With 8:08 left in the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by eight on the road at Oracle. Kevin Durant’s hand was smoldering and it appeared he was transitioning fully into Closer KD.
Then this weird thing happened where he went 1-of-5 the final six minutes, had four turnovers and missed a critical free throw. Then I woke up, or at least I was hoping so.
The easy excuse here is that the Thunder ran out of gas. Second night of a back-to-back on the road, the Thunder didn’t defend and didn’t execute in crunchtime. And by “didn’t execute” I really mean Durant’s powerup didn’t last the full 48 minutes tonight. He’s Oklahoma City’s horse, the guy they’re going to run into the ground when things are tight. Most times, he carries them through. Tonight, he didn’t. The Warriors doubled and tried to flush him, but KD still got looks — he just missed.
But it’s not like he had a bunch of help either. A few more key stops, a few more defensive boards or a not completely awful night from Russell Westbrook would’ve helped.
About that last one: With Westbrook entirely out of sorts, he geared down into his give-it-to-KD-and-prepare-to-fly-in-for-a-rebound mode. It’s what so many people crave, what everyone thinks Westbrook’s duty somehow is. But as anyone that’s watched the Thunder more than on a few national TV games knows, the Thunder need Westbrook in those situations too. KD is the primary, but Westbrook is an outstanding backup plan. Westbrook played horrible, no bones about that. But he played a horrible game, not necessarily a horrible fourth quarter. Because in the fourth, he was essentially neutered into a ball control quarterback. Like Christian Ponder handing it to Adrian Peterson and being coached not to do anything dumb.
Maybe it was for the best, and it definitely would’ve been had KD knocked down a couple more jumpers. But that’s not the Westbrook the Thunder always need. It’s definitely a tightrope to walk for Russ because on one hand when he’s not making anything you don’t want him to keep chucking, especially with KD cooking. But on the other, an entirely one-dimensional Thunder offense isn’t the best Thunder offense. I’ve seen Westbrook make too many big brass shots not to believe he had one in him tonight.
It was amazing that people were somehow critical of Westbrook’s “ball-hogging” tonight. The selective memory some people have is astonishing. Yep, he airballed that 3 late. But he also only took three fourth quarter shots, one at the end of the shot clock, the other that desperation 3 and the other a decent 15-footer he hits with moderate consistency. What do you want from him People That Are Saying Dumb Things About Him Tonight? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!?!
Irony though: The one play KD decided to get unselfish and involve a teammate turned out to be disastrous. With 14 seconds left and the Thunder down two, OKC ran a clever play that exploited the Warriors overcommitment to Durant. What appeared to be set up for a glorious one-step dunk for Perk to knot the game instead was a disastrous turnover. Stephen Curry read it well, but Perk, obviously unsuspecting of a pass coming his way with 17 seconds left in a two-point game, didn’t roll hard to the bucket as KD was expecting. For shame because it really was the right play.
It’s an exceedingly frustrating loss because of the circumstances, but once you step away from it a second, it’s obviously not one the Thunder should regret. The Warriors are good and they clearly wanted this one. The Thunder had them but just weren’t able to slam the door. Basketball is a beautifully frustrating game where a bad bounce or a couple poorly timed missed are the difference between lauding players and griping about them. This one just wasn’t meant to be.
- Kevin Durant’s first half: 18 points on 6-8 shooting, eight assists, four rebounds. Pretty good, I think. Was it the best half of Durant’s career? Or at least most complete? He’s had more explosive halves for sure, but those first 24 minutes tonight were simply gorgeous.
- Again, KD had eight first half assists and finished with only nine. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. He had multiple quality setup passes that either led to free throws for a teammate or a wide open miss. Guys knock down some shots or finish at the rim and Durant’s got 13 or 14 assists tonight. And the Thunder probably win.
- For a good portion of the game, Stephen Curry worked Westbrook. Westbrook wasn’t getting through screens and was trailing Curry too much as he ran off three and four picks a possession. Scott Brooks switched Thabo Sefolosha onto him for a lot of the second half, which was successful. Also, Curry missed a bunch of wide open shots, but since I’m way biased, I’m going to credit Thabo for those misses as well.
- Brooks went small for a lot of the second half with KD defending David Lee. A move I loved. Durant did outstanding work on Lee, maybe the best of anyone on the roster.
- The box score says 11 offensive rebounds for the Warriors but I could’ve sworn it was closer to 40.
- It’s pretty ridiculous to gripe over a missed free throw from Durant when he misses only one out of 12, but tonight’s single misfire was pretty critical. Much like the Nuggets game where he went 20-21, but missed a biggie there too.
- Nick Collison played 19 minutes tonight. And the Thunder lost. My stupid stat proved right again.
- Perk kind of played a tremendous game. He had 12 points on 6-8 shooting. I’m just going to leave that here and back away slowly.
- One of the best games I’ve seen Kevin Martin play in a month, I think. The bench is starting to be something it seems. He’s really asserting himself as the leader of that unit and looking for his own, then fading back a bit when he’s with Westbrook and Durant. He had 16 on 6-9 shooting and really picked his spots well. In hindsight, he probably needed a touch or five in crunchtime himself.
- Also, Perk’s interior was really solid, especially in the first half. He covered up three or four defensive lapses and missed rotations.
- Totally forgot Richard Jefferson was still in the league until he checked in and I said, “Wait, who’s No. 44?”
- The Thunder turned it over 19 times which isn’t anything new, but they really felt like 19 exceedingly DUMB turnovers. Just bad passes, lazy decisions and careless handling.
- Serge Ibaka took an inadvertent elbow to the back of the head early in the first quarter and had to leave the game, but returned. He got checked for a concussion, but evidently didn’t have any symptoms.
- I’m too lazy to look it up, but I feel like Reggie Jackson is shooting four percent on jumpshots this season.
- Speaking of, Jackson played a really nice game tonight. His defense was excellent, he rebounding terrifically and was aggressive attacking the rim. More please.
- KD broke Carl Landry’s ankles tonight with his eyes. Either that or Landry preemptively broke his own ankles as Durant charged at him.
- One area the Warriors completely dominated the Thunder tonight was in bench mobbing. Golden State’s bench guys were everywhere all night, while OKC only got the occasional stand-up-and-raise-your-arms move from Thabeet.
- My brother and I were trying to pinpoint exactly what kind of look Andris Biedrins sidepart was. I went with “I’m six years old and just got out of the bathtub and my mom combed my hair.” He went with “1943 Russian officer who kills indiscriminately and watches interrogations from behind the glass.” I think both are acceptable.
- A 4-2 trip is still very attainable, something I think would be an excellent result.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “There were bodies all over. It looked like the basement on Clarke’s Street on Saint Valentine’s Day.”
Next up: Friday at the Sacramento SuperKings.