OKLAHOMA CITY — Because Paul George made a corner 3 with about four minutes remaining that made them believe, Thunder fans did not depart early.
Because every time Oklahoma City threatened to be done Jerami Grant would make something happen, the faithful remained faithful through the game’s middle section, too.
Because George hit a crazy 3 from the top of the arc as the final minute neared and the Thunder responded with a stop at the other end — and soon George was leading the break with Terrance Ferguson running alongside — there was every reason to believe OKC’s once lost cause was about to become, against all odds, a four-point game, the fans really believed.
However, Ferguson couldn’t handle George’s dish, Miami’s James Johnson follow slammed Bam Adebayo’s miss on the other end and the Thunder were never within six points again.
Though the final flurries were exciting, Oklahoma City’s 116-107 loss was just the latest chapter of a free fall that continues descending to greater depths.
Russell Westbrook, of course, had nothing to say about it. The OKC point guard was serving a one-game suspension after being hit with his 16th technical foul two nights earlier. And, as a suspended player, he was required to not be with his team.
The alarming thing about Thunder coach Billy Donovan may have been his lack of alarm following a game his team led 13-0 only to trail by 19 points with 6:44 remaining before the final push.
“I thought for the entire game, our guys competed and played really, really hard,” he said. “I just thought their bench played exceptionally well and made shots.”
If not alarmed, Donovan was at least right. Everything changed when Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade came off the bench for the Heat.
There was one lead change the entire game and it came on a Dragic 3 that put Miami up 20-19 with 2:12 remaining in the first quarter.
“We’ve been able to take a punch,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Dragic finished with 26 points that featured 6 of 9 3-point shooting.
Wade, whose first basket was Miami’s first basket — making it 13-2 5:04 into the first quarter — finished with 25 on 10 of 17 accuracy.
“The other part of it, too,” Donovan said, “was I thought we had some crucial timely turnovers that kind of stopped some momentum for us.”
He was right about that, too.
The Heat took care of the ball, giving it up just eight times. The Thunder gave it up 19 times.
Afterward, George said the team was sticking together, but that it can’t let night’s like Monday happen.
“When we’re on a team’s tail that early,” he said, “we’ve got to keep our foot there.”
George led OKC with 31 points on 9 of 18 shooting. Grant added 27 on 10 of 16 accuracy and Dennis Schroder finished with 20 points and six assists.
Grant grabbed 10 boards for a double-double and Steven Adams, despite foul trouble that limited him to less than 25 minutes, finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Still, it was the Thunder’s third straight loss, their fourth in six games and their 10th in 15.
“We’ve just got to keep working, every game try to get better … just play together,” Schroder said. “Do everything together.”
That may be.
Yet, lately, what the Thunder have been doing is losing together.