As Kevin Durant’s game-winning attempt clanged just long on the back of the iron while the final seconds ticked off as players scrambled for the ball, all you could really do was just shake your head. Not necessarily because of the play itself or the shot choice, but because the Thunder were in that position in the first place.
During a long stretch mid-fourth quarter, the Thunder’s offense essentially died. Oklahoma City didn’t score a point for three minutes and forty-six seconds. Didn’t take a good shot, didn’t run good offense, didn’t execute anything. If you’re like me, you probably had ‘Nam-like flashbacks to the Western Conference Finals where the Thunder’s offense went kaput with the pressure raised. If that’s a playoff-type atmoshere-ish preview against a playoff team, the Thunder failed this test. Big time.
There were multiple points where OKC had a chance to go for the killshot. Up 62-53 mid-third, the Thunder lapsed on defense and took questionable jumpers. Up 80-72 with a minute left in the third, the Thunder let the Clips score the last four points of the quarter to have it at four heading to the fourth. OKC held tightly to its lead for most of the fourth before a Randy Foye 3 finally put the Clippers ahead with 8:34 left. The Thunder responded to go up 89-85, but the Clips went on a 9-0 run. At that moment, it just seemed like the Thunder lost their head a bit and started scrambling. KD missed a contested jumper. Ibaka was called for three seconds after a bad possession. Outside of a few calls that went OKC’s way, the Thunder really didn’t have an answer. Which is strange, because with Westbrook, Durant and Harden, an offensive answer is typically only a pass away.
But the Thunder had their chance. Despite Durant (7-21) and Westbrook (3-14) going a combined 10-35 from the floor, KD had a shot to win it. The complaints about the Scott Brooks Final Shot Party are already rumbling, but take note, that wasn’t what Brooks drew up.
“They switched out and the play was designed that if they do switched out to attack,” Brooks said. “But Kevin thought he had a chance to make that shot. We were down two. It was an opportunity for us to drive and to get it to the paint. But you live with it. It’s one of the things you do. Kevin makes shots, makes plays for us. It didn’t go this time, but it’s one of those things.”
I don’t mean to speak for Scotty or really speculate, but I will anyway. Judging by the way he talked about it and the fact he mentioned it again later relatively unprompted — “The last shot, I thought we could’ve got a better shot than that, but that’s part of learning and part of understanding what we need” –tells me he was a tad irked with it. You can’t be too mad because KD had a very good chance of nailing it because, well, he’s KD, but that wasn’t the designed play. Durant broke from the plan, deviated and freelanced to try and be a hero. It works a lot of the time. Not this time though.
Said Durant on if that shot was what he wanted: “No, he was playing off me a little bit and it got clogged up. I didn’t want to risk a turnover so I shot it.” I can understand that thought. We all act like it’s easy, but with seconds ticking down – seven, six, five, four, three — you have to make a decision. You have to live or die, right there. And it’s not always as simple as just putting the ball on the deck and scoring. It might seem that way sometimes because KD makes it look that way, but I promise you, drawing up and executing a play with 8.8 seconds left is a pretty challenging thing.
Brooks harped on the defensive effort, saying the team has been “good all year” but not tonight. While that’s obviously up for debate, the fact is, the defense wasn’t really horrific. It was really good in stretches. Chris Paul did his thing because he’s amazing at basketball but outside of that, most everything was contested well. There were some dreadful lapses like the putback CP3 got, but as whole, I don’t think the Thunder gave this one away defensively. They missed shots. Shots they often make. Shots they almost always take. But the fact is, things stalled, things went stale and the looks weren’t that great.
Durant and Westbrook are statistically two of the most clutch players in the league. KD leads the league in clutch time points, Westbrook is top five. Both have stellar shooting percentages in those situations. Durant entered the clutch (last five minutes) 6-of-19, Westbrook 3-of-12. KD went 1-of-2, Westbrook 0-of-2. (KD did hit a big 3, which appeared to potentially be a propeller to a win. Alas.)
“Execution was not as bad as you might think. We missed some shots, missed some shots down the stretch,” Brooks said. “We missed some good shots. I can’t complain.”
What you can complain about though is the outcome. The Thunder dropped a home game — albeit to a sound team — and gave away a golden opportunity to reclaim their destiny in the West. The Spurs lost the Lakers, which meant OKC could go one up on the Spurs in the loss column again. Didn’t happen. Brooks isn’t sweating it though.
“I think about opportunity lost that we didn’t play as well as we need to play to beat a very good basketball team,” he said. “You guys probably don’t believe me but I don’t pay attention to the standings other than I love the game, I follow the game, I follow the teams, I follow the players. I’m really focused on how we play and we didn’t play good enough to win tonight.
“We can’t worry about it. If you start worrying about other teams, how they do, how they play night in night out, you lose focus on what you do. Our guys haven’t done that and I haven’t either.”
That’s very true. Win and don’t worry about anyone else. A worthy motto. But there’s a key ingredient to that: win. Something the Thunder seem to being having some issues with right now.
- Brooks said it postgame and it’s certainly true: Durant and Westbrook aren’t going to simultaneously shoot that poorly together that often. But I kind of feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately. This exact game will happen in the postseason though. Durant and Westbrook will struggle and the Thunder will have to find a way to win. They could’ve done it tonight had they not given CP3 an easy putback, not given up the ball so easily, not let Nick Young have a runout layup. Those big plays didn’t go the Thunder’s way and when you’re not shooting or executing well, those big plays really bite you.
- Here’s a thing about Durant’s last shot: I would like to see Westbrook in those situation just sometimes. Maybe only once. Extraneous circumstances likely dictate that will never happen because of alpha dog bullcrap and whatnot, but needed a two, Westbrook is a good candidate to create a good look for himself. I want KD taking my big shot almost every time. I’m just saying sometimes another option is well served.
- I think this is the first time since he was signed that I can say with confidence that Derek Fisher played a really nice game for the Thunder.
- Thabo defended Chris Paul a few different stretches, which I thought was a subtly brilliant move. Paul loves to use that little leaning jumper off the pick-and-roll, but Thabo essentially eliminates it because of his size and length. And Thabo is quick enough laterally to hold his own with CP3, so it’s not like he was a liability to be taken off the dribble.
- However, that last CP3 drive Thabo gave up on the switch just a bit too easily. Paul kept Perk hedging until he finally got the full fledged switch and attacked right away, not allowing Ibaka to rotate in time to swat the shot.
- Thabo’s 3-point shooting is a revelation. Another 2-2 night for him.
- It was fun to see Harden Chris Paul Chris Paul. He hooked him a bit, flopped his head and picked up a big foul in the last couple minutes.
- Durant, who speaks to reporters after every game, was uncharacteristically quick with his postgame shower and left the locker room before the bulk of the media were out of Brooks’s postgame comments.
- Nick Collison with some wisdom: “We have been pretty good with [the condensed schedule]. The biggest thing with us is no practice time so we have had some slippage in some areas normally where we would be able to tighten up and watch some film and go back and get better at some of the things we are struggling at.”
- Chris Paul took the most shots on his team by five and only had four assists. Anyone want to gripe about his game tonight?
- KD has a lot of incredible offensive moves, but his crossover might be his deadliest. It’s completely filthy. Past filthy, even. It’s like accidental-Google-image-search-for-something filthy.
- Maybe my favorite thing in basketball is when a player falls into his team’s bench while play is still going on and like five guys throw him back onto the court.
- Again, to everyone that’s saying, “Draw up a better play!” it’s not like Scott Brooks is like, “Oh! You’re right! I totally should!” He had a set that got the ball to Durant, which is almost everyone wants, and KD decided to shoot it when it actually designed for him to put the ball on the floor.
- Ibaka hasn’t been that great of a defender this season, but he defends Blake Griffin wonderfully. He bodies him up, makes him try to put it on the floor and stays disciplined on his assortment of pumps and pivots. I don’t know why Ibaka handles him so much better than other players, but he does.
- Fisher sure likes that behind-the-back pass. It’s probably the least flashy behind-the-back pass in the NBA.
- It’s almost a little impressive how little touch Perk has on anything. A pass, a shot, a free throw, a baby hook — everything is just fired.
- Re: Perk in the post: Why does he have to do that little fake half turn over his right should every time? Like every time?
- As Professor Hollinger has noted, OKC started tonight with it’s Punt Play, a postup for Perk.
- I wish I could go back to my first Red Panda experience and feel what that was like.
- I did get to experience my first time of seeing Rumble do it. It slayed me. Rumble dressing up and performing whatever the halftime show was gets me every time.
- Toby Keith was in the house tonight. How do you like me naaaaawwwwww.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @DustRagu: “We conclude Green Week here in the NBA as Perkins recycles another one.”
Next up: Home against the Kings Friday.