Thunder fans sat in horror in the fourth quarter of Game 2 watching Oklahoma City labor on the offensive end, trying to find just a single point at a time. An amazing thing really, considering this was one of the two best offensives in the league all season long, possessing three of the most talented scorers in the game. And yet, there was real anxiety over where, and when, the next bucket would come.
After scoring 59 points in a half and 39 points in the third quarter in Game 1, the Thunder had just 68 with two minutes left. They were shooting 20 percent from the field. It wasn’t a mess. It was a disaster. And they were giving away Game 2, and homecourt advantage, because of it.
The buzzwords around what I like to call “OKC’s halfcourt offense from hell” has always been “stagnant,” and “stale.” Meaning no ball movement, but instead long contested jumpers after 20 seconds of dribbling. Those possessions have become torture and something Thunder fans recognize all too well. But in Game 2, I don’t think the offense was necessarily stale. The ball was still moving well, Durant was trying to penetrate and create, Westbrook and Harden were doing the same and there were some shots. The shot charts from Game 1 and Game 2 aren’t that strikingly different.
Break it out this way:
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For the most part, shot selection in Game 1 and 2 is essentially equal. Difference being more went in during Game 1 than in Game 2. (#ANALYSIS) The Lakers did an excellent job of limiting the midrange game for OKC, as well as the sheer number of shots. The game was played at a pace of 85.0, a brutally slow tempo for OKC.
Credit the Lakers of course for making clear adjustments in how they defended Russell Westbrook off the pick-and-roll too. Their bigs showed hard, took away the midrange jumper and funneled him at the rim and then used their length to contest there. That’s the defensive strategy against OKC. You have to force them to do what they’re best at and risk them blowing you out.
A lot of OKC’s offensive struggles came back to Durant though, because he simply wasn’t scoring. At one point in the fourth quarter, Serge Ibaka had attempted more shots than KD. Maybe Durant was a bit passive as even Scott Brooks said, but he was also trying to make the right plays. But as Beckley Mason of TrueHoop points out, maybe the solution to solving an offensive breakdown is giving the ball to KD and getting out of the way.
Way out beyond the 3-point line, Metta World Peace never had a chance.
Kevin Durant walked forward, confidently bouncing the ball high off his right hip, his Thunder teammates arrayed along the baseline. This was the definition of an isolation play; there was no way the other Lakers could offer help.
As he neared the 3-point line, Durant executed a hard right-to-left crossover, dipped his shoulder and glided past World Peace, who managed only to helplessly rotate his hips as though one foot was nailed to the ground. Having summarily dispatched World Peace, Durant wove back to his right and finished past Andrew Bynum.
It was the first shot Durant took in Game 2, and one of just three Durant isolation attempts all game.
The result was no fluke. In fact, Durant isolated in space against Metta World Peace might be one of the most bankable plays in the Thunder’s awesome arsenal of offensive weapons.
That right there, is the antithesis of what we’ve all thought and felt about OKC’s halfcourt structure. Often it’s been too isolated, with the ball stopped in one player’s hand. The Thunder love to isolate Durant at the top of the key with time on the clock to work. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t. That was the go to set last postseason and it’s success rate was sporadic. Often times Westbrook couldn’t get the ball to KD because the ball was being denied and so Westbrook found a ticking time bomb in his hand as the shot clock hunted him down.
But in this situation, you’re talking about getting your top option in a situation he’ll succeed in, and as Mason points out, that could very well be isolation. Could the Thunder really have been moving the ball too much against the Lakers in Game 2? Is that possible?
Though like the play itself, this is likely isolated to this series. Because against the Spurs, you’ll likely live and die by it. Ball movement and open offensive flow is almost always the preferred style, because it utilizes the entire arsenal of OKC’s deadly, diverse offense. It’s why the ball is so good in James Harden’s hands late in games. Because he isolates, creates, distributes and scores.
Like I’ve said all along, you can’t expect it all to click wonderfully throughout the postseason. Game 2’s happen. It’s up to the team to find points whether it be at the free throw line, out of well-executed sets or simply giving the ball to the Durantula and letting him eat. It’s not always about how it gets done, it’s just about the result. Game 2 had the proper one, but hopefully there were lessons learned.