It’s All Their Fault!
The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost twice in 13 games. Each time, it was easy to find scapegoats. Step 1: look at the box score. Step 2: blame everyone not named Kevin or Russell.
Durant and Westbrook each rose to the challenge of tonight’s intense battle with the host Los Angeles Clippers. They combined for 67 points on 58 percent field goal shooting and led repeated runs.
Time and again, they sustained stretches of brilliance, undone by offensively-limited teammates. James Harden (1-5 three-point tries) could never hit the momentum-changing triple. Nazr Mohammed was too overwhelmed defensively to provide some of his signature bucket-getting. Daequan Cook’s four three-pointers looked good in the scorebook, but most of them came with his team trailing by 20.
Harden had his worst game in two weeks and seemed uncomfortable in an unaccustomed starting role (thanks to Thabo Sefalosha’s foot injury). In the normal OKC rotation, he enters at the perfect moment to seize the reins from Durant and Westbrook. If Sefalosha’s health woes persist, Cook might make more sense as the starter, the better to allow Harden to continue to wreak havoc on second-stringers.
Advanced Placement Point Guard-ing
Westbrook preys on less physical defenders like a shark smelling blood. He has evolved into a devastating straight-line driver, economizing his dribbles and getting to the hoop via the most direct route.
Unfortunately, tonight he was the second-best point guard on the floor. Chris Paul left a trail of broken ankles in the wake of his 26-point, 14-assist masterpiece. His penetration catalyzed the floor spacing that left openings for Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Mo Williams to drain 10 combined three-pointers.
Shooting that hot is unanswerable to an extent, but the Thunder didn’t help itself by repeatedly getting out of position on defensive rotations. The vaunted Paul-Blake Griffin pick and roll produced spectacular dunks – including one that Kendrick Perkins will see in his nightmares – and allowed Paul to steer the ball to one of his armada of shooters, or cause havoc in the paint.
The Big Picture
* The Thunder deserve credit for battling back with a 20-point deficit, though it’s easy to question the wisdom of Coach Scott Brooks’ minutes allocation (Westbrook, Durant, and Harden all played at least 38) in a game that was most likely a lost cause.
* The most disturbing harbinger remains the team’s lack of offensive flow. Only 15 of Oklahoma City’s 38 baskets were assisted, and all too often the game plan consisted of clearing out for Westbrook or Durant. The two are prodigious scoring talents, but they will wear down if they have to work this hard to score.
* If this game was a preview of the Western Conference Finals, mark your calendars for late May now. Even in a blowout, every viewer got his money’s worth: repeated scrums over loose balls, spectacular dunks (including Griffin’s aforementioned YouTube instant classic), breathtaking individual maneuvers, and a victory by the group that played together better. Seven games like this would be a treat for all of us.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.