DENVER — The Oklahoma City Thunder’s locker room stayed closed a little longer than usual following Thursday’s 102-94 loss at the Denver Nuggets.
It gave players and coaches, alike, the opportunity to talk out some of the issues they’ve had on the current four-game losing streak, which has dropped the team to 4-7 on the season.
“You have to talk about it. You have to look at it. You have to be up front with everybody,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Everybody’s got to be held accountable for what’s going on.”
The 7-5 Nuggets are a talented team, a playoff contender at worst. And Denver is never an easy place to play. But in yet another Thunder loss, it’s the how; it’s the process, not the result.
The Thunder let go of an 18-point lead to the Boston Celtics this past Friday. They followed with an energy-searching loss at the Portland Trail Blazers. Next was a disappointing defeat at the hands of the three-win Sacramento Kings. And now, this one, which leaves them with as many late-game questions as they had going into it.
What they’re hoping is that conversation can lead to progress.
“Meetings just make sure we all stay together no matter what,” point guard Raymond Felton said. “Everybody said their piece. Coach said his piece…Right now, we going through something, and we got to stick together no matter what.”
Thursday’s was another close game the Thunder had a chance to win. And once again, like during the Kings loss, the team relied on isolation ball late far more than it did early.
It was Russell Westbrook’s turn. Or it was Anthony’s. It was rarely Paul George’s, during a fourth quarter when George attempted only one shot, even though he played all 12 minutes.
“I’m not going to create a narrative on that kind of stuff. It’s one game,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “[George has] got his shots. I think if you look at the overall shot distribution between those three guys, it’s almost identical. They’re sharing the ball.”
And Donovan’s right on the whole. Shot totals for the Thunder’s big three have been creepily similar this year. Of course, they’re coming as part of an offense that now runs more isolation than any other in the NBA, per Synergy Sports Technology.
“We’re very comfortable with kind of being in those situations,” Anthony said. “I think that’s how we became who we are as players, being comfortable in those situations.”
Iso ball didn't consume the whole night.
The Thunder pinged the ball around the perimeter, penetrated, and even ran late-possession pick-and-rolls during a first quarter that saw them get out to an 11-point lead. It was, in some ways, duplicative of the Kings game, when they led by as many as 17.
Yet, they got away from that style by the end, combining for just one assist in the fourth quarter, a dime for a 3-pointer from Westbrook to Anthony with 5:21 remaining in the game. The Nuggets totaled seven assists in the period.
It’s in tune with their other late-game performances. Teams are switching against them, and stars are going one-on-one against mismatches. It's part of why the Thunder have dished only three assists all season during 23 minutes of "clutch time," defined as a five-point game with five-or-fewer minutes to go.
“We’re going to take advantage of that mismatch. That’s just what it comes down to,” George said. “But it’s on us to not spectate. Whoever has the ball, we can’t spectate. We got to get some movement, just cause some confusion to give that guy that has the ball a chance to even make a play.”
The Thunder are now 0-6 in those clutch-time games, a stark contrast to last year, when they outscored opponents by the second-most points per possession during those situations.
It’s not regression. It is irony. It’s one more reason why this team has dropped three below .500. It’s one more reason why they’re still figuring out exactly how to come together with new pieces, new schemes and a revamped identity.
“It’s no frustration. We’re talking things through,” Anthony said. “We’re trying to figure it out, trying to see what’s going on, what’s happening. It’s not frustrating when it’s in our hands.”
• Adams update: Steven Adams left the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s loss to the Nuggets with a calf contusion, the team said. His status for Friday night’s game against the L.A. Clippers is uncertain.
• Blake’s return: Former University of Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin makes another return to his hometown Thursday when his Clippers take on the Thunder in OKC.
Griffin has churned out the arguable best start of his career, maybe even better than his one to 2013-14, when he ended up finishing third in MVP voting.
The big man has averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists through the Clippers first 10 games, along the lines of his career average. But most notable, he’s become a 3-point threat in the process, knocking in a hair over 40 percent of 5.2 triples a game.
• Banged up: The Clippers got off to a strong start but have faltered a bit lately, dropping three consecutive games heading into Friday. And matters will become tougher for them against the Thunder.
They are already missing point guard Milos Teodesic, who is suffering from plantar fasciitis. Forward Danilo Gallinari is listed as out with a glute injury. Now, two more are added to the list: starting guard Patrick Beverley has a sore right knee and will not play. Guard Austin Rivers is questionable with a mild left ankle sprain, per the L.A. Times’ Brad Turner.
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.