One of my favorite basketball sayings comes via the always excellent Stan Van Gundy who said to write the story with the ball in the air. I heard that used for the first time by Tas Melas on a Basketball Jones episode recently and it made total sense to me. Too much sense.
And if you were doing that in Oklahoma City Saturday night, your story would’ve looked like this: Kevin Durant didn’t shoot well at all; the Thunder’s defense was absolutely awful; OKC’s offense was elementary against a poor defensive team; and really, the Thunder didn’t deserve to have a chance to win.
Except KD sunk a beautiful fade-away 3 and we all went home happy. Just like that Durant had a wonderful game, the sins of the first half were forgotten and the Thunder had just won a great game. Again, I love that quote.
But here’s the thing: Even the Thunder’s game-winning play kind of stunk. They didn’t execute properly and what OKC wound up with was a near impossible shot from 3-point range at the buzzer. So if you’re writing the story with the ball in the air, you’re probably saying something about how poor a shot the Thunder got at the end of regulation.
Regardless, it went down and it was a great player making a great player. But for fun, let’s break this baby down.
The play was drawn up for Nick Collison to rub Danilo Gallinari off of Kevin Durant and give him space to work. I don’t think it was drawn up for KD to shoot off the catch, because that means the shot would’ve gone up with four seconds left.
But here’s what I don’t like about this play already. KD is catching the ball moving away from the bucket. He’s not a great ball-handler to start with and on the catch, he’s going to be headed straight for the sideline. Collison’s pick doesn’t work though as Gallinari skates right by it, so the point is moot. Also, it’s pretty clear from this shot that the Thunder didn’t have a section option if KD was covered. Thabo isn’t involved, Jeff Green is just standing and I guess Westbrook using a drive is the secondary play.
KD has to make a slight move to come back and get the ball. Here’s the thing: Collison’s pick was so bad, after watching this 20 or so times, I started to wonder if it was designed that way. Collison sets great screens and he didn’t get any of Gallinari here. And the way KD comes back to get the ball, maybe this was a little wrinkle to play to get KD in isolation. That’s just a guess though.
The big mistake here by the Knicks was not running an extra defender at Durant. Amar’e Stoudemire makes sense, but I figured Felton would double KD on the catch right away. That would’ve forced KD to swing it back to Westbrook and probably meant Westbrook was taking a 20-footer at the buzzer. Instead, Felton stood aimlessly just watching like you and me.
Durant has a lot of trouble when two defenders swarm him because he’s not a good enough ball-handler to get by a double. Most teams do this when OKC tries to iso. New York didn’t.
As for where we’re at in the “play,” I think this what Brooks’ plan. KD has the ball alone on the wing with Gallinari on him. Collison’s screen may have been an effort to get Ronny Turiaf to switch onto KD, but still, Gallo isn’t a great defender. The only issue is I think the play was intended for Durant to get the ball a little closer to the rim. Instead, he’s at the 3-point line.
Money. And as you’ll notice, the most crucial part of this whole breakdown is KD’s swaggin’ after he nailed it.
You can’t always write the story with the ball in the air when a player the caliber of KD is taking the shot. Because even bad shots are pretty good ones. As evidenced Saturday night.