Either (a) the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing a long con, or (b) they are in serious trouble.
Most who witnessed them blow a 16-point fourth-quarter lead en route to a 114-106 double-overtime loss to the Lakers on Sunday would choose option (b).
Familiar demons resurfaced in a building that’s haunted the Thunder for all of 2012. Behold the name of each frightful specter:
Turnovers - Every fan knows – because every broadcaster brings it up constantly – that the Thunder lead the NBA in turnovers. They do so largely because of sloppiness with the ball and the tendency of their stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, to try to do too much with the ball.
For this game, the blog debuted a new stat called “Turnovers Narrowly Avoided (TONA).” Even when the Thunder hold onto the ball, they don’t keep it as safely as they should. Tonight’s main offenders follow.
- Durant: 5 TOs, 4 TONAs
- Westbrook: 3 TOs, 5 TONAs
- Thabo Sefalosha: 4 TOs, 0 TONAs
Durant and Westbrook mostly got stripped or lost the ball while being loose with their dribbles; Sefalosha contented himself with throwing bad passes or being unable to catch the ball. Either way, the TONA count casts events in a horrifying light: OKC’s 17 turnovers could easily have been 27. The Lakers kept a high-energy lineup in the game long enough to take advantage.
Westbrook’s Evil Twin – After a stellar March, Westbrook has regressed badly in April’s 12 games. His points, shooting percentages, and assists have plummeted, while his turnovers have risen sharply.
Today, he shot an unspeakable 3-22. He threw some good passes and his free throws were flawless, but his much-improved jump shot deserted him. He was clearly pressing too hard after the horrifying Metta World Peace/James Harden dust-up, which surfaces now as our third ghost.
Harden Sits, Offense Softens – Harden left the game for good after World Peace’s vicious elbow rendered him prone and helpless for a few frightening first-half minutes. Oklahoma City’s offense mostly left with him.
Journalists with more access and time will pontificate about World Peace’s actions and their long-term ramifications over the next week. This blog merely witnessed an unsportsmanlike act that still managed to set the stage for its perpetrator’s team to rally.
Westbrook reacted to the dirty play and ensuing confrontation by pressing far too hard for the remainder of the game, epitomized by his missed third-quarter dunk that bounced 30 feet in the air.
Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins channeled their anger in more productive directions during the third quarter, but all wore down after their adrenaline-fueled assault on the Lakers’ inside game, ultimately wilting in the disastrous fourth quarter and overtime periods.
The Thunder’s respectable assist ratio number (23 of 37 field goals assisted) masked a disturbing return to the isolation-heavy offense that has characterized some of their worst moments.
All the more galling was Kobe Bryant’s maddening success with a similar approach in the game’s closing minutes. His two improbable three-pointers to close regulation and his clinching baskets in overtime were nothing short of Larry Bird-esque.
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