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Thunder-ous Failure in LA

Posted By Steven Jones On Apr 17 2012 @ 10:44 am In Oklahoma City Thunder | No Comments

“We can be as bad as anyone in this league. ANYONE.”

This was the statement made by the Oklahoma City Thunder, with the top seed in the Western Conference on the line, against an opponent who had defeated them twice in agonizing fashion.

They needed only two quarters to deliver this message, scoring a brutal 25 points in 24 minutes in the second half. The 11-point fourth quarter looks the worst on paper, but the 14-point third quarter – in which a) no Thunder player other than Kendrick Perkins or Serge Ibaka hit any shot, and b) no Thunder player made any basket from beyond two feet – was the real canary in this particular mineshaft.

Since the Thunder somehow emerged from that mess tied with their hosts, it would be easy to point fingers at the final period as their undoing. That kind of thinking, though, fails to credit the full offensive meltdown that transpired after halftime. Here were the major culprits.

Kevin Durant: The stat line looks reasonable, before the 0-7 three-point shooting jumps off the page. If there has been a common statistical thread in Oklahoma City’s losses this season, it is Durant’s wayward long-distance marksmanship. A few lowlights:

  • 1/3/12 vs. POR – 1-7 3PT, OKC L 93-103
  • 1/18/12 vs. WAS – 2-10 3PT, OKC L 102-105
  • 2/15/12 vs. HOU – 2-7 3PT, OKC L 95-96
  • 3/3/12 vs. ATL – 3-10 3PT, OKC L 90-97
  • 3/9/12 vs. CLE – 1-7 3PT, OKC L 90-96
  • 3/16/12 vs. SAS – 2-8 3PT, OKC L 105-114
  • 4/2-4/6/12 vs. MEM, MIA, IND – 7-23 3PT, all OKC Ls
Overall, in Oklahoma City’s losses this season, Durant has attempted 6.9 three-pointers, making 31.5% of them. In the team’s wins, he’s attempted only 4.5 per game, but made 42.1%.
There is clearly some chicken-egg dynamic at work here, since many of his attempts come after the offense has failed to find better looks and he is forced to heave under heavy defensive pressure.
The signs remain worrisome. If Durant is doing too much of his work from 25 feet, his team becomes all too vulnerable.
Russell Westbrook: Played arguably his worst game of the season, continuing his mystifying April slump (22.2 PPG on 40.2% FG, after a March that saw him take the league by storm by scoring 26.6 PPG and hitting 49.1% from the field).
In four games against Chris Paul and the Clippers this season he’s put up some of his worst numbers, attempting fewer shots (19.0) than usual but hitting far fewer of them (36.8%).
With LA’s other team looming as a potential second-round opponent, the Thunder need to figure out how to get Westbrook either some easier shots, or some help chasing Paul around on defense, lest he wear down enough to render him ordinary.
Ball Movement: The 37.5% field goal shooting was ugly, the 5-22 three-point mark worse, but the most telling statistic was in the AST column, where the Thunder registered just 12.
Oklahoma City’s losses have mostly come when their offense stagnates into isolations. When they move the ball quickly, even limited offensive players like Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefalosha look useful. When the ball stops, even extraordinary talents like Durant and Westbrook look limited.

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