Thunder Gives It Away To Grizzlies; Go To Game 7
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s 95-83 loss in Game 6 against Memphis.
- Kevin Durant has to be more aggressive. There is another way to put it, but it’s really no need for that kind of language.
- I can understand Durant taking a wait-and-see approach in the first half, playing patiently and letting the game come to him. Durant got in early foul trouble and the Thunder still had a 13-point lead with five seconds remaining in the half. No problem there. But KD’s second half performance was something I honestly thought he left behind two years ago. In fact, I can’t recall a night as bad as this by Durant.
- Durant’s had much worse shooting nights. But his shooting percentage isn’t the point. I’m talking about Durant’s effort, his decisions and his body language. Bad. Bad. And terrible. Tony Allen and Shane Battier took Durant right out of this game, physically and perhaps mentally. Durant again couldn’t break free from either and his failure to do so broke down the team’s entire offensive rhythm. Running Durant off screens was pointless. He couldn’t create separation, a result of poor set ups on his part and poor screens by his teamamtes. And trying to get it to KD on seal plays for isolations was silly. He could neither hold his position nor keep his defender from getting their paws on the rock. It led to Durant standing in between the 3-point line and halfcourt still reaching out with one arm calling for it. Not gonna cut it.
- When all that failed, Durant started chucking. He quit trying. There is no other way to put it. Not when he took 10 shots in the second half and six of those were 3-pointers. Granted, two of those 3s came in the final 40 or so seconds. But he hardly showed any aggressiveness. That’s what was most alarming. I’d rather see Durant go 3-for-28 being aggressive than 3-for-14 being passive and settling for 3s.
- To be clear, this loss isn’t solely on Durant’s shoulders. He wasn’t the reason the Thunder lost the game. I’m not putting it all on him. But he is the face of the franchise and still is the team’s best player. Generally, 11 points is a quarter for Durant, not 37 minutes. Battling Battier and Allen is not easy. I get that. But no way should the back-to-back scoring champ ever have been this baffled. How Durant bounces back will be the truest test of what he’s made of. I don’t necessarily expect greatness in Game 7 so much as I expect a get-it-done-by-any-means type of performance.
- Does there come a time in a game like this if you’re Scott Brooks and/or Russell Westbrook that you just stop going to Durant? I’m asking because I really don’t know. With players of Durant’s caliber, you always think that next shot is going in, no matter what kind of rut they might be in. But he looked so utterly out of it tonight that even that general feeling had fled. Should the offense go in a different direction? Should the sets become designed for Westbrook? Should Durant take a seat? Some of all those options ran through my mind tonight.
- Anyone who blamed Westbrook for anything tonight other than a few too many turnovers is just being stubborn. Or didn’t really watch the game. There was no way you could watch this game and come away thinking anything Westbrook did in this one was anything short of necessary. No other Thunder player showed a pulse offensively in the second half. Westbrook’s assertiveness and ability to attack the rim was all the Thunder had going. Hero mode to the rescue. Take Westbrook out of the equation and the Thunder is 6-for-26 from the field, 23 percent, six percent worse than it was with him.
- Putting aside the loss in a pivotal Game 6 for a moment, the complete opposite showings by Westbrook and Durant tonight could go a long way in turning some national heads. I know more than a few of you are getting tired of hearing Westbrook compared to Stephon Marbury. It’s inaccurate and it’s not fair. But several veteran NBA writers noted tonight how Westbrook did the right thing. Many of them admitted poor judgment when labeling Westbrook in recent weeks. One writer said he had joined the anti-Westbrook train while sitting at home watching the games. But after covering tonight’s game, he absolved Westbrook of any and all fault. Another veteran NBA reporter had this gem. “Westbrook should have stepped up to the podium after Durant, looked at everybody and said, ‘See!’”
- In my book, Brooks is every bit on he hook as Durant. I’ll never understand why any coach, at any level, would be set in a certain way. But such is life with the Thunder’s lead man. I understand having a philosophy and sticking to it. I don’t understand not adjusting when it makes all the sense in the world.
- The two most costly things I spotted tonight was Brooks not playing James Harden and Nick Collison earlier in third quarter. Anybody who’s watched this team for more than 20 games could see the offense at the start of the third was in trouble. But Harden didn’t come back in until the 7:49 mark of the period. By that time, the Thunder’s 10-point halftime lead had shrunk to one, and the Thunder was 1-for-6 with two turnovers. Then, as Zach Randolph started rolling, Brooks left Serge Ibaka to figure it out. Collison, who’s done the best of anyone against Randolph, didn’t re-enter until 2:10 was left in the period. By that point, Randolph had scored eight points, developed a hit hand and led the Grizzlies to a three-point lead.
- Harden was 1-for-6 for two points in the second half. So it’s not like he’s innocent in all this. But you gotta believe that putting him back in there before the floodgates opened would have helped keep him from drowning.
- And for crying out loud, when Harden does finally get in the game put the ball in his hands and let him make a play. Westbrook doesn’t always have to be the one generating offense. Mix it up and make the D adjust.
- As for Collison, when he’s played 25 or more minutes in this series the Thunder has won. When he’s played less than 25 minutes, the Thunder has lost. He had 20 minutes tonight. Simple math.
- Perhaps the tell-all stat of how the Thunder’s offense shut down was seen in fast break points. The Thunder had 13 in the first half. OKC had three in the second.
- Memphis coach Lionel Hollins once again wasn’t afraid to mix it up. He started O.J. Mayo in place of Sam Young and sat back and watched it pay off big time. Mayo spaced the court and afforded Randolph more room to operate, making things doubly tough on the Thunder’s defense. Mayo scored six points in the opening period and was a pest defensively, while Randolph had eight early points to help him regain his rhythm.
- What is it about the Grizzlies that make them such a terrific team at forcing turnover? The Thunder had eight giveaways in the first quarter tonight and just can’t seem to take care of the basketball against these guys.
- Daequan Cook with a goose-egg after an 18-point performance. Remember that old saying about role players not traveling in the playoffs?
- I was not expecting Al Green to sing the national anthem. Took me until about ‘gave proof through the night’ before I realized it was The Al Green. That’s how stunned I was…then I listened to Green struggle through 90 percent of the song before bringing it home with a bang.
- Can I go back to Westbrook? No water is more under the bridge than the first half of this one. But I’d like to point out the final five minutes of the second quarter. Let’s not forget how great Westbrook was during that stretch. Let’s not forget how he was the guy who got the Thunder that 13 point lead. Westbrook scored or assisted on 17 of the Thunder’s final 19 points in the half. He was unstoppable driving to the rim. And he found open teammates (how sick was the pass to a trailing Harden for 3?). Westbrook had a hand in all but one offensive play that turned a 35-34 lead into a 54-41 margin.
- Want to know why Randolph got going again? Well, aside from Collison spending more time on the bench, the Thunder didn’t do as good of a job crowding him like its done in the past. The same room Randolph had on his face-ups in Game 1 was given to him tonight.
- Harden and Mayo were going at it pretty good tonight. Not sure what’s up with those two. I don’t know if they’re friends or can’t stand each other. But it looked pretty personal.
- Seemed like even more interest tonight than it was after Game 4 of meeting the team at the airport when it landed in Oklahoma City. According to some Twitter chatter, somewhere between 40 and 150 people showed up when the team landed. (Big gap, I know. Not my count.) I’d like to say three things about this meeting the team at the airport business. 1) I think it’s very cool and very supportive that Thunder fans do that. 2) I think anyone who did it early Saturday morning should be given free tickets to Game 7. And good ones. 3) I think the fans need to knock it off for now. Save the airport greetings for major achievements. I understand the sentiment tonight. But a loss shouldn’t warrant an airport greeting. The triple OT win was pushing it if you ask me. Last year’s first-ever playoff berth was a justifiable occasion. Returning after an NBA championship is another one. And perhaps a loss series-ending loss in a championship. Other than that, those meetings should be few and far between. They’re not special if you’re doing it for any old reason. But then again, maybe Oklahoma City will re-define special. Maybe meeting the team at the airport will be a part of what sets Thunder fans apart.
- Game 7 is 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. It’s win or go home.
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