The eight questions that linger after a stupefying meltdown by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Monday’s Game 4 . . .
Q: How do you lose a playoff game while outrebounding your opponent by 24 and shooting four points better from the field?
A: Committing 26 turnovers, more than one-third of them by your leading scorer and star, is a start. So is needlessly putting one of the best foul-shooting teams in the league at the line with silly fourth-quarter fouls.
Q: Does any of that matter if you led by 15 with five minutes left in regulation?
A: Provided that the other team misses exactly one shot from that moment onward, yes. Especially if their star is in the midst of the postseason’s greatest hot streak.
Q: Is there an NBA player, living or dead, who could theoretically have guarded Dirk Nowitzki when he’s on this kind of tear?
A: Dennis Rodman might have had the best chance. Kevin Garnett had quick feet and the reach to bother his shot. Hakeem Olajuwon would have come up with something interesting. The way Nowitzki’s playing now, though, he’s the most unguardable matchup left in the playoffs, even more than LeBron and Wade. The shots he made during the last 3:15 of regulation, when he scored 11 of Dallas’ last 12 to pull his team back from a double-digit deficit, were borderline-impossible and mostly came with Nick Collison draped all over him. He finished with 40 points on just 20 field goal attempts and 15 free throws.
Q: Dirk’s play notwithstanding, how big of an opportunity did the Thunder waste?
A: Serge Ibaka played his best game of the series (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5-8 jump shots). Thabo Sefalosha scored 12 points after totaling 14 in the previous three games combined. And the Thunder owned the boards and the paint. Finally, every other team in the past two seasons that led by 15 or more with five minutes left in the game held on to win. The Thunder have no excuse.
Q: Who’s to blame for this loss?
A: James Harden played the Bill Buckner obvious-scapegoat role: he fouled out on a silly collision with Nowitzki that started Dallas’ regulation-ending 14-2 run. Collison suffered the cruelest fate, ending up with a game-low -14 plus/minus figure mostly because he was guarding Nowitzki during the aforementioned spree. Everyone else’s numbers looked good, but those turnovers stick out like a leprous, rotting thumb, and Kevin Durant had nine of them, one of which came on the last play of regulation. This begs its own question . . .
Q: What was the Thunder’s plan on the last possession of regulation?
A: It’s unclear, but one would hope that a Russell Westbrook handoff to Durant, followed by a 30-foot heave that Shawn Marion blocked cleanly and Jason Kidd recovered, was not the first option. That was the worst game-ending play of the postseason. The only way it could have gone worse is if Durant had blown out a knee when he landed.
Q: Conversely, how fortunate was Kidd’s go-ahead three-pointer with 40.3 seconds left in overtime?
A: His balance was good, and he looked every bit the Jedi master when he faked Russell Westbrook off his feet to buy an open look. So it wasn’t completely a lucky shot, but he was leaping and leaning forward, neither of which are his strong suits at age 38.
Q: Do the Thunder have any chance to come back in this series?
A: A small one. They have won one game in Dallas, so heading back there for Game 5 isn’t the daunting task it might otherwise be. And they’ve been resilient all postseason, winning three times against Memphis after losing the previous game.
Realistically, though, that chance is miniscule, almost invisible. Dallas has looked in control for this whole series. Every time they bring the ball downcourt, they look like they’re likely to score. The Thunder struggle to put the ball in the basket in halfcourt, relying on Durant’s brilliance to bail them out of too many bad possessions.
The league’s leading scorer has indeed had a brilliant season. Unfortunately, it’s likely to end on Wednesday. If the Thunder couldn’t win tonight, they’re probably not winning one more time, let alone three in a row.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.