As is always the case, when the Thunder lose, the finger-pointing immediately goes to the offensive end. Empty possessions, ugly isolations, distance jumpers, gross execution, chucked 3s — they’re all staples of a close Thunder loss.
But there’s a dirty little secret about why the Thunder lost Game 2 — they couldn’t get stops. Yes, Tony Allen bulldogged Kevin Durant. Yes, Russell Westbrook fired some questionable shots. Yes, the offensive balance got thrown off and the Thunder went far too one-dimensional. Though when it came down to it, the Thunder allowed the Grizzlies 117.4 points per 100 possessions in Game 2, which is terrible.
Scott Brooks’ main adjustment for Game 3? It’s ground-breaking, tactically brilliant stuff: He wants the Thunder to play better.
“We have to play better. That’s always every coach’s adjustment is playing better,” he said Wednesday at practice. “You can’t change up your entire philosophy after one loss and we’ve never done that. But you have to add things to what we do and we’ve added things throughout the year and we’ve taken things throughout the year and we might have to come back and do a few different things.”
(Sidebar: We try to give Brooks the benefit of the doubt in these type of situations operating under the assumption he actually does have adjustments, but chooses to play coy with the media because he thinks it’s a disadvantage to announce any kind of gameplan decision publicly. Because surely he’s not just telling his team to play better and that’s it, right? Right? Please say right.)
A stark contrast from Game 1 where outside of a solid eight-minute spurt in the third quarter, the Grizzlies couldn’t score. They made a clear adjustment to play less low block isolation and involve more pick-and-rolls as well as bringing Marc Gasol to the high post to force weakside help from one of the Thunder’s perimeter defenders, which caused the need for help and rotating.
Here’s a look at it:
Gasol’s gets the ball in that elbow/high post area and because Ibaka had to help down on Conley’s drive, now Thabo is coming off his man to show as Ibaka recovers. (On this play, Westbrook gets beat backdoor for a layup.)
The Grizzlies, though, ran a lot of this action throughout the game, and it burned OKC a number of times. Enough to where Durant started overplaying on it, as he does here, coming up to meet Gasol at the nail while Allen snuck baseline on him for an easy layup:
The other thing: The Thunder went over almost every ball screen set for both Conley and Udrih, which was showing a bit too much respect for their perimeter games. Both point guards — especially Conley — are capable of hitting 3-pointers, but they’re reluctant shooters. Here you can see Westbrook chasing over the screen, to which Conley easily splits the hedge by Perk and knocks down his patented floater.
Part of this is a scheming issue, but a lot of it also is about Westbrook not playing good enough defense. Put Tony Allen in his position and you know what happens? He squirms his way through that screen and stays attached to his man’s hip. So in that regard, Brooks’ play-better adjustment is spot on. Westbrook played some terrible defense in Game 2, hopping himself out of position, ball-watching, falling asleep and just not locking in on stopping the ball.
“There was some good film work, watching our mistakes, watching where we could get better at,” Westbrook said. We’ll see what those areas are, whether it’s going under screens or mixing up the coverages. The Thunder like to make ball-handlers go left, but with the Grizzlies having two good screening bigs, Conley got to his spots far too comfortably.
And with Conley being the orchestrator of the Memphis offense, it’s on Westbrook to slow him down. Like how Tony Allen is disrupting OKC’s offensive rhythm simply by hounded Durant, Westbrook needs a similar mindset.
“If you want to be a great player in this league you’ve got to play both sides of the floor,” Westbrook said. “You can’t just be a competitor on offense and then just run around on defense and not help your team out. There are times you’re going to get scored on, there are times you’re going to get beat backcut. We’re not perfect, but you’ve got to compete.”
Yeah, and just play better, evidently.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK[audio:Westbrook 4-23-14.mp3]
(Audio via Randy Renner)