Below is the best thing you will read all year. Not my prose—that’s the usual 12-car invective pileup that you are well within your rights to skip while awaiting Comrade Theisen’s 21-gun salute to Ottawa’s victory in Carolina. I speak instead of the Oklahoma City-Memphis box score that is actually just a mega-litany of unfathomable numbers that the handy “Well, the Thunder are tanking” narrative barely scratches. Neither does the “Well, they didn’t have Josh Giddey (non-COVID illness) or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (concussion)” lament.
To lose by an NBA-record 73 points is tanking two games simultaneously. Scoring 79 points is problematic enough (your chances of winning a game in this century at 79 points are about eight percent), but scoring only six points more than your margin of defeat is truly epochal. Having your leading scorer (Lu Dort) finish with a minus-53 is flabbergasting, and learning one line lower that he didn’t have the worst plus-minus on the team (Jeremiah Robinson-Earl closed that deal with minus-56) is stupefying. And while I freely admit that plus-minus is a deeply flawed statistic for measuring anything important, IT’S MINUS-56! IN 23 MINUTES, IT’S MINUS-56!
There are loads of fun things to be found here. You just have to surrender to the tsunami of it all. Watching the game is simply an unwarranted punishment. I know; I tried, and they lost me when De’Anthony Melton made a wide open layup to push it to 50 with four minutes to go in the third. The Grizz, playing without Ja Morant, by the way, managed at one point to not score for nearly four minutes and still squeezed three-and-a-half points per minute out of what remained. None of their starters played more than 22 minutes, and their bench alone beat all of Oklahoma City by 14. Hell, they outscored Team Durant in the last All-Star Game.
Even the postgame quotes didn’t do it justice, which might be part of why NBA.TV’s nightly half-hour highlight show Game Time waded through Suns-Pistons, LeBron’s COVID tests, the Lakers’ problems, Bulls-Knicks, and even Raptors-Bucks before getting to the gem of the night. That’s not burying the lede, it’s drilling it into the earth’s core. Frankly, Draymond Green explained it all.
But the box score was sufficient. Hell, if you want to make bookends, take the one at the top and add this one from seven months ago to it. You’ll see that the Thunder will give up a hundo and a half for your entertainment and not think twice about it. They didn’t have Gilgeous-Alexander or Dort for that one, and Giddey was still in Australia being 18 years old and all, but there’s a trend gathering here. The explanation is too obvious, but clearly the Thunder have something to shoot for, and I think we all know what that is. If nothing else, they’ve given us a reason to pay attention to them now. With 60 more games left in an already abandoned season, I kind of like their chances to lose by 80 against someone like, say, Charlotte, and then have the Mecklenburg County School District sanction the Hornets for unnecessarily running up the score.