That game left us with quite a bit to talk about. First the bones of it: Without James Harden who was decapitated by Metta World Peace in the first half, the Thunder’s offense completely derailed the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter, allowing Steve Blake to hit a couple 3s and bring the Lakers back into the game, one that they eventually won in double-overtime 114-106.
The Thunder had two cracks to win the game at the buzzer, first a Kevin Durant pull-up 3 at the end of regulation, then a Russell Westbrook 3 with 2.3 seconds left in overtime. Both shots fell short and the Lakers had a bit more in the tank to finish off OKC at Staples.
There was so much to take in during those 58 minutes of basketball that it’s really hard to know where to start. KD took the most shots of his career going 11-of-34, which resulted in the most misses in a game of his career. Westbrook went 3-of-22. And the Thunder played the entire second half without Harden, watching their offense sputter, stall and die without their chief creator.
I think Thunder fans got a taste of why maybe you should side with Harden in the somewhat silly “Ibaka or Harden?” debate. Without Harden, OKC becomes very traditional in trying to get the ball to Durant. If it fails, the responsibility falls to Westbrook to do something. This is otherwise known as “The Thunder’s 2011 Playoff Offense.” Which of course had mixed results. Harden provides such a pressure release, a guy that eases the offensive tension and can create something out of nothing with a pick-and-roll. I don’t want to be That Guy and say OKC wins this game if World Peace doesn’t try and erase Harden’s face, but OKC wins this game if World Peace doesn’t try and erase Harden’s face.
But what happened this afternoon was we all saw our greatest fear. We saw the Thunder get up big, look in complete control and then begin to wilt away as their opponent put together a run. It was painfully reminiscent of those Memphis and Dallas losses last playoffs. Watching a lead slip from 12… to 10… to six… to four… to one. It just felt like the Thunder needed one more basket and things would be OK. When Durant hit a cold-blooded 3 with 4:15 left in the fourth to answer Blake’s first trey and put OKC back up 11, it appeared that would be the dagger the Thunder needed. Problem was, OKC didn’t make another basket until Perk layup with 2:16 left in overtime. The Thunder only got to the extra frame because Westbrook attacked the rim wildly and forced four free throw attempts.
There was a whole lot of the Blame Russell Westbrook chant brewing as the lead slipped away but here’s the reality: Westbrook attempted three shots in the fourth quarter, only one after the Lakers cut OKC’s lead to single digits. KD attempted eight shots in the fourth, four coming after the Lakers got under 10. If you want to pin this game on Westbrook ball-hogging while Durant stood idly, just know, you’re going to sound like an idiot. Because that’s not what happened.
Which is why this game is what I fear we’re going to see happen a time or two in the postseason. I’ve been saying all year that despite the fact KD and Westbrook are playing extremely well together, there are bad times ahead. Not because there’s anything between KD and Russ, but because when the playoff spotlight is on and OKC throws one away like this, the chatter and noise after the game will drive you mad. All that stuff from last May that made you want to smash a brick into your forehead will return. Just prepare for it. Go to Wal-Mart, get canned foods, stock up on water and get ready to take shelter.
But again, come back around to this point: KD missed 23 shots. And not 23 falling-away-challenged-contested-impossible-tough-bad shots. He missed a whole heap of great looks that might as well been layups for him. I think Ted Nugent will be president before we see KD shoot like that again. It definitely sounds like excuses for a bad loss, but the Thunder dropped one in double-overtime with Durant and Westbrook missing 42 combined shots and Harden not playing in the second half. Excuses, sure, but also proper perspective.
Westbrook’s misses weren’t out of the ordinary, especially considering he hasn’t shot the ball well lately. I rarely have qualms with Westbrook’s shot selection because unlike a lot of people, I’ve gladly accepted the fact he’s one of the NBA’s five or six best scorers. If you’re going to tell him he doesn’t have free reign to score, you’re putting a pair of really stupid shackles on an incredibly talented player. What was frustrating was the turnovers he forced as OKC was scrambling to try and tie the game late. In fact, a flurry of awful giveaways led to the door remaining cracked just enough for Kobe and the Lakers to knock it in. Durant dribbling an easy dunk off his foot, Thabo had an easy swing pass hit him in the hands and bounce to a defender, Westbrook lost in easy outlet pass that would’ve led to a 3-on-2. Sloppy, unfocused plays come back to bite you against good teams. Don’t think you can get away with that sort of thing in two weeks.
In the end, a rough loss. One the Thunder absolutely should’ve won, despite all the factors seemingly working against them. Despite the bad shooting from Westbrook and Durant, despite not having Harden, despite the Lakers shooting 15 free throws to OKC’s four in the fourth quarter. But that’s the kind of game that hangs with you and really gives Scott Brooks and his staff quite the nice film to pop in for a playoff primer. The Thunder will play this game again at some point in the next month. It’s just a matter of if they can overcome and finish next time.
- OK, on the World Peace elbow. Immediately, it was obvious what a dirty play it was. Replay wasn’t even needed. Watching World Peace try to explain himself to the officials was pathetic. Maybe the thing that bothered me most about the play. I think he should get 10-15 games for it, just because it wasn’t even a dirty foul or dangerous play. It was completely separate from the game and with him having quite the rap sheet, I don’t think you can go light for it. His intentions were clear with that elbow and it was just a ridiculous cheap shot.
- A statement from Artest: “I got really emotional, really excited. And it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with the unintentional elbow.” That attitude makes it that much worse. Insulting to everybody. We’re not stupid, Ron.
- It appeared the Thunder responded wonderfully to the play as they went on a 29-14 run following it to extend to a 77-61 lead headed to the fourth. But then, you know.
- With a chance to win a tie game, KD once again settled for a 3. That really upsets some people but let me explain why I don’t think it’s a terrible shot and why I think KD likes to take them: When you’re in that situation, getting into the paint for an open jumper isn’t easy. Running a play that leads to a clean look isn’t easy. To time your shot so it’s the last in the game and make sure you get that last look and there’s no turnover, it’s easiest to just give the ball to your best player and let him make something happen. For Durant, a lot of times, the best look he can get is a 3, because that’s a shot he doesn’t have to work very hard for. He can take a 3 over almost anyone and after he backed Devin Ebanks off just a bit, he had the space needed to hit it. He’s done it before, including that one against Minnesota. In that situation, a Durant long jumper is probably the best look you can realistically expect to get. It’s a shot we all know he’s completely capable of hitting and percentage wise, probably a better look than one OKC would’ve gotten running some kind of play. Could he have put the ball on the floor to try and get to the paint? Sure he could’ve. But we say that because his jumper didn’t drop and putting the ball on the deck often is a problem for KD as smaller defender run to double and swipe at the ball. In terms of making sure you actually get a shot, that long jumper might be the best decision. Unless it misses, then naturally everybody is an idiot. Right?
- Not that it matters considering the final result, but KD took over the scoring lead from Kobe today.
- Kind of a funny exchange in the third quarter. Kobe accidentally poked KD in the eye and then a possession later, KD accidentally poked Kobe in the eye.
- When Westbrook drops off those assists to a trailer, I think it’s his version of a humblebrag.
- Andrew Bynum didn’t play any in the fourth quarter or overtimes. Perk was outstanding on him once again, holding Bynum to 0-6 from the floor when they were isolated together.
- Twice Kobe reacted incredibly strongly to an official. Once after he was poked in the eye as he spiked the ball right in front of official Greg Willard and then at the end of the third quarter when Westbrook appeared to hook him with an elbow. How does he get away with that? If Westbrook or Perk did either of those things, they would’ve been hit with five technicals.
- You’re standing on the second floor of a burning building with a baby. Do you take your chances with the fire, or throw the baby to Serge Ibaka?
- Ibaka did play a pretty terrific game though. Eighteen points on 9-16, 14 rebounds and seven blocks. And I’d say his defense on Pau Gasol was very solid.
- Very quietly, Westbrook picked up his fourth double-digit assist game of the season.
- But seriously though, Thabo’s defense on Kobe is just exceptional. Kobe hit some shots, yeah, but it wasn’t because Thabo slacked. It’s because Kobe is awesome.
- Hey, at least Derek Fisher didn’t play 30 minutes, right?
- Scott Brooks didn’t go small at all against the Lakers — presumably because he didn’t have Harden — but the Lakers still piled up 25 offensive rebounds and grabbed 67 to OKC’s 54. Brooks says the one big issue with the smallball group is rebounding, but Perk and Ibaka didn’t really get it done anyway. With the lead dwindling, inserting Daequan Cook or even going small with Fisher — gasp — might’ve been a wise move. In hindsight, of course.
- That steal by Thabo with OKC up two at the end of the fourth was very nearly a game saving play. Alas, the ball hit out of bounds.
Next up: Home against the Kings Tuesday.