Three Things to Know: Up-and-down Thunder dropped fourth straight, this time to Lakers

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Thunder have dropped four in a row, latest to Lakers. So queue up the Paul George speculation. Every up and down in Oklahoma City this season gets viewed through the “what is Paul George thinking?” prism. Fair or not. His people were not subtle last summer about his desire to go to Los Angeles in 2018, but he has since made it sound like Oklahoma City has a real chance to keep him this summer (if the small market team is willing to pay a ridiculous amount of luxury tax).

With that backdrop, the Thunder dropped their fourth game in a row Sunday, this time to the scrappy Los Angeles Lakers 108-104 (and LA is still without Lonzo Ball). The game wasn’t that close, the Thunder closed on a 9-2 run to make this look more competitive late than it had been (Los Angeles was up 10 with just more than two minutes left).

The problem in this game was not Russell Westbrook (36 points, 9 assists, but 7 turnovers) or Paul George (26 points, 7 rebounds, and +3 on the night), rather it was everyone around them. Carmelo Anthony is in a slump, scoring 10 points on 13 shots Sunday, he’s now shooting 33.8 percent during the four-game losing streak. The ball movement on the team has dried up. And OKC’s top-five NBA defense is giving up 2.5 points per 100 possessions more during the streak and has been pedestrian, with coach Billy Donovan complaining about the team’s three-point defense in particular, they are not chasing guys off the line (the Lakers hit 43.3 percent from deep).

The defense struggling and the team going 1-4 since Andre Roberson went down is not a coincidence. Roberson, for all his flaws, knew how to fit on this team as a starter. He was their fifth guy on that impressive starting lineup. His replacement, 19-year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson, has potential but has looked over his head in this stretch. It makes the Thunder a team to watch at the trade deadline as they search for another piece.

OKC players are saying all the right things about them having confidence and that they will get their groove back, but their next game is Tuesday at Golden State. Don’t defend the arc well against that team and the price is severe.

It’s a marathon of a season, and what is really going to sway George’s decision is how things shake out in the playoffs. But for now, the Thunder need to get their mojo back.

2) Al Horford’s step-back jumper gave Boston at least one win on the day. Sunday was not a banner day for Boston sports fans, the Patriots defense could not stop the Eagles in Super Bowl LII and lost the game as favorites.

Al Horford gave Boston fans something to cheer earlier on Sunday. Down one with four seconds to go, Horford channeled his inner Dirk Nowitzki with an elbow fadeaway for the game-winner.

The reaction of the bench is awesome.

3) WTF was that ending between the Knicks, Hawks? This was the strangest thing we have seen in the NBA this season.

With 3:49 left in the game and the Knicks up three, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore was fouled taking a three. He missed the first free throw, and when he missed the second the Knicks grabbed the rebound, dribbled up the court, ran a play and Tim Hardaway Jr. got the and-1. However, when play stopped, Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks were screaming about the third free throw for Bazemore. The referees conferred, put time back on the clock, went to the other end and gave Bazemore his free throw (which he hit.) From referee crew chief Pat Fraher and the pool report after the game with the officials:

“What was called was a 3-shot foul and not 2.  So, played continued erroneously after two free throws, now we go down to the other end of the floor and we have a foul.  Then it was brought to our attention that we should’ve shot one extra free throw.  The rule under correctable errors is, do you want the citation?  It says if there’s a merited free throw that was not shot, that was to remain in play, which was what our situation was, than if under 24 seconds have elapsed, we go back to the point of interruption, reset the game clock, and nullify all play that happens up until that point.”

Yes, you’re reading that right. If the play had gone on more than :25 seconds, they would have given Bazemore another free throw, but then given Hardaway his free throw after the and-1 and continued play from there.

Anyway, we’re not done. Next up was Kent Bazemore draining what would be the game-winner, a wide-open three from the corner where no Knick made a rotation out to challenge him.

There was time for one-last Knicks shot to tie or win, and the play called for Kristaps Porzingis to set a screen and free up Tim Hardaway Jr., but he was busy trying to get someone’s attention.

Porzingis said after the game he was trying to get the attention of the official on the far side because he expected to be fouled, but in doing so missed the start of the play. That’s possible, you can’t really tell from the video, but it wasn’t pretty either way. And the Hawks get the win.