Thunder Escape

Still besties?

The Oklahoma City Thunder may have won their triple overtime game against the Memphis Grizzlies last night 133-123, but there was no need for the game to drag on as long as it did. Oklahoma City could have won the game in regulation but did not execute well enough offensively to secure a victory until very late in the evening. This lack of execution is centered around the team’s seeming disinterest in off the ball movement, lack of execution, and what appeared to be a lack of trust/communication between the team’s two best players.

Kevin Durant was openly frustrated during the game. Shane Battier was draped all over him. That in itself is frustrating for Durant. Yet, it is not the only reason that Durant was frustrated. He was particularly upset with his lack of participation in the game. For a stretch of nine minutes in the fourth quarter and into overtime Durant did not even have an opportunity to shoot the ball. “Why didn’t he give me the fucking ball,” Durant said to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks after Westbrook again did not look to give up the ball. This is not entirely on his teammates, however. Durant is also to blame for not seeing the ball come his way.

Durant became a spectator at times, standing around the arc on offense and simply watching the ball. Watching the ball is fine for someone to do at home that does not want to have a greater understanding of the game, but for a player it is a mortal sin which helps the other team to load up against the ball handler. That is exactly what Memphis did when Durant began to loiter.

Oklahoma City’s offense was stagnant at best throughout the game. They totaled only 16 assists in a triple overtime game. Westbrook had to score, or at least he thought he did, based on the situation the team found itself in being down 18 points early in the game.

Much of the offensive stagnation falls on Scott Brooks’ back. When a head coach sees that his star player is standing idly around the three-point line without making a concerted effort to get open or move to the ball it is up to them to go to a play in which the star, in this case Durant, can get open. Also, it appeared as if, too often, the Thunder did not come out of a timeout with any particular set in mind offensively. Their ball screens around the perimeter broke down easily as the shot clock wound down. These situations forced Westbrook to drive or take low percentage mid range jump shot. Westbrook shot just 33.3 percent from 10 to 23 feet.

Should Westbrook have looked to involve his teammates more in the game? Probably, but the Thunder likely do not win the game without Westbrook in hero mode. Westbrook had 1.02 points per possession, which is a solid number, during the game, the same number as Durant, however, Westbrook’s usage was 42.5 percent compared to Durant’s 31.6 percent of possessions. That belies an inefficient evening and his 15 made field goals on 33 attempts supports that. Westbrook’s 11 free throw attempts are what really help to alleviate his hero mode tendencies in the game but they cannot wash them clean completely.

In fact, it was the ability of Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden to get to the line that saved the Thunder. Combined they took 39 free throws and made 36 of them. The Grizzlies, as a team, only had 40 free throw attempts.

Yes, the Thunder won the game. It was an ugly affair that had no business keeping everyone up as late as it did. Yet, maybe this is the type of game that the team can use to learn from going forward. Oklahoma City played terrible, relied too heavily on one player, and suffered emotional breaks. All of these should be points of emphasis where they can improve. If they do not focus and learn from their mistakes, this will be an even longer series than it already has been.


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