Oklahoma City Thunder: Charles Barkley isn’t all wrong
Now you know what Charles Barkley is talking about when he trashes the Thunder’s halfcourt offense. The Thunder beat the 76ers 92-88 Wednesday night in Philadelphia, and the Thunder did it with defense and toughness. Not with any semblance of efficient offense.
The 76ers, one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, put the clamps on OKC, especially in a woeful third quarter in which the Thunder scored 10 points and made just two of 20 shots. Turnovers, usually the Thunder’s bugaboo, actually wasn’t the problem in that period. The Thunder committed just two turnovers in those 12 minutes.
And here’s why. The Thunder wasn’t aggressive and wasn’t fast. The Thunder was reduced to playing walk-it-up basketball, which is absolutely not the Boomers’ style. And which is absolutely Barkley’s point. In the playoffs, pace of play slows down. Defense rises.
Thus the Thunder is faced with one of two options, if it is to be a deep playoff team: 1) Get better in the halfcourt offense; or 2) Don’t stagnate; find a way to play keep playing fast.
In those 12 minutes, the Thunder had just one fast-break point — James Harden zipped the ball downcourt in transition and was fouled driving to the basket.
This was one bad quarter of basketball. Of the Thunder’s two baskets, one came on a Serge Ibaka jumper off a Kevin Durant fumble. The 76ers knocked away the ball from Durant, and Ibaka gathered it and was open. The other basket was mainstream — Daequan Cook came off a screen, took a pass from Russell Westbrook and drained a 3-pointer.
The other Thunder points came on four Westbrook foul shots — and neither foul was the traditional Westbrook-to-the-basket-and-gets-hammered-so-he-won’t-dunk play. The first was on a broken play, after an offensive rebound, when the ball rolled free in traffic under the basket, and Westbrook grabbed the ball and went up. The other was on a Westbrook follow shot.
The Thunder had 20 possessions in the quarter and scored on five of them. That’s an awful ratio. In those 20 possessions, the Thunder had 26 scoring chances, accounting for offensive rebounds. That’s a beyond-awful ratio.
The chief criticism of the Thunder halfcourt offense generally dwells on too much dribbling, not enough passing. I wouldn’t necessarily agree. The Thunder offense is predicated on dribbling — aggressive dribbling. Drives to the basket. That’s what makes Westbrook a superstar and Harden a near-all-star. It’s even become a solid weapon for Durant.
The Thunder did woefully little aggressive penetrating in that third quarter, which is why the Thunder did not make a basket from the paint in those 12 minutes. And of the Thunder’s three trips to the foul line in that quarter, only Harden’s transition attack came off the dribble.
Should the Thunder pass more? Of course. Passing always is a good thing for a basketball team. But the Thunder’s best passing comes off the dribble. The notion that the Thunder can swing the ball from side to side, ala the Mavericks, well, that’s just silly. The Thunder is not that kind of team and is not going to be, without massive remake.
The Thunder’s idea of increased passing is a deliberate pass to the wing, often to a player, usually Durant, who is not moving but is just standing with his arm up. Then often as not, the ball goes back to the point. Which counts as two passes but not one thing has changed other than the shot clock has been cut in half.
In that third quarter, the Thunder three times made three passes in a possession, after crossing half court. Here are the results:
* Led to a long Westbrook jumper that missed, but it actually was one of OKC’s better sets in the period;l
* Led to a fumble that Kendrick Perkins gathered, only to miss a 5-foot baseline shot;
* Led to a Harden turnover, when he tried to set up Nick Collison with a bounce pass.
Six other times, the Thunder made two passes in a set. OKC scored on none of the six. But I would classify four of the six as solid possessions. Kendrick Perkins got the ball on the block and made a decent drive before getting fouled (not in the act of shooting). Perkins also was set up for a decent jump hook, which on most nights is a bad Thunder shot but on this night was a good one. Westbrook missed an open 3-pointer off a Harden drive, but it was a good play. And Harden missed a driving shot after two passes.
And then, of course, there were all kinds of isolation plays after zero or one pass.The Thunder took just five shots in the paint. That can’t happen. And one of the shots in the paint weren’t good — Durant tossed up a wild drive. And another was that Perkins miss after picking up the fumble. So the Thunder offense in that quarter produced just three good shots in the paint.
The usual answer to Thunder offensive problems is easy. Let Durant shoot. But not against Philly. The 76ers are one of those teams suited to stop Durant, thanks primarily to the superb defense of Andre Iguodala. Iguodala, like Shawn Marion and Shane Battier and Tony Allen, gives Durant fits. Durant made seven of 18 shots for the game; he was 0-for-3 in the third quarter, with two near-wild shots, plus a 3-pointer.
Another usual answer — insert Harden — helped a little. Scotty Brooks didn’t pull the trigger on Harden until 4:28 remaining in the quarter. By that time, the Thunder had scored just seven points (counting two Westbrook foul shots right after the substitution) but scored just three after Harden’s entrance.
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