THUNDER: Thursday's story won't be clear until late Saturday night in San Antonio


AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes up for a shot between Philadelphia 76ers guards Jimmy Butler (23) and Ben Simmons during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Oklahoma City.

On the bright side, the Thunder won’t have to worry about the wily veteran ways of Pau Gasol in San Antonio tonight.

The veteran center has agreed to be bought out by the Spurs, according to ESPN, and will soon be offering his veteran leadership to Eastern Conference leading Milwaukee, which is clearly serious about not just getting to the NBA Finals, but winning once there.

Oh, for that to be what faces OKC.

Instead, the Thunder seem to be reeling, have lost four of five games. Portland has also pulled even with Oklahoma City, both teams occupying the West’s third position.

Additionally, it appears the Thunder will be without Paul George a second straight game. In game notes for tonight’s tip released Friday evening, George is listed “out” with right shoulder soreness.

Also, it’s not clear if Oklahoma City finds itself at another crossroads or if it simply missed some shots against the 76ers.

“I thought we battled and competed and really fought hard in the game and gave ourselves a chance,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the 108-104 setback, and that’s one way to look at it.

However, another is to recognize that the Thunder came out flat at home against a good team — always a bad idea — shooting 34.5 percent in the first quarter, including 1 of 7 from 3-point land, while allowing 37 Philly points in the same frame to fall behind by 11.

That can’t happen.

Also, when a furious comeback creates a 93-93 deadlock with 5:06 remaining, you can’t do what Oklahoma City did over the next three-plus minutes.

While the 76ers scored 10 points on the other end, Dennis Schroder threw the ball away, Steven Adams goaltended his own blown dunk, Russell Westbrook missed an ill-advised pull-up 3-point attempt — he’d made just 1 of 8 prior to the shot — Adams missed two free throws and, following Jerami Grant’s rebound of Adams’ second miss, Schroder cranked another 3-point try.

Markieff Morris, in his fourth game since joining the team, finished with 17 points, but blamed himself for a couple defensive communication errors in the fourth quarter.

However, the Thunder’s failing was mostly offensive. Once pulling even, they entirely lost their way.

Nevertheless, there is an alternative take, and Donovan preferred that one.

“I thought the game, to start, in the first quarter, was a little bit choppy,” he said, “but I was really pleased with the way [we] defended in the second, third and fourth quarters.”

It’s true.

OKC defended well, generally.

Philly was shooting 80 percent early, 55.5 percent by the end of the first quarter, yet was down to 45.7 percent by game’s end. Also, on a night the Thunder's opponent only turned the ball over 13 times, they still held that opponent to fewer points — 108 — than they had in their previous six games and in 18 of their previous 20.

For that reason, the Thunder were still close to pulling out a victory, even on a night Westbrook made 8 of 24 shots, Schroder 4 of 15 and the two of them combined to go 3 of 14 from beyond the 3-point arc.

So, there’s that.

What’s the correct way to look at Oklahoma City’s loss to Philadelphia?

That may not be clear until they win or lose tonight, inside AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Game 62

Oklahoma City at San Antonio

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Place: AT&T Center

Records: Thunder 38-23, Spurs 34-29


Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1

Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript.