A couple additional thoughts that popped in my head after sleeping on the Thunder’s 105-93 loss to the Spurs last night:
1. Bench slapped. It’s not that the San Antonio bench completely destroyed the Thunder’s, it’s just that the Thunder’s second unit couldn’t hold down the fort at all. In terms of plus/minus, the four rotation bench guys were -24, -22, -21 and -15. They scored a total of 16 points to the Spurs’ 34.
The shame of it is that OKC’s bench was rolling in the first quarter and early second. Kevin Martin hit three 3s in a short span, seemingly setting a wonderful tone for the second unit. After Martin hit his last 3 with 10:11 left in the second quarter, he didn’t hit another shot, and only actually even attempted two more, both 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.
Some nights, OKC’s bench looks dynamic and powerful. Others, it looks anemic and weak. And what makes it worrisome, it seems it’s often the latter against the good teams.
Also: Yes, I am pretty proud of my bench puns.
2. Westbrook 27, KD 13. So Russell Westbrook took 27 shots last night and Kevin Durant only took 13. Are we really back to making this A Thing again?
First, looking at raw shot attempt numbers doesn’t even remotely tell the story of offensive distribution. Factor in the fact Durant took 11 free throws to Westbrook’s three, and that’s roughly the equivalent to five added shots for Durant. Still, that would be 27-18, a number that would clearly upset the boneheaded masses anyway.
What was clear to those watching last night is that the Thunder were dead in the water mid-way through the third quarter when Westbrook did his best to provide a needed offensive spark. Westbrook took eight shots in the third, hitting five. He took seven shots in the fourth, hitting one. And get this: All seven were at the rim, except one, which was a six-foot jumper inside the free throw line.
What’s always obvious about Westbrook is that when games go as the one did last night in San Antonio, he lets it all hang loose. He gives zero effs about shot numbers or percentages at that point, and just starts competing. He added three attempts to his total last night just because he crashed the offensive glass and tried putbacks. He goes into “ATTACK SCORE ATTACK” mode and tries to shoulder the responsibility of putting OKC back in it. It’s often misguided and unwise, but it’s always appreciated.
Here’s the other thing: Westbrook was wild and he most certainly got carried away. He shot too much. But if you don’t think Westbrook has earned the right to shoot 30 times, you’re either You-Know-Who or you don’t pay attention. He’s probably been the team’s MVP the second half of the season, playing maybe as well as he ever has in his career. I say it all the time, but just because he has the good fortune of the best scorer in the world being his teammate doesn’t mean he’s supposed to neuter his talents and play like he’s Jose Calderon or something.
We should be past this noise about who shots more. Westbrook is a far less efficient scorer than Durant, but that in specific games, that doesn’t mean he has no right to shoulder the offensive burden.
3. Catfished. When I looked at the box score when the final buzzer sounded last night, it said Derek Fisher played 12 minutes. I could’ve sworn he played all 48. It felt that way, at least.
Now, before I rag on Fisher here, I have to say, you can’t deny that he’s played pretty well in places since he signed. He’s shot the ball well, he’s even made a few plays too. He’s added, not subtracted.
But last night brought to life the great fear of Thunder fans. There was Fisher, on the floor in the fourth quarter, for some reason. Sitting on the bench: Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson. And if you want to extrapolate further, Jeremy Lamb and DeAndre Liggins were figuratively on the bench as well.
In 12 minutes, Fisher was a -21. He was on the floor for both big San Antonio runs. Now, I can’t be selective and ignore that Collison was actually the biggest minus (-24) so it’s not fair to just single out Fisher. BUT with Collison, I know why he was on the floor. I still don’t with Fisher.
4. Beardless. I wrote about the Harden factor, or lack thereof for ESPN.com last night. I was probably being a little dramatic, but it is somewhat true: The last time the Thunder won in San Antonio, it was one the back of Harden’s dagger 3. And unless they overtake the Spurs in these last few weeks, assuming the road to the Finals has to go through them again, the Thunder would be required to win at least one game in San Antonio.
Can they do that without James Harden?
5. Chillllllll. At least just a little bit. I understand that when the Thunder don’t perform in big games, it raises the collective blood pressure of the fanbase. Because this team underwent such a significant roster change before the season, you can’t downplay losses with the “Oh they’re fine, look at what they did last year” point. This team is different without Harden, so it opens the door to dissection of the lineups Scott Brooks’ uses, the personnel and the play of everyone. With each big loss, it feels like it’s a window into potential future postseason failures.
But, it’s March and the Thunder just lost on the road on in their fourth game in five nights to the Spurs. Yep, no Tony Parker for San Antonio, but if anything, I think that just means there’s less to take away here. Had the Thunder won, it would’ve been “Yeah, but Tony Parker didn’t play.” Since they lost, all of a sudden Parker not playing is a really big deal.
Look, the Thunder had major problems with the Spurs last season. The first two games of the Western Finals, the Thunder looked overmatched and lost, and that was with James Harden. Things flipped though and the Thunder pulled off what they had to do. Yes, this team is different this time around and it will be more challenging without Harden. But playing the selective memory game and lashing out with bold statements like “SCOTT BROOKS IS NOT A CHAMPIONSHIP COACH” is just too much. Monday’s game was ugly and certainly not on the encouraging end of things, but let’s see what happens April 4 when the Spurs visit OKC.