The Oklahoma City Thunder could be up 3-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals, if only they knew how.
Instead, they face the prospect of falling behind 3-1, after blowing Saturday’s Game 3 in agonizing fashion.
Bad decisions abounded from the game’s first minutes. For the most costly example, we need only look late in the fourth quarter, when Reggie Jackson scored back-to-back baskets, pulling his team within six points.
Jackson then made the kind of decision he’ll have to eliminate if he wants to be a viable NBA point guard: he decided that nobody on his team needed to touch the ball on the subsequent possession. He hoisted a hopeless 15-foot half-floater that missed badly and killed the Thunder momentum.
Jackson wasn’t done, saving his two least-explicable fouls for the last two minutes. First was an over-aggressive charge with the score tied and 1:31 remaining, when it would have been far more prudent to back the ball out and look for a better shot. Then, with 50 seconds left and his team down by a basket, he needlessly hacked Mike Conley, who hit two free throws to stretch the lead to four.
This is an indictment of Jackson’s decision-making, but it’s also a vivid look at how ugly things get when the Thunder let anyone other than Kevin Durant make important basketball decisions. Scott Brooks has tried to buy Durant some rest, but he would be justified in playing his superstar as close to 48 minutes per game as possible, since the rest of his roster has regressed to a third-grade level of playmaking.
Serge Ibaka has suffered the most graphically and vividly, having blown a wonderful opportunity to assert himself as a true borderline-All-Star once Russell Westbrook was lost for the playoffs.
Here were his first five minutes tonight: make 1-2 free throws after being fouled on a fast break; miss a wide-open dunk; miss a wide-open jump shot; pass up a wide-open shot to shovel the ball backward to Durant, then get the ball back and miss a contested 20-footer that he forced over Zach Randolph. (In the second quarter, he decided he wasn’t done missing dunks, bricking another open one from the left side.) His effort level is still passable, but he looks mentally shaken by his lack of success in this series.
To his credit, he kept trying hard in the second half, making several huge plays near the basket on both ends. Still, it is hard to ignore his 0-7 mark on shots outside the paint, or the terror on his face as he attempted each. It was the face we’ve all made in pickup games when taking shots that we know are necessary to the offensive flow, but have no chance of success.
It must be obvious that Ibaka and Jackson both have to break through serious mental barriers in order to give Durant the support he needs – and they were the two best supporting players the Thunder had in Game 3. Unless someone else steps up, the West’s top seed will be going home early.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.