The game-winning play that lifted the Oklahoma City Thunder to an eventual 117-107 victory over Minnesota on Monday night was a stroke of pure luck.
But because Jeff Green has developed such a reputation for canning clutch shots, the most significant moment in the sequence might have gone unnoticed to the 17,653 inside Oklahoma City Arena and the scores of others watching at home.
Green, for the second time this season, buried a game-saving bucket when his 3-pointer from the top of the arc splashed through the net to give the Thunder a 107-105 lead with 54.7 seconds remaining. Minutes earlier, the Thunder had squandered an 18-point second half lead and jeopardized what should have been a cakewalk win over a 4-11 Wolves team.
The near collapse came in the same fashion as the close calls in the previous two victories. And the play that most clearly depicted how the Thunder almost melted down this time was the isolation run for Kevin Durant just before Green's timely 3-pointer.
With just over one minute left to play, Durant caught the ball on the right wing and began sizing up his defender. But he had two other sets of eyes zeroed in on him before he even started his attack. The Wolves forced Durant into a contested 11-foot fadeaway that chipped the rim and, fortunately, wound up in the hands of Thabo Sefolosha on the weak side. Sefolosha quickly fired a pass to a wide open Green for the dagger.
â€œMy eyes lit up,â€ Green said.
And they should have.
It was about the only open shot the Thunder saw the entire fourth quarter â€” and that has become the theme throughout the past three contests.
After a 7-for-17 shooting performance in the final period Monday, the Thunder has now m made just 14 of 52 field goals in the fourth quarter over the past three games. The team has escaped with wins, but a growing cause for concern is how the offense has bogged down when it matters most. Everything is ending in a jump shot, as evidenced by 27 of the Thunder's 38 misses in the fourth quarter the last three games coming from12 feet and beyond.
â€œI think teams know what we want to do, know what KD and Russ want to do,â€ said Sefolosha. â€œSo it's tough to go inside at the end of the game. When we can knock down a few shots in the first half and third quarter, that stretches out the defense and gives us a little bit more room. But so far, we haven't done that good of a job knocking down those shots.â€
The reason falls anywhere from a lack of a low-post scorer â€” which the Wolves demonstrated quite well with Darko Milicic late in Monday's game how much easier things can be when you have one â€” to vanilla play-calling.
When asked about the team's recent fourth-quarter struggles, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said only that the staff would watch film and figure things out.
â€œThat's part of it in the NBA,â€ Brooks said. â€œIn the fourth quarter, good teams are going to lock you up and increase the intensity.â€
The Wolves, though, are not a good defensive team. They entered the game allowing a league-worst 109.9 points per game.
Monday's problems, as in the two games prior, were mostly on the Thunder.
â€œWe got to start the quarter off right,â€ Durant said. â€œOur energy has to be there. Our mindset has to be that this is winning time. That's when we can break a game open. We got to step on the gas in the fourth quarter.
â€œWe have a drive-and-kick offense. We have a lot of screen plays, pin-down plays. Teams start to pack the paint in on us since we drive the ball so well. We got to take what the defense gives us. We can't really force it too much. Sometimes you really do have to drive it in there and see if you're going to get a foul or get a basket. But we find ways to win. And good teams find ways to win.â€