Thunder loss to Clippers just as bad as loss to Warriors was good

What’s most concerning about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 0-2 start isn’t the 0-2. It’s that without Russell Westbrook for a second consecutive game, they couldn’t find a way to attack the rim.

It’s understandable to lose to Golden State. A lot of folks will this season.

But the Thunder had a 9-point lead on the Los Angeles Clippers in the third period and at least a six-point lead in the final quarter.

The Clippers won by 16.

They shot over 40 percent from both 2 and 3. Oklahoma City went 7 for 33 from beyond the arc.

Against the Warriors, I can understand that.

But against the Clippers, I don’t.

Sure, they used the behemoth Boban Marjanovic to clog the lane in the fourth quarter.

It’s almost like they had a strategy.

Hmm.

Oklahoma City’s loss to Golden State was a good one. Lots of encouraging signs.

The loss to L.A. Friday night was a bad one, not just for the size of the loss or letting a winnable game slip away – but because the Thunder got completely out-strategized in the fourth quarter.

NBA 2018-19 predictions: How many wins for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

When you live in a city with an NBA team and only an NBA team on the professional sports level, you get excited the night before the regular season — and we’re excited in Oklahoma City because we have the Thunder.

And of course, when you have Russell Westbrook, it’s hard not to be excited about your ball club.

Except that he just had knee surgery.

And his isn’t the only injury. Andre Roberson is recovering up to two more months after knee surgery following recovery from a patellar tendon tear.

Heck, we just learned today that Steven Adams is questionable for the season opener Tuesday night against Golden State. Ugh.

This isn’t what we were hoping for in Loud City. While I’m an optimist, I have a formula for how many wins I think the Thunder will get this season. They’ll win 70% of the games in which Westbrook and Roberson are healthy, 60% in which at least one of them is healthy (especially Russ) and only 50% or less without. It’s hard for me to give a number, but 46 feels right because it’s in between my hunch (48) and what I think it might actually be if the team struggles through injuries all year (44).

The good news is that I think a lower number might get the Thunder into the playoffs.

Give me Golden State, Utah, Houston, Minnesota, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City, Denver and New Orleans in the West with the Warriors and Jazz battling it out not only for the Western Conference crown but possibly also as a passing of the torch to Donovan Mitchell, a dark horse for MVP in just his second year. He’s that good.

Don’t forget, however, that LeBron plays in the West now. I guarantee you they’ll be in the playoffs if LBJ has to do it himself.

In the East, I think it’s a three-team race between Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia, and I like Philly. I trust the process, if you will. The combo of Simmons-Embiid-Fultz with J.J. Redick off the bench makes Philly a very interesting team, a squad that isn’t being given much of a shot to make the Finals just yet. One X factor for the 76ers, in my opinion, is former Wichita State Shockers star Landry Shamet. Love those Shockers, and reports indicate he’s looked really, really good.

Eastern Conference playoff teams will be Boston, Toronto, Philly, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Detroit, Miami.

Give me Philly-Boston for the Eastern Conference title and a Golden State-Philly match-up in the Finals, in what also could be a passing of the NBA torch to a younger team, not that the Warriors are going to lose. I’d be shocked if anybody besides Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and company won the title.

So ready for tip-off.

Thunder up!

The Mike Stoops firing: Next time, blitz

Mike Stoops is out as defensive coordinator for the University of Oklahoma, a day after the Sooners got obliterated on D, 48-45, by the Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Twitter is as you’d expect it would be with many people celebrating Stoops’ demise as defensive coordinator and others wishing him well, suggesting that the university build a statue in his honor because, “one day we’ll realize, in the big picture, how great he was.”

Tap the brakes.

Nobody likes seeing a man lose his job, but it’s hard to not just own up to the fact that Sooners fans wanted this $920,000 state employee to blitz once in a while. I mourn my journalism brethren losing their jobs when a new media conglomerate comes in and buys the newspaper, professionals of all stripes losing their gigs to downsizing at various energy companies around the city and teachers not getting paid what they should in general.

All Mike Stoops really had to do was lay off the 5-yard cushion, blitz a little more often and stop somebody. Anybody.

Do that, and most of us would have been down for him making twice what he made.

It’s hard to feel bad for a guy who made that much money to coach football. The quid pro quo in that business is that coaches have to produce results, and the results for most of Mike Stoops’ career since he returned to OU in 2012 suggest the change should have happened after the 54-48 loss in the Rose Bowl last January. Or before.

Oklahoma’s defense has been pretty terrible for years.

Oklahoma’s offense has been great.

The defense hasn’t lived up to the bargain much past 2002 or 2003 to be honest. Remember the 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game? How about letting USC hit us with 55 in the now-vacated national title game a year later.

Heck, even in 2001, we gave up 27 to North Carolina after opening a mammoth lead on the Tar Heels. To be fair, that season ended with an unrecognizable 10-3 bowl game win over Arkansas.

But Mike Stoops’ defense has never been great, not consistently it hasn’t.

The players he inherited from John Blake, in a more aggressive Mike Stoops (and Brent Venables) scheme, were fantastic. All credit to li’l brother on that. He was the right man for the job for a specific moment.

But we’re not going to erect a statue to John Blake any time soon either. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that he was a terrible football coach. I recall distinctly looking over at my fellow season-ticket holder during Game 1 of the Blake years, a loss to TCU, and saying, “We’re screwed.”

For the record, what tipped it off, if you’ll recall that 20-7 loss to the Horned Frogs in Norman in 1996 was the fact the OU team had a hard time not having 12 men in the huddle. We were only penalized twice for 10 yards that day, but I recall the offensive squad being unable to get its personnel onto and off the field.

Alas, Mike Stoops will have plenty of opportunity whether it be in coaching or media or business. He is not unliked and, I’m sure, he’ll be welcomed at tailgates and parties and social functions galore over the next few years. He’ll always be a Sooner.

But they just couldn’t keep paying a dude $920,000 a year to give up 40 points a game. This tweet, below, encompasses exactly why Mike Stoops’ defensive strategy was genuinely awful, for the Big 12, SEC, CFL or the World League of Football. Be careful not to say that Mike Stoops was terrible. By all accounts, he’s a good dude.

But his defensive scheme was not good at all.

Just watch. It’s brutal.

Godspeed, Mike Stoops, and good luck. Next time, blitz.

Who says the Sooners defense even has to listen to Mike Stoops?

I’m going to be fully transparent about this: I’m kind of over the overreaction to Oklahoma’s 48-45 loss to Texas. Make no mistake: Oklahoma was whipped by Texas, and despite that final score, don’t let anybody fool you. It was an ass-beating.

And it was a whip to watch, too.

Maybe I’m just old school, but give me a 17-14 tilt with Nebraska any day. This 62-52 Bedlam, 48-45 OU-Texas stuff is for the birds. It’s Arena Football in disguise.

For those of you in the “college football is way better than the NFL” crowd, let me express how wrong you are. The NFL is beautiful to watch compared to the college game, especially the version trotted out by the Big 12.

Vomit.

I crave a 16-13 Steelers-Ravens slugfest.

It is beyond time for the Sooners to have a new voice, a new vision, a new scheme and strategy and even tactics on the defensive side of the ball. But as of 11:15 p.m., I’m starting to feel sorry for Mike Stoops.

Dude has taken a beating today. Present company included.

Enough.

I know he makes $920,000 a year, but he’s still just a coach — a coach who stood up after the game and answered every question and took full blame for the atrocious defense that showed up at the Cotton Bowl.

A coach who has the same problem a lot of other Big 12 coaches have. Heck, Oklahoma State gave up 48 to Iowa State.

Thank goodness for the Oklahoma offense, and thank goodness for Kyler Murray. QB1 played sick today, and he led the Sooners back from a 45-24 deficit with the help of Trey Sermon and Hollywood Brown.

My first thought was that Mike Stoops and the entire defensive staff should look him in the eye and apologize.

But you know what? He probably did. I’ve never gotten the sense that Mike Stoops is an ogre. He’s not the answer to solving Big 12 offenses, however.

Somebody else is.

Maybe it’ll be an NFL type. Maybe it’ll be an old-school SEC guy.

At this point, I don’t blame the defense on the players because when they’re in schemes that allow them to be aggressive, they do pretty well. Go back to Game 1 versus Florida Atlantic, or recall the bone-crushing hit from Caleb Kelly against the Baylor quarterback last week.

Sure, the Oklahoma defenders are a little small. They’re built for speed.

And, sure, they could learn how to tackle better.

But this is a defense that is on pace for only five or six interceptions for the season. That might be Oklahoma’s lowest total ever.

Sure could have used them today.

I’ll presume that Lincoln Riley wouldn’t deign to make a mid-season change at coordinator. I’d be stunned if that happened.

But there’s another option for the Sooners’ defense.

Be like the greatest defensive player Oklahoma has had the past 25 years: Roy Williams.

Stop listening to Mike Stoops.

Blitz. Do what you want.

Let Coach Stoops call the play, and then forget what he suggests and wing it intuitively. It might be that the solution to Big 12 offenses is granting more strategy and scheme decisions to the players themselves.

Let’s go back to 2001.

When Roy Williams skied to knock the ball from Chris Simms’ hand, he did so against the will of co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. If it had been up to Mike Stoops, the Superman play would have never happened.

From a NewsOK.com article back in 2011:

Roy Williams wasn’t supposed to jump.

His coach told him two or three times not to do it. His experience told him that disobeying those orders, especially in the Red River Rivalry, would get him a tongue lashing.

But how is Superman supposed to fly without jumping?

“When we walked on that field … I already knew in my mind I was leaving my feet,” he said. “Forget what coach said.”

Exactly.

Forget what coach said.

Half of Mike Stoops’ reputation is founded upon that play, and it happened in spite of him. But to be fair, it’s not like Stoops punished No. 38 for making that awesome play either. Maybe there’s a balance between being a defensive coordinator and just letting your talented players ball out on the field.

My confidence level in the Oklahoma defense as-is being able to stop anybody the rest of the year is practically zero, without changes. Even then, it probably is what it is for 2018.

The bigger point is that with Stoops leading the defensive charge, there is really no hope for change or improvement. This is like a boxing match that’s gone on too long, and I’m feeling sorry for the guy getting his face punched in.

The most merciful thing that could be done is to relieve Mike Stoops of his duties or reassign him within the football program to save face. Lincoln Riley would be doing him a favor.