So . . . Serge Ibaka wasn’t the answer?
One game after pundits, fans, and possibly family members questioned him for leaving his All-Defensive First Team force on the bench, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks gave Ibaka 39 minutes. Those minutes produced 8 points, 10 rebounds (5 offensive), 4 blocks, and 0 wins.
It’s not fair to rest the Thunder’s 0-2 deficit in the Western Conference Finals entirely on Ibaka’s shoulders, or Brooks’, or any other individual’s. They all share blame for a collective inability to execute critical instructions. The Thunder trailed throughout Game 2 because they forgot these basketball truths:
1) “Referees are like the weather – complain about them all you want, but there’s little you can do about them.”
When officials are calling the game tight, smart teams adjust accordingly. When officials are calling the Oklahoma City Thunder tight, they respond by setting more moving picks, lowering their shoulders when driving to the basket, angrily scowling after clear violations, and generally failing to respect the social compact between players and zebras.
After James Harden’s charges memorably sank the Thunder down the stretch in Game 1, Kendrick Perkins opened Game 2 by hooking Tim Duncan while making a spin move and setting a blatant moving pick two possessions later. Responding to perceived officiating bias by making one’s violations more apparent is a curious strategy that has yet to pay off in this series.
2) “Close out on the shooters.”
Tony Parker is not usually a 78% shooter, but that accuracy is less aberrational than it appears, since his 16 made field goals in 21 attempts came almost entirely on runners, floaters, and midrange jumpers from his favorite spots on the pick and roll.
Similarly, Danny Green recovered from his horrific Game 1 once the Thunder allowed him a few open looks from his preferred corner area.
3) “Some days, you win; some days, you lose; some days, it rains.”
Admittedly, this is cheating – it’s from Bull Durham, which is not, strictly speaking, about basketball – but it might apply to the Thunder’s plight better than any existing sports cliche. Some days, no matter what you do, it isn’t your day.
Consider a casual fan examining the box score of tonight’s game. He would see that Kevin Durant had 31 points, Harden 30, Russell Westbrook 27, and Derek Fisher even chipped in with 10 . . . in a nine-point loss. The Thunder’s three stars were 150% more productive than in Game 1, in other words, and all it did was give San Antonio an easier win.
The Spurs might just be better. They scorched the nets tonight, hitting 43 of 78 shots (55%), but even if their marksmanship was unsustainable, they have now shown the ability to win ugly or pretty, by coming from behind or dominating. The Thunder have been a terrific foil, but they have the same result after two games against the Spurs as the Jazz and Clippers did.
Time is running out on a season full of progress in Oklahoma City. They may be able to save some face in front of their home crowd on Thursday, but it’s hard to believe anyone in blue feels confident.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.