It just happens: Thunder's first home loss
December, 23, 2013
By Royce Young
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It probably had to happen like this.
After they started the season 13-0 at home, the Thunder's first loss in Oklahoma City probably had to come on a sleepy Sunday night against a sub-.500 Eastern Conference team.
Because that just makes so much sense.
Not to discount the Toronto Raptors -- who now are 4-1 since trading Rudy Gay, with impressive victories in Chicago, Dallas and now OKC -- after a 104-98 win, but this Thunder team was riding a nine-game win streak, had won 17 of its previous 18 and was coming off a clinical road win in San Antonio the night before. For the Thunder to finally lay their home egg in this situation just seemed... odd.
"Losses happen in this league," Kevin Durant said. "They beat us fair and square."
Thing is, they don't often seem to happen to the Thunder, especially like that. Following a hungover first half, they found their typical home spark, a 22-4 third-quarter run that led to an 11-point second-half lead. Even after a Raptors comeback that had them up three with two minutes left, Durant drilled a 3 from the top of the key that seemed to be the shot the Thunder needed to eke out an ugly win.
Instead, John Salmons drew a foul on Durant for two go-ahead free throws, and the Raptors outscored OKC 6-0 over the final 90 seconds.
"We could've folded and packed it in, but they stayed with it and stuck together," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "We knew the Thunder were going to make a run and they did, but we stuck with it and came out with the W."
The Thunder's 13 straight home wins to start the season were the most since the 2008-09 Cavs started the season 23-0 at home. Matching that would have been quite the achievement, but it certainly seemed somewhat possible. Especially with the form they had been in the past few weeks.
"I told the team [after the game], you guys have done a great job this early part of the season, and we've done a great job protecting our court," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "Give them credit, they played a good basketball game, they hung around and won it in the end. There's nothing to be ashamed of ... the fourth quarter, we missed a lot of shots. We can look back on film and can live with them."
By a lot of shots, Brooks means pretty much all of their shots. The Raptors outscored the Thunder 29-14 in the fourth quarter. The reason? OKC hit just five of its 25 attempts.
“We missed some layups; I know I missed like five wide-open 3s,” Durant said. “We missed some stuff at the rim. But their defense, they make you shoot those jump shots. They gave you those wide-open shots, and we just got to make them.”
Durant uncharacteristically went just 5-for-16 from the floor and while Salmons and the Raptors' defensive scheme deserve credit for that, a good number of them were solid looks. Still, Durant finished with 24 points because he's Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook had 27, but what might have hurt OKC most was that its emerging sixth man stud, Reggie Jackson, had only six on 1-for-11 shooting, with nothing in the second half. The night before in San Antonio, Jackson popped the Spurs for 21 and had been averaging better than 15 a game on 50 percent shooting in December. But he couldn't find anything Sunday.
And it might have revealed a little something: Jackson has an X factor look to him. When you've got guys like him to add punch behind Westbrook and Durant, there's a certain luxury that you can survive games in which the stars don't perform up to their standard. But with Jackson struggling and nothing dropping for anyone else, the Thunder finally just fell flat in their building.
It's only the Thunder's second loss in almost 40 days, with the other being on a second night of a back-to-back on the road in Portland. Not a player on the team nor Brooks was willing to invoke that as an excuse, though. A team undefeated at home and sitting on the best record in the league should handle its business no matter the circumstances. There's no good way to really justify it, other than what Durant said -- losses happen in this league.
And oftentimes when you least expect them to.