Did you know “Top Gun” was released 25 years ago Monday? Seems like only yesterday that I wore out my VHS copy of that movie when I dreamed about being a Navy aviator. Alas … I’m not.
Anyway, the occasion allows me to unapologetically rip off Bill Simmons and use one of my favorite column themes of recent years: giving out “awards” based on quotes from a movie or television series.
As it turns out, there are plenty of famous “Top Gun” lines that apply to the Thunder’s postseason run so far. (And for the record, the kindergarten-ish version of myself disagrees with the IMDb average rating for “Top Gun” of 6.6 out of 10 stars. To this day, I stick with my original rating of about 14 out of 10.)
Don’t tease me.
Serge Ibaka’s offensive explosion in Game 3 of the Denver series gets this one. His career-high-tying 22 points proved to be perhaps the biggest factor in a three-point win. His 11 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks per game playoff average line has been huge for the entire playoffs. But if Ibaka can put up 20+points in any given playoff game, I’d find a hard time believing anyone could beat Oklahoma City that night.
If his jumper is on and he’s energetic on the offensive boards, how can you beat the Thunder if other scorers have even an average night? Denver played well in Game 3, but Ibaka’s performance tipped the scales as much as anything else that night and OKC took a stranglehold on the series. If Ibaka puts up 22 against Memphis tonight, there might be another airport party at Will Rogers tonight.
Since Game 3 in Denver, Ibaka hasn’t approached that kind of scoring, but has still done his job. Foul trouble and Nick Collison’s stellar play limited him during Game 4 in Memphis, but he’s still been a monster on the floor without a lot of points. Still … gimme some more 20-point games from that guy!
I feel the need … the need for speed!
This goes to Oklahoma City’s mostly awesome transition game in the Memphis series. The Thunder is a staggering +37 in fast break points against the Grizzlies. The Thunder needs not only to keep running the floor when opportunity strikes, but continue playing good transition defense when Memphis runs.
I thought Eric Maynor exemplified not only the hustle but the heady play shown by the Thunder in defensive transition in a moment during Game 5. Late in the first quarter with the Thunder breaking out of its funk, Memphis had a fast break with under a minute left and the Thunder down by three. But Maynor was smart enough to realize the Thunder had no team fouls in the last two minutes, so he fouled Greivis Vazquez on the floor. OKC set its defense for the inbound, the Grizzlies missed a 3-pointer and Hared tied the game before the quarter ended. It was on from there.
It’s classified. I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you.
This goes to whatever the plans are to improve the Thunder’s late-game execution on offense. At this point, no one seems to know what they are. The overall strategy seems to be, “Let’s get stops, and then KD and Russell are good enough to get us what we need to win.” And that’s fine, so long as it’s mixed with some “Let’s attack the paint,” as well. And that last part isn’t always there.
For much of the season and especially in the Grizzlies series, when the Thunder has erased deficits or expanded leads, it’s getting into the lane and getting to the foul line that has fueled the surge. When leads crumble or deficits mount, it’s marked by jump shooting and tentative play. The absence of consistent, multi-game spells of good ball movement shows up most in the playoffs. But that can be mitigated some when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are attacking with success.
I still think more mature offensive play and play design will come as the Thunder players age. But it’s already apparent that the team can contend with the current model. So whatever plan is there to get the Thunder crunch time baskets in these playoffs needs to include a healthy dose of slashing wing players.
You can be my wingman any time.
Russell Westbrook. Enough said.
Jesus, this guy’s good!
This is Kevin Durant’s award for the Game 5 fourth-quarter performance against Denver. Also enough said.
Talk to me, Goose.
Communication off the court as much as on it helps the Thunder be the team that it is, so this award goes to all of the players. The now-famous team meeting called by KD after the Game 1 loss to the Grizzlies exemplifies it all. Kendrick Perkins, with his championship experience and earnest desire to be a vocal, positive influence on the team, knew that meeting would bring the team closer together, and he knew KD had to be the guy to call it. The players got together, came together, and turned things around.
And this also helps with all the flak Westbrook is taking. If the Thunder players are as close as they seem to be, I think it really is possible to block out all the outside noise or even bond together more closely because of it. If the players can all look themselves in the eye and talk about the team, and show through effort and practice that they’re serious, then none of it matters. And, by all appearances with their exuberant friendliness on the court and bench, there are no divisions in the locker room because of that communication and hard work.
I’m gonna break high and right, see if he’s really alone.
This goes to Maynor and Harden for being able to find Daequan Cook for open 3-pointers a few times, but we need to see it more. Cook is averaging 11 points in the three Thunder wins against Memphis and less than a bucket in the two losses, and Maynor and Harden are the ones who who are charged with getting the shooter his shots.
Cook won’t do a whole lot more than stand in the corner outside the arc on most possessions. When Maynor and Harden play with Cook, typically in the first several minutes of the second quarter when KD takes a breather, they get him the ball with the best success when they probe the lane and kick it out to Cook. He doesn’t get many, and the Thunder doesn’t seem to run many, plays where the ball passes through multiple hands and gets swung around the court to exploit a shifting defense.
Cook played a huge role in denting the Grizzlies’ Game 3 lead and in building on the Thunder’s Game 4 lead. He hardly touched the ball in the Thunder losses. OKC needs to find him a few open looks per game to get the best out of him.
Mustang, this is Voodoo 3. Remaining MiGs are bugging out.
This one belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies. They bugged out in the third quarter as the Thunder made it clear the lead would not be relinquished. Grizzlies players themselves said they showed little fight.
I don’t expect the same tonight in Memphis. The Grizzlies will probably play with attitude. With the way OKC is playing right now, that’s only enough if the Thunder doesn’t bring the same attitude. If the Thunder matches the Grizzlies’ intensity, the Thunder wins.