It’s a tie game now. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s sure not fun. You know what’s weird though? If the series had started on the road, everyone would be completely stoked about a 1-1 split. Obviously home court matters, and the Thunder gave away that advantage in Game 2, but it’s in the eye of the beholder. Win one of three in Miami, and the Thunder have it back. Win two of three, and you’re right on schedule once again.
And here’s a minor brightside: If you wanted to see a trophy hoisted in Oklahoma City, there’s a much bigger chance of that happening now. (Me personally? I don’t care if they hoisted it in Siberia, I’d rather have a sweep.)
Clearly, the slow starts are a problem. There’s valid frustrations lingering from Game 2. What happened out there and who’s to blame?
1. What’s the deal with the slow starts?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: I think they’re trying too hard, if that’s believable. I think they want to get off to such a fast start, to try and bury the Heat, that they’re overdoing it. They’re pressing, playing tight and trying to go on 8-0 runs each individual possession. The Thunder are best when the game comes naturally, in flow and rhythm. When they force the issue, whether that’s Westbrook, Durant or anyone else, it doesn’t work as well. I would add this too though: It has something to do with the starting five. Not everything, but something.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: I really think that extra four-minute media timeout period between the starting lineup introductions and the tipoff countdown has a lot to do with it. It seems like it should be a small thing, but I think it leads to pregame jitters. That four minutes is a long time, and it’s a really long time if you’re a young guy who can’t wait to get on the court, and you just sort of marinate in the magnitude of the situation. And the Thunder are well-documented creatures of habit when it comes to the pregame routine — even KD said it threw him off a little bit before Game 1.
James Herbert, HoopSpeak: I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to this question. I wish I did because it’s incredibly frustrating. It looked to me like the Thunder were a bit nervous/too excited at the beginning of Game 1, which is sort of understandable. They might be putting too much pressure on themselves in front of these insane OKC crowds and thinking too much. I asked Dwane Casey and various Raptors about their slow starts earlier in the season and the answers were usually something like “I have no idea but there’s no excuse for it.” If there were no excuses for the Raptors, it has to be [some word stronger than inexcusable] for Oklahoma City in the Finals.
Young: There’s something wrong about feeling you just have to survive the first six minutes of a game with your starting five. The Thunder’s first five simply doesn’t match up. Should Brooks change it? Yep, I’d say so. I’ll defer to Zach Lowe of SI.com to make the case better than I could. (Consider this though: Per NBA stats, OKC’s starting five is being outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs.) But it’s also about message control, and Brooks firmly believes in consistency and stability with his young team and a massive change like that might send a panic message to his team.
James: The last time we were pondering this, the Spurs were up on the Thunder 2-0. So, no. Again, it goes back to the routine and being creatures of habit. The Heat have been rotating starting lineups out of necessity, and it has been working for them. Brooks has been plenty flexible in his second half lineups especially, and that is what has gotten the Thunder to this point. The starting unit’s poor plus-minus — or at least the severity of the minus — has more to do with bad luck and random acts of nerves than it does poor matchups.
Herbert: Yes, yes he should. I appreciate what Perkins brings to the table but, sadly, he’s not of much use in this series and should not be starting. I’d love if it Brooks replaced him with Harden, but going with Collison in the first five would be fine with me. At this point, though, I’d be shocked by a change to the starting lineup. Let’s hope for a change in minute distribution.
3. Who deserves the most blame for Game 2?
A. Scott Brooks
B. Russell Westbrook
C. The officials
D. Something else
Young: D. The first six minutes. I feel like blaming Brooks because the rotation decisions with the small lineups confused me to death, but the fact is, the Thunder were in the game and despite some iffy coaching calls, if a shot from Durant goes down (or a foul is called), OKC would’ve been in overtime most likely. But it’s the craptastic start that even brought these choices into play. For example, did you know Perk was a +1 when he was the lone big in the small lineup? Which is completely fine, unless you’re trying to make up a 15-point deficit. Digging an early hole equaled digging an early grave for OKC in Game 2.
James: D. Nerves and free-throw shooting. By nerves, I don’t mean to imply that the Thunder are scared, or even nervous in a bad way. In a way I think they’re too anxious, too ready, too wound up. Maybe starting the series at home was actually a bad thing — when you’re home, you’ve got all the people you live with and your local friends around you. Everyone’s excited all the time, and the home arena is aflame. Now that they’re on the road, it will be more like a cocoon, with the team battening down the hatches. It could backfire, with the Thunder crumbling under the pressure as they live life in more of a vacuum over the next three games. But we’ve seen what has happened in this postseason when OKC’s mental toughness has been doubted before. Besides, if the Thunder nail four of those seven missed free-throws, we might have a much different 3-on-3 to be debating today.
Herbert: D: The slow start. There’s no single individual to blame for this, but Oklahoma City obviously can’t afford to keep digging holes for itself. I’m not comfortable with ripping anyone for last night’s game because, after the awful start, the Thunder played well enough to win. They just came up a bit short. As for the officials: let’s all be grown ups here about that no-call on James. Durant probably got fouled, but it was still a makeable shot and there are a dozen more egregious missed calls in every game.