You can look at this game two ways:
1) In their first game without James Harden, trying to work in new pieces, with Kevin Durant playing average (for him), Russell Westbrook playing like butt, Serge Ibaka only scoring four points, the team shooting 37.7 percent from the floor, all on the road against the Spurs, the Thunder were a bad turnover and a Tony Parker miracle 3 and a buzzer beater away from starting the season off on a very nice 1-0 note.
2) The Spurs, playing a second game of a back-to-back, sans Manu Ginobili, led through a lot of the game as the Thunder looked out of sync offensively, shooting only 37.7 percent from the floor, with 18 turnovers and clear offensive issues to sort out in a post-Harden world.
I think where you fall on those two points probably says a lot about you as a Thunder fan.
What’s clear to me is that the Thunder, and mostly Scott Brooks, have to put some serious work in here. They’re missing a wonderful late-game crutch in Harden. In the end, the Thunder got pretty similar production from Kevin Martin — 15 points on 10 shots and five assists — that they would’ve gotten from Harden. The difference though was what happened on the floor late in the fourth. Everything ran entirely through Westbrook with no secondary ball handling option.
The result? One Of Those Westbrook Games. Every Thunder fan knows them well. Forced shots, bad decisions, silly turnovers, all while he completely busts his ass all over the floor grabbing rebounds and flying around everywhere. (Flying to nowhere on the last defensive possession, but alas.)
With Harden, half of those possessions where Westbrook initiated would’ve been divided up. And this is what’s scary as the Thunder move forward. Yes, this is game one of 82 and it’s pretty silly to draw major conclusions from it when there’s a lot of time to improve, integrate and develop. But you can’t tell me that you can’t envision almost this exact same finish in a very important playoff game.
Now, there will be plenty of games where Westbrook closes out just fine. There will be more of those than these. But again, with this Harden deal, Sam Presti has put a whole lot of confidence in Westbrook as a late-game decision maker. And either he has to improve in that regard and become much more consistent, or Brooks has to cook up a Plan B. Maybe that’s more Eric Maynor running the offense with Westbrook on the wing. Maybe that’s Durant handling more. Whatever it is, it’s pretty clear: The Thunder don’t have that old margin for error they used to have.
That said, the Thunder lost this exact same kind of game plenty WITH Harden last season. It’s not like this is some aberration that manifested simply because Harden is gone. James Harden is a magnificent player but let’s not make him out to be The Greatest Player of All-Time. Again, the Thunder gave this game away more than they were beat. Westbrook missed that easy layup Martin set him up beautifully for. KD didn’t aggressively come get the ball on OKC’s last possession. And Westbrook decided a guy in the first row was more of a threat to hit San Antonio’s last shot than Tony Parker was.
I think I lean towards being more encouraged about this game than anything else. We knew it up front: The Thunder have new challenges this season without Harden. Durant and Westbrook need to achieve new levels of play and they both have a slimmer margin for error. They don’t need to be perfect, but they definitely can’t afford a whole lot of mistakes. Just 48 hours ago the Thunder welcomed Kevin Martin to the team. The more time with him, the more acclimated he’ll be in his role, the more comfortable Westbrook and Durant will be in him as a fellow closer and the better the Thunder will be overall.
There’s a lot to draw from game number one, a whole lot to learn from, a whole lot to take away. But not that much to panic about if you ask me.
- Up front: I know many of you are sitting there saying, “Ugh, quit talking about James Harden! Move on!” That’s the storyline this season, for the entire season. More so tonight than ever. So deal with it.
- The Thunder were in midseason form with that third quarter. They seemingly played awful, but somehow made up a 10-point deficit and outscored the Spurs. We’ve definitely seen that before.
- I thought Martin was a bit too unselfish in the first half. That may be from me not having seen him play all that consistently, but he seemed to give up a number of decent looks to try and find a more open teammate. Some of those shots, he’s just got to fire up.
- Here’s how the rotation played out: Regular starting five until 4:40 left in the first when Martin and Nick Collison entered together for Thabo and Perk. Then Hasheem Thabeet checked in shortly after that for Ibaka. Then Maynor subbed for Westbrook. Reggie Jackson actually saw a few seconds of time on the floor late in the first quarter but that was it. In the fourth, Brooks mostly stuck with Martin as if he were Harden. Gave him 33 minutes total and had him on the floor down the stretch.
- Either Thabo or Martin needs to dye his hair yellow or something. Between them and Westbrook and Daniel Orton, the Thunder could confuse the crap out of another team.
- It’s not surprising, but the Thunder ran a lot of the same sets with Martin that Harden would’ve ran. The two-man game option thing with Collison, the pindown with Westbrook and Durant, the weakside action stuff with him running baseline.
- Color me surprised that Perry Jones III didn’t play. Thought he would.
- Found it mildly interesting that Westbrook guarded Tony Parker throughout the game instead of Thabo. Remember how well Thabo did against him last postseason?
- You know what’s looking pretty stupid right now? My prediction that Westbrook would make an All-Defense team. I’m going to jump down to the comments and call myself a moron for that one.
- KD became the second youngest player in NBA history to reach 10,000 points, only behind LeBron. Congrats on being awesome, KD.
- I thought Hasheem Thabeet was neither good, nor completely awful. In other words, he was exactly Nazr Mohammed. And his nutmeg of Matt Bonner was excellent.
- Maynor really needs more time on the floor. Eleven minutes for him is just not enough. Like I said, Brooks might have to get creative with his rotation to find more time for Maynor and Westbrook to play together, especially on nights like this. I think that could be a bandaid to throw on this Harden stuff.
- My favorite part of the game was Scott Brooks blowing Perk’s mind with his coaching.
- Maynor from deeeeeeeeeeeeeep! If I needed one player to sink a halfcourt or behind shot to save my life, I think I’d pick Maynor.
- KD put in some serious work both defensively and on the glass tonight. He didn’t explode scoring the ball, but 14 boards, five assists and and two steals rounded out a nice line.
- I definitely expected more from Serge Ibaka. I think that’s one thing the Thunder should focus on more late in games. Run a little two-man game with Ibaka and Durant or Ibaka and Westbrook. Only four points from Ibaka isn’t going to cut it.
- Ibaka looked better than ever though on the defensive glass.
- The Thunder are on pace to go 0-82. You should definitely freak out.
Next up: Home Friday against the Blazers.