Day 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs ended with a bang, as Kevin Durant pulled on his Superman cape to deliver the Oklahoma City Thunder a one-point escape at home.
Neutral fans were delighted to close the day with some excitement. Thunder fans, though, had to wonder: how did we narrowly escape these guys again? Shouldn’t the team with 47 wins easily handle the aging, past-its-prime 36-win team, especially at home?
Here were the main reasons that it took Durant’s homage to 1999 Allan Houston for the home team to emerge on top.
1) Strange Offensive Balance
Try this with a friend who’s watched a few Oklahoma City games but doesn’t follow the Thunder religiously: “Quick, name six players who scored for the Thunder in Game 1.”
Your friend: “Um, Durant, Westbrook, Harden . . . Ibaka?”
You: “That’s four.”
Your friend: “Who’s their fifth starter? Sefalosha?”
You: “He scored too.”
Your friend: “Kendrick Perkins?”
You: “That’s funny. It’s actually a trick question. Only five players scored a point.”
Anyone studying last night’s box score has to wonder about the sustainability of Oklahoma City’s offensive effort. In particular, it’s hard to envision Serge Ibaka scoring 22 points on 9-12 shooting (including the third three-pointer of his career) at any other point in the series.
The Thunder will need to find ways to get Daequan Cook, Nick Collison and maybe even Derek Fisher more involved if they hope to take some shot-creation pressure off of Russell Westbrook, Durant and James Harden (apparently recovered from his run-in with Metta World Peace’s elbow, with 19 points on just seven field goal attempts).
2) Allowing Offensive Comfort
Dallas’ one-on-one games were frequently surgical, especially when Dirk Nowitzki (started 1-7 from the field, then hit 7-11 afterward) or Jason Terry (8-10 field goals) found himself isolated against one defender.
The Thunder did a vastly better job against Nowitzki than at any point in last season’s playoffs, but Dirk still got the shots he wanted, frequently penetrating past Ibaka and Perkins and drawing fouls (9-10 free throws).
Oklahoma City should, if possible, focus on forcing Dallas’ secondary players to carry the offensive load. They can start by daring Shawn Marion to put up 17 points with three three-pointers again.
3) Not Following Westbrook’s Lead
This was the mature, focused Russell Westbrook who dominated the league in the month of March. He repeatedly eschewed long jump shots in favor of his money-in-the-bank pull-up from the elbows, which he hit at will over Jason Kidd and Delonte West.
Even more gratifying, though, were the several instances in which Westbrook sacrificed makable shots in order to set up his teammates. John Stockton would’ve beamed with pride to see Westbrook pass up a 10-footer in order to set up Durant (1-6 from the field to that point) for an easy first-quarter jumper, or slow up on a two-on-none breakaway to give his All-Star teammate a dunk.
If every Thunder player can find that same balance of aggression and unselfishness, they won’t need any hero-ball from Durant to pull out the next game.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.