The Oklahoma City Thunder have a lot of work to do.
No one game serves as a microcosm of an entire season, but the Thunder’s 106-101 loss at home to probable opening playoff opponent Denver showcased most of what has made them dangerous – to both themselves and their opposition.
For the last time before the postseason starts, let’s round up the usual suspects.
The Thunder scored 38 points in the paint (including these two); they gave up 54 to the Nuggets. There have been similar disparities every time the two teams have met this season: in three games, Denver averages 59.3 points in the paint, to OKC’s 38.7.
At least the Thunder jump shots were landing tonight. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both looked recovered from the 14-56 nightmare that a national TV audience watched on Sunday. The concern remains, though, that the Thunder don’t have much of a Plan B if the outside shots are off. They could always get hot for four straight rounds, a la the 2010-11 Mavericks, but their lack of firepower might be the biggest reason to bet against them.
The Supporting Cast
Westbrook (10-20 FG, 9-10 FT, 30 points) and Durant (12-23 FG, 5-8 3Pt, 32 points) were their best selves in the regular-season finale, as they’ve been for most of the year. But as with many agonizing Thunder losses, too few role players stepped up to relieve pressure from the All-Star duo.
Serge Ibaka (7-9 FG, 4 blocks) played one of his better offensive games of the season – as he’s done before against Denver - and Derek Fisher (4-9 FG, 9 points) even contributed one of his best efforts in a Thunder uniform. But Thabo Sefalosha (0-2 FG, 0 points) and Nick Collison (2 points, 3 rebounds in 21 minutes) were missing in action.
Collison may have missed his buddy James Harden, who would have helped tonight (although maybe not that much – he’s put up some of his worst numbers this season against the Nuggets) and seems likely to be at full strength for the playoffs. Still, it’s troubling that even with Durant and Westbrook putting on an offensive efficiency show, and Ibaka stepping up big, there still wasn’t enough firepower to finish off an inferior team. There might have been another reason, though . . .
There’s No “D” in “Oklahoma City”
Ty Lawson was arguably the best player on the floor Wednesday, scoring 25 points on only 15 shot attempts and living in the paint. He’s one of a number of quick point guards who’ve chewed up the Thunder this season (check out what Chris Paul and Tony Parker have done against them).
There’s also the aforementioned interior defensive issue, highlighted by Kenneth Faried’s double-double in only 28 minutes of action and JaVale McGee (5-9 FG, 10 points in 18 minutes) looking like a real NBA player. These numbers raised the specter of the February overtime near-loss that saw Kosta Kuofos go for 13 points and 9 boards (5 offensive) on 6-7 shooting. If the Thunder can’t stop Denver’s platoon of big leapears, can they even make it out of the first round?
A more extensive playoff preview will follow Friday once pairings are finalized.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.