I’m not certain I, nor a lot of us, could play professional basketball.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you aren’t talented enough to play pro ball and that’s OK. There are other things to be great at.
What it takes to perform at an NBA-type level takes more than talent and skill. It takes confidence, a short memory and the faith that, regardless of yesterday, every new day is an opportunity to better you and your team’s fortunes.
The Oklahoma City Thunder was labeled as a team with one intention this season: tank for the NBA Draft Lottery and tank hard.
While trades shipping much of last season’s playoff team occurred during the offseason, what remained was a bunch of players who have and still have a lot to prove.
Even though the Thunder was without four of five starters, Oklahoma City received major contributions from unexpected sources to defeat Memphis 128-122 on Sunday afternoon.
First Takeaway: The Comeback Kids
A season ago, the Thunder were considered one of the most clutch teams in the NBA. When the team had shotmakers and closers like Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and — most importantly Chris Paul — it’s not hard to see how those good fortunes came together.
This season has been a bit different. The Thunder are younger, leaner and, apparently, totally dig pulling off improbable comeback victories.
Oklahoma City entered Sunday with nine comeback victories after trailing by at least 10 points. The Thunder trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter, but the players caught fire in the final period.
The return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as well as the efforts of Darius Miller and Kenrich Williams, helped the Thunder make 12-for-17 shot attempts (70.6 percent) in the fourth quarter.
OKC is now tied for the most comeback victories after trailing by 10+ points (10) in the NBA with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Not bad for a team expected to tank the season.
Second Takeaway: From The G League To The Big Leagues
The Oklahoma City Blue’s G League season ended early in Orlando which means the likes of Ty Jerome, Aleksej Pokusevski and Moses Brown returned to central Oklahoma with undefined roles for the remainder of the Thunder season.
The G League trio was in the starting lineup Sunday in the place of Darius Bazley (left shoulder contusion), Lu Dort (sprained left big toe) and Al Horford (rest). These three played out of their minds.
We have come to love Pokusevski for his silly and playmaking antics in Orlando, but he looked like he is starting to turn a corner in his rookie season. The 19-year-old scored a career-best 23 points, made five 3-pointers and grabbed 10 rebounds in an incredible 39-minute performance. Jerome posted an impressive line of 12 points, six rebounds and five assists himself.
Perhaps the unlikeliest effort came from Brown, the seldom-used 7-foot-2 center out of UCLA. A day after the Queens native scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds against the New York Knicks, Brown stepped up to post a career-high 13 points versus the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jonas Valanciunas down low.
One would think Sunday was an audition for Brown to be the starting center whenever Horford rests on a back-to-back. The audition’s going well so far.
Third Takeaway: The P Word
Playoffs is a word that should not be used lightly, but a chase for a playoff remains within the realm of possibility for the Thunder.
OKC’s home win against Memphis is an example of how that possibility could become reality. First off, it’s a home win. Oklahoma City began the year 0-5 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. It needed extra time to secure its first home win over the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 15.
However, the Thunder has won eight of its next 15 home games since that night. Any team that wishes to make the playoffs must be able to defend its homecourt well. OKC has done that of late.
The Grizzlies have been a team the Thunder have looked up at for most of this season. By virtue of beating Memphis, Oklahoma City is now tied with the Grizzlies in the win column with 17 victories. Memphis currently sits two games ahead of the Thunder in the Western Conference standings and two games behind the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks. The Thunder is within striking distance.
This is why OKC’s four-game road trip, which starts Tuesday at Chicago, is a pivotal point in its season. Oklahoma City will face the Bulls, Hawks, Rockets and Timberwolves on the trip — teams the Thunder has already beaten this season.
If the team wants to make the playoffs, it can’t afford a losing or a 2-2 road trip. It would have to go 3-1 or win them all.
Will Oklahoma City finish in the top eight as season’s end? No one knows for sure until the season is wrapped up.
What is known is that the possibility exists. Any team must start there if it ultimately wants to fulfill its postseason possibility.