The Oklahoma City Thunder must head back to Houston for Friday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference first round, with a 3-2 lead in the series but a two-game losing streak on the week.
Dropping Game 5 at home by a score 0f 107-100, while creating sports-radio fodder with a disastrous “Hack-a-Asik” sequence in the fourth quarter, may have sent OKC fans into panic mode. What may make them feel even worse is how easy it is to diagnose their problem – and how little anyone can do about it.
Kevin Durant has been the best player in Seattle/Oklahoma City since he arrived in 2007, but the margin of superiority has never been this pronounced.
For the playoffs, Durant thus far leads the Thunder in points, assists, turnovers, and shot attempts of all types, and he’s a hair behind Serge Ibaka for the lead in rebounds. Since Russell Westbrook’s season-ending knee injury in Game 2 of the playoffs, Durant’s usage rate has jumped from 28.1% to 34.8%, per nba.com’s Stats tool.
The workload is obviously taking its toll on the three-time scoring champion: In Games 1 and 2, he committed three total turnovers. Without Westbrook, that number has jumped to 14 over the past three games.
Westbrook watched most of Game 5 from high in a luxury suite with a grim expression. Here were the candidates he saw attempting to fill his second-banana shoes:
Ibaka – “The Favorite”
He has the physical skills and the contract extension that amounted to Thunder management choosing him over James Harden. His improvement this season mostly justified the big money, as he led the league in blocked shots again, shored up some of the defensive work that doesn’t make highlight film, and improved his shooting.
His playoff performance has thus far been solid but unspectacular, with numbers roughly commensurate with his regular-season output, and few memorable moments. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to stand out if Houston continues to use Harden against him on defense, but Serge may not have the polish necessary to take advantage of a smaller player.
Kevin Martin – “The Import”
After a productive and efficient season, Martin has underwhelmed against Houston, shooting under 35% from the field and looking somewhat lost against Houston’s small lineups. He’s also suffered from his team’s inability to take late leads, which negates his skill at drawing fouls and converting free throws.
Thabo Sefalosha – “The Darkhorse”
His shooting came a long way this season, but it’s regressed in the playoffs, where he’s seen his three-point accuracy drop from 41.9% to 30% against the Rockets. He’s also had an awfully hard time staying in front of James Harden, considering that he practiced with Houston’s new star every day for three years and should have a good handle on that tricky hesitation-crossover.
Nick Collison – “The Forgotten Man”
This blog has long wondered why Collison doesn’t feature more prominently in OKC’s scheme, and his passing and mobility seem to make him a good match against the small-ball Rockets. His 15 minutes per game have not been enough to give him a chance to shine.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.