The ever-popular Oklahoma City Thunder franchise has seen it’s 53rd season in the National Basketball Association end after a disappointing playoff run against the Portland Trail Blazers. While OKC’s franchise player Russell Westbrook continues to put up incredible numbers securing his third consecutive triple double this season, the team continues to struggle in the regular season and in its championship stages.
Much has happened in OKC’s 11th season since its relocation from Seattle. Nick Collison, a 15-year member of the squad, announced his retirement at the end of the previous season, effectively making Westbrook the team’s longest serving player.
Westbrook is now only one of three NBA players still active who was also a part of OKC when the team went by the name “Seattle SuperSonics.” The others are Jeff Green and Kevin Durant who both debuted in the league wearing SuperSonic jerseys.
Throughout the 2017-18 season, there was much media speculation about whether key player Paul George would finish out the calendar year still on the OKC roster. Despite rumors of George’s departure to the Los Angeles Lakers, the small forward made the decision to resign with OKC. The Thunder was also able to re-sign forward Jerami Grant and point guard Raymond Felton. New signings included Nerlens Noel, Deonte Burton and Tyler Davis. The squad lost P. J. Dozier and Daniel Hamilton to free agency.
The franchise came into the regular season with a good amount of fanbase hype after going 3-1 overall in its preseason schedule, as well as getting George to stay on for the foreseeable future.
The regular season did not go as smoothly as Oklahoma fans had hoped. The Thunder finished fourth in the Northwest Division with a record of 9-7. Overall, the team went 49-33 in the Western Conference, earning a .598 win percentage in the process. The team started off poorly in October, going 2-4 in its opening slate of games. November saw a massive improvement from the Thunder, as they went 12-3 that month. Most of the wins were secured at home, where the Thunder boasted an impressive 7-1 record. The period of February through December was somewhat average for the squad, combining a 24-16 record across the three month span. Playoff hopes were jeopardized in March, when the team posted a 6-10 record, splitting their wins and losses even at 3-5 both home and away. Thankfully, the squad was able to salvage their chances at getting into the playoffs with a good final stretch of games in April. The team went a perfect 5-0 to place sixth out of the eight teams in the Western Conference that would qualify them for the playoff tournament.
The opening round of the tournament saw OKC drawn against the Portland Trail Blazers. Their first meeting took place April 14 at the Moda Center in Portland, where OKC was hosted by the Trail Blazers. Scoring was split very evenly throughout the game, with each side taking two quarters. The Thunder took the second and fourth, 23-15 and 30-28 respectively. Portland was able to steal the first and third quarters, with their 39-25 winning opening handing them the game. George led all scorers with 26 points and was tied on most rebounds with Westbrook. Through their 104-99 win, the Trail Blazers were able to walk away with the lead of the series.
The second game of the series was held in the same venue and echoed the result as well. OKC came out with the lead after the first quarter, going up 31-26. The Thunder then gave up the following three quarters 23-28, 21-37 and 19-23 in that order. George led scoring again for OKC, putting up 27 points. Steven Adams and Westbrook threw in nine rebounds each to keep the team in the mix. Westbrook led both squads in assists with 11. The Trail Blazers emerged victorious with a 114-94 win, extending their series lead to 2-0.
Going into the third game of the series, the Thunder knew they had to get a result if they wanted to remain contenders in the playoff race. With the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City granting the Thunder the home court advantage, the trailing side decided to make the most of it. Westbrook had 33 points with 11 assists, once more proving his worth to his team. Adams added seven rebounds to push OKC past Portland 120-108 across the four quarters. Though they managed to earn their first series victory, the Thunder’s run would end shortly after, between April 21-23. First came a loss at home 98-111, before a return to Portland to attempt at a final comeback failed as the squad were felled 115-118. George scored 36 points in the final game, while Westbrook managed 11 rebounds and 14 assists. With their title hopes drawing to a close, the Thunder will now have to look forward to their next great challenge: the off-season, in which they’ll have to work on re-signing key players to building toward a better future.