Like the slasher-movie victims who can’t get out of their own way, the Oklahoma City Thunder players spent Monday’s game fumbling around as if their power had been cut and they had no idea where Jason Voorhees was hiding.
Playing the part of Jason tonight: the Memphis Grizzlies, OKC’s very own 2011 Playoffs bogeyman. The playoff beards are gone and the version of Zach Randolph limps around much less effectively, but the Thunder are still looking over its collective shoulder every time these guys are near.
In lieu of “Don’t go in there!,” here’s what Thunder fans were yelling at their screens:
* “Stop pounding the ball!” As in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, the Thunder spent too much time on stationary dribbling and not enough time passing. Their 33 field goals came on only 14 assists. Their most prominent “isolators,” Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, shot a combined 11-36 from the field, much of it under duress against Memphis’ pesky, long-limbed defensive rotations.
* “Stop giving up second shots!” The Grizzlies were never a good shooting team, but they almost knocked the Thunder out of last season’s playoffs by attempting more shots thanks to steals and offensive rebounds. Tonight, they shot only 39.1% from the field, but attempted 87 field goals to OKC’s 73. They had five more offensive rebounds and eight fewer turnovers than the Thunder. Marreese Speights and Rudy Gay, neither of whom played for Memphis in last year’s postseason, had four offensive boards each.
* “Stop turning your head on defense!” Teams with quick guards and smart-passing big men can feast on the Thunder with penetration and backdoor cutting. O.J. Mayo (seven shot attempts in the paint) and fill-in starter Jeremy Pargo (four) exploited this weakness on several occasions.
* “Gilbert Arenas is a shell of his former self and was never a good defender to begin with – how is he denying KD?!” Nothing further to add.
* “STOP FORCING UP THREES RUSSELL!!!!” Especially off the dribble, with a hand in your face, when nobody else on your team touches the ball. The Thunder fans were too busy taking deep breaths to fill in those details.
* “______________________” That was the horrified silence that greeted Mayo’s dagger three-pointer which extended Memphis’ lead to four with 17.2 seconds remaining.
Thunder fans – or at least, their fictionalized avatars appearing above – may seem hysterical and overreactive after their team’s first loss in its past seven games. They might further benefit from a reminder that their heroes were just over 24 hours removed from a beat-down of the East-leading Bulls.
In the moment, though, the lights are off, the phone line is cut, and a shadowy figure with a knife lurks offscreen. Thunder fans have seen this movie before. They can only hope for a different ending.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.