The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season came crashing down on Saturday with an 96-91 Game 6 loss and elimination at the hands of the Utah Jazz. The loss — to a team with visibly less star power — was a disappointing first-round exit few saw coming at the beginning of the year.
OKC’s early exit spelled the end of a season that had high expectations from the get-go.
That’s because this Thunder team was supposed to go places
After Russell Westbrook showed he was a one-man wrecking ball last season, shattering some of the longest-standing records in NBA history, the Thunder doubled down on their league MVP. The narrative all season long was he needed help. OKC found a way to get him some.
By now you know this story back-and-forth, so let’s go with the abridged version: OKC pulled off two trades that landed Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. With Westbrook leading the charge and two gifted scorers flanking, the trio of all-stars was supposed to usher the Thunder into a glorious golden era that followed Kevin Durant.
OKC showed flashes of a team that could do special things. After all, even with George and Anthony, Westbrook still managed to average a triple-double on the season. And even after Andre Roberson’s season-ending Achilles injury blasted the Thunder defense in ways they couldn’t have imagined, they still somehow scrapped their way into the No. 4 seed in the wild Western Conference playoff picture.
And then OKC was exposed
The Thunder never looked like the better team against the Jazz. A team with three all-stars had little-to-no cohesion on the court. Even when they came back from down 25 to win Game 5, there was little solace to be taken. They had fallen behind 25 points in the first place. Utah’s defense — specifically, Rudy Gobert — posed problems all over for OKC. There were no well-rounded attacks; if Russ or George didn’t go off, the Thunder lost.
Anthony was almost invisible at times. Billy Donovan opted to go with Jerami Grant early and often, much to Melo’s frustration, but he was a better fit on the court. After all, it was Grant who was on the floor in the final, last-ditch moments of Game 6 for the Thunder, not the All-Star from New York.
Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell danced all over Oklahoma City. Somehow, a rookie cameoed — at times — as the best player on the floor. The Thunder had no answer for the electrifying Jazz guard. Now, they have questions going forward.
The Thunder’s first-round exit was the most disappointing of them all, even more so than the Trail Blazers being swept as the No. 3 seed. There’s no telling if this group can stays together going forward. The way this season has gone for OKC, anything can happen.