The Thunder lost the kind of game last night that you lose sleep over. What if Kevin Durant had hit 2-4 from 3 instead of 1-4? What if George Hill doesn’t get “fouled” right before the half and awarded three free throws? What if James Harden were healthy? But you wouldn’t be asking yourself these mind-numbing questions had one shot not rimmed out. Thabo Sefolosha got a good look from 3 with eight seconds left, but just didn’t make it. And while “Thabo Sefolosha” and “last shot” typically don’t go hand-in-hand, Scott Brooks said after the game the play was executed well and KD made a good decision passing out of a double-team. So let’s have a good look at that final play, shall we?
First, the play. Russell Westbrook goes to the corner and then drifts out toward mid-court, freeing the corner up for a man, who in this case is Kevin Durant, coming off a down-screen on the baseline. Everyone else is basically a decoy. Serge Ibaka set the screen for Durant and got out of the way. Jeff Green is just floating and available for a kickout if there’s a drive. Not the most brilliant thing in the world, but in the end, it got a good look.
Two things jump out off the bat: 1) Serge Ibaka’s screen was terrible. Some of that was his fault, but a lot of that was KD’s fault. That kind of play is all timing and Durant either left a hair too early, or Ibaka was a little late getting in position to set the screen. Serge was flat out awesome in the fourth quarter of this game, but if I’m second guessing – and I am – why not have maybe the NBA’s best screen-setter in Nick Collison in the game to set Durant’s pick? 2) I like how Thabo was ready to shoot and took it confidently. He really stepped into it with no hesitation.
As a result of the poor screen, Durant is forced completely to the sideline. Manu Ginobili (hate you) leaves Thabo immediately to double KD. And since Durant is on the sideline, he’s essentially triple-teamed. In hindsight, if Durant had been immediately decisive and felt Ginobili’s double coming, he could’ve spun baseline on the catch. Keith Bogans would’ve been on his hip, Duncan would’ve had to rotate over and KD would have had a nice pull-up or a chance to dish. Of course in that moment with the clocking spinning down, it’s hard to sense that.
The trap has happened. Durant has two options: He could really force the issue, swing the ball to his left and try and plow through this double OR he could kick out to an open shooter. If this were Kobe or Melo, they likely would’ve forced their way through the double and heaved up a tough shot. If this were LeBron, he’s going to make the “right” basketball play and find his open teammate. It’s up for you to decide what you would’ve rather had. Obviously, Scott Brooks drew this up for Durant to take the final shot. But things broke down and he had to make a decision. If Sefolosha’s 3 rattles in instead of out, we’re praising KD for trusting teammates and making the right play. Funny how that works.
Like I said, Thabo was completely decisive and didn’t hesitate at all. Which is what you want. He was ready to shoot. One thing that’s hard not to notice is how much time is on the clock. There’s 7.2 seconds left when Thabo is lining it up. So really, he had more options. He could’ve gone to triple-threat, drawing defenders, and kicked the ball back to Durant. He could’ve given the ball to Westbrook and let him create penetration. Heck, there’s a slim opening for him to fire a pass to Ibaka if he wanted. But that’s the thing, in that moment, in that pressure situation, you have to be decisive. It’s not easy to run all those options through your head. Plus, it’s better to shoot sooner than later because it gives an opportunity for offensive rebounding.
Yes, it’s not ideal to have Thabo taking your game-winning try. He was the second option as the inbounder. So if you wanted someone else available for that shot, someone else should’ve been passing it in. But really, there are only two guys on the roster I’d rather had KD kick to there. One is Jeff Green and the other wasn’t in uniform (James Harden). So if Durant was doubled and made the right pass, who else should it have gone to? Eric Maynor? Kyle Weaver? Russell Westbrook, a 23 percent 3-point shooter? In that situation, with no Harden, Thabo honestly may have been the best option to take that shot. You can say he shouldn’t have been in the game, but who would you have replaced him with?
It’s true a better design maybe would’ve gotten Durant the ball with space to operate. But a simple thing like Ibaka and Durant syncing up on their timing could’ve made all the difference in the world. That’s not Scott Brooks’ fault. Yeah, maybe Nick Collison should’ve been in setting that pick. But players have to make plays. And if Sefolosha had made one more, we wouldn’t be talking about this. Such is basketball.
(Also, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook does a far better job breaking this all down if you want to have a look.)