How Unlikely Were the Thunder's Losses to the Warriors and Clippers?
The Oklahoma City Thunder just had two huge meltdowns in the span of five days against two of their biggest conference rivals.
Both Saturday's 121-118 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors and Wednesday's 103-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers happened after our algorithms gave the Thunder a win probability percentage north of 95% at some point late in each game.
There's losing a hard-fought game against a tough conference opponent, and then there's completely blowing games that were well in hand the way the Thunder just did.
Here's a breakdown of what happened:
The Warriors Game on Saturday, February 27th
With 1:13 to go in the fourth quarter, a Serge Ibaka jump shot put the Thunder up 100-96 and -- with time on their side -- the win probability percentage to 89.36%. Stephen Curry travelled on the ensuing possession, pushing the Thunder's win probability to a peak 96.52% mark, which would hold until there was only 43 seconds to go in the fourth and seemingly final frame.
Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant then exchanged three-pointers, Klay hit a layup, and then a bad Durant pass-turnover-foul sequence with seven seconds to go led to two clutch free throws from Andre Iguodala that knotted the score at 103-103 and sent the game into overtime.
The Thunder would reach another peak win probability percentage with 34 seconds to go in the extra period, when a Andre Roberson layup pushed the Thunder lead to 118-115 and their win probability to 87.08%. Thompson then scored an old-fashioned three-point play via a layup with an and-one created by a Russell Westbrook foul, tying the game at 118-118. Westbrook missed a jump shot on the other end, leaving Steph Curry approximately six seconds to pull this off:
And with that, the Thunder lost a game in which they had a win probability over 96% with less than a minute left in the fourth and one over 87% in the dying seconds of overtime.
The Clippers Game on Wednesday, March 2nd
With 1:17 to go in the first half, the Thunder moved out to what would be their biggest lead of the game at 22 when two Kevin Durant free throws pushed the score to 58-36. At that point, our win probability percentage for OKC sat at 94.58%, and it was still a commanding 92.47% by halftime, at which point the Thunder led over the Clippers by a score of 58-38.
By the end of the third quarter, it was more of the same, with the Thunder holding a lead of 85-65 with 30 seconds to go in the frame and a peak win probability of 95.61% at the time.
Then, all hell broke loose in the fourth.
The Clippers outscored the Thunder 35-13 in the game's final frame. With 1:12 to go in the contest, a DeAndre Jordan layup gave the Clippers their first lead at 98-97 since they had gone up 11-9 with 8:01 remaining in the first quarter. LA didn't relinquish the lead after that, winning 103-98.
For the second time in one week, the Thunder managed to lose a game in which they had a win probability north of 95% late in the game.
Yes, despite all the aforementioned sadness, the Thunder are still title contenders.
We currently give them a 7.1% chance of winning it all this year, which ranks them fourth in the NBA (via our NBA Team Power Rankings) behind the San Antonio Spurs (34.3%), the Golden State Warriors (28.1%), and the Cleveland Cavaliers (7.7%).
That said, with OKC losing five of their last seven games and the Clippers winning 12 of their last 16, the playoff seeding ramifications of these losses that should have been wins could wind up being huge down the stretch.
Oklahoma City will more than likely hold the tiebreaker if the two teams were to finish with the same record at the end of the season, since they are the clear favorite to win their division (with a 9.5 game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers), while the Clippers don't stand a chance of catching up in theirs (as they currently trail the Warriors by 14.5 games). Of course, considering the fact that the Clippers are now only a mere 1.5 games behind the Thunder for the 3 seed in the Western Conference, it is entirely possible that they pass them outright in the standings.
Drawing either the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs in the second round is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario, but for an OKC team that might be watching a championship window that was once wide open draw to a close, the margin for error is strikingly small. For that reason, the higher seed and better chance for homecourt advantage in subsequent rounds they can get, the better.
The combination of the Warriors and Spurs' seemingly unmatchable dominance this season coupled with Kevin Durant's pending unrestricted free agency this summer might mean this Thunder team that looked poised for multiple title runs might disband with only one Finals appearance in 2012 under their belts and not a single championship to speak of.
If it doesn't happen for them again this year, there's the potential that we look back at these two meltdown games as a tangible downward turning point.