’s just starting with a sense of urgency,” Westbrook said. “It starts with me, man. It’s my responsibility to be able to make sure that we’re ready to play on both sides of the ball to get us out of this funk. We’ve got to lock in, and that starts with me. I’ll take ownership of everything that’s going on, because I’ve been here. I know the standards we set here in Oklahoma City, and I have to set an example. It starts with me, and we’re going to turn this thing around.”

That’s what you’d like to hear your team’s leader say. But words aren’t the issue in OKC right now.

The issue is a Thunder team with the talent to decimate defenses taking more shots from midrange than at the rim or from beyond the arc, and going just 6-for-34 on those attempts, according to Ben Falk’s shot-charting at Cleaning the Glass. It’s a Thunder team with the defensive acumen to suffocate opponents in the first and second quarters coming absolutely unglued in the fourth.

It’s the ball still not finding its way into teammates’ hands, the teammates too rarely finding their way into open spots to present viable targets, and the possessions too often ending after one pass and a look over a hard-charging contest. It’s the future looking a lot like a version of the past that Donovan wants his team to leave behind.




For the Thunder to get where they want to go, they’ll need answers to these fundamental questions. For now, though, Westbrook and company find themselves on the short end of the stick after the final buzzer, left to sit there and wonder what the hell had just happened, and why it just keeps happening.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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