As premature proclamations go, this is a strong one: Thunder fans are watching the best series of the 2012 postseason.
Two brutally hard-fought contests have thus far resembled a boxing match, with the aging defending champs absorbing blow after blow from their upstart challengers. Or perhaps a Shakespeare tragedy, with soul-baring soliloquies from the stars occasionally interspersed with low-comedy interludes from the clowns.
Regardless of the metaphor, Oklahoma City’s 2-0 series lead makes little sense. The Thunder needed a miraculous Kevin Durant heave to escape in Game 1, and a once-in-a-blue-moon misfire from a wide-open Dirk Nowitzki to survive Game 2.
Sometimes, though, the playoffs defy sense. Case in point: Kendrick Perkins awakening for 13 points and 6 rebounds – including two free throws to give his team a 3-point lead with under four minutes left – after being blanked offensively in Game 1. He even opened the game by hitting back-to-back midrange jump shots, which Dallas was willing to give him since he hit 28% of his attempts from beyond 10 feet this season.
Perkins’ offensive eruption was just the tip of the fourth quarter’s nonsense iceberg. What about . . .
- Westbrook and Derek Fisher – 31% three-point shooters during the regular season – hitting back-to-back threes to give the Thunder a four-point lead with under six minutes left?
- Or Durant suffering through a miserable shooting game, but finding his way to the free throw line enough to make up for it, then breaking through with a line-drive jumper to extend his team’s lead as the clock ticked under 5:00?
- Or Westbrook drawing a charge from the reigning Finals MVP to stop one of Dallas’ last rallies?
- Or Jason Kidd – Jason Kidd! – throwing an inexplicable pass to an opponent with his team up one and looking for the kill?
One strategic note: the Mavericks have apparently decided to concede Westbrook’s elbow jumper, rather than get in his face and give him room to drive. Delonte West and Jason Kidd persisted in playing a step off even as Westbrook hit six of eleven attempts from 14-18 feet, bringing his series total from midrange to 11-20 (55%). Since he was a 40% midrange shooter during the regular season, Dallas’ strategy makes sense – especially when Westbrook misfired on his last three from 16-20 feet.
Given the razor-thin margin of the first two games, should Thunder fans fear a regression to the mean for Westbrook? Or has he merely returned to his March form? He remains the most fascinating player in this series, capable of taking over games for five minutes, only to shoot his team in the foot for the next three. If his growth continues, though, he could impose his will on the wide-open Western Conference. We all need to make sure we watch.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.