DALLAS — At least it wasn’t another close loss.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had practice with those, whether with Friday’s one-point heartbreaker to the Detroit Pistons or the countless other OKC games which have decided themselves in the final seconds. The Thunder have made trudging to the final inch a habit — nay, an obsession.
Fans have watched along suffering sports’ version of heart attacks. So, maybe Saturday night was just a favor.
The Thunder fell down early to the Dallas Mavericks. They trailed by 15 at the half. Dallas increased the deficit to 23 through three quarters. It was never close.
There was no suffering, a quick and painless 97-81 loss to a now 5-15 team that owned the Western Conference’s worst record heading into the evening.
“We didn’t score enough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Ain’t gonna beat nobody scoring 81 points.”
Even amidst a disappointing start to the season, the Thunder haven’t had many games when they have simply failed for 48 minutes straight. The M.O. is to jump out to a big lead, then watch it slip away.
They were hot for the first few minutes Saturday — until Dallas went on a 15-2 run to take an advantage it would never give back. It was reminiscent of the Thunder’s early-season game at the Utah Jazz, an eventual nine-point loss that never felt close.
This one didn’t, either. The Thunder trailed by as many as 26. A squad that ranks 23rd in points allowed per possession held them to 37 percent shooting and only 13 free throws. They lived in the mid-range and scored only 24 points in the paint.
“When you’re not getting to the free-throw line and you’re not maybe taking or making a high number of 3s, sometimes those non-paint 2s become a little bit more glaring,” coach Billy Donovan said.
Of course, relying on long 2s will keep a team away from the line more often than not. Defenders rarely ever foul on jump shots. The Thunder continue to take them. They are now 22nd in the NBA in points per possession, worse than notoriously dry teams like the Jazz and Brooklyn Nets.
Westbrook was the lone offensive bright spot for parts of the night, going for 28 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Paul George missed 11 of his 12 shots. Anthony had only two points at the half, though he bounced back for 14 in the third quarter.
He did not get into the game during the final period. Neither did Steven Adams.
“Once the fourth quarter started, that group was playing pretty well. And I figured just to go with them,” Donovan said. “It had nothing to do with Carmelo, trying to rest him or not play him or anything else like that.”
It’s not exactly the same position the Thunder have found themselves in before. Yes, they’ve lost in disappointing fashions, but not quite like this — though getting run off the floor by the Sacramento Kings after going up 17 a few weeks ago compares.
Anthony called the performance “sluggish.” But another theme arose during the locker room postgame: frustration.
Frustration following the Thunder’s 11th loss in 19 games. Frustration about an offense that can’t seem to figure out how to play efficient basketball. Frustration about the same problems plaguing a team with three perennial All-Stars, even if they’re showing at different times and in different ways.
“It’s not about staying positive. If you’re not upset when you lose a game, then you’re not here for the right reasons,” point guard Raymond Felton said. “So, everybody should be upset walking out of this locker room, because you should hate to lose. I know I do.”
Of course, that only means something if the Thunder use such frustration for good.
A slow 19 games probably won’t kill a season, even if it can pull the bottom out of playoff seeding. But the Thunder are undeniably infected, and they need to recognize a cure.
“Absolutely, we should be frustrated. We are frustrated,” George said. “We’re better than this. To lose a back to back, to lose down 25, 30 almost at one point of the game, yeah, we should be very frustrated about that.”
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.