Here are five observations (and some other lingering thoughts) on the Thunder’s 100-99 Game 5 overtime loss to Memphis:
1. Wild times - We may not gain a true appreciation for this series until we’re a few months (or years) removed. But like the 2009 Bulls-Celtics series and a few others before it, this will serve as one of those crazy reference points. The ‘yeah, this is pretty crazy’, but do you remember that Thunder-Grizzlies marathon. Four straight overtimes, four-point plays for everyone, wild comebacks and blown leads. The Ray Westbrook tweet, the Kendrick Perkins seat, the Joey Crawford stiff-arm and the MVP’s struggles. It’s had late-game drama, countless storylines, interesting subplots and a ton of huge shots. The only thing that’s missing is a dramatic Game 6 and 7. But there’s still time for that.
2. KD’s surprising struggles - This series, to me, boils down to the struggles of Kevin Durant. If the soon-to-be-MVP was playing near the level of his typically efficient self, the Thunder may have already claimed it. Instead, OKC’s fortunate to still be in it. The past four games have all gone to overtime. Each could have swung on a play, a coaching decision or, in Durant’s case, a better individual performance. Combined in those four games, Durant went 37-of-100 from the field. That 37 percent clip is lower than Brandon Jennings’ FG percentage this season. At 37.3 percent, Jennings was 124th out of 124 eligible players in that category. Bump that up to somewhere around 44 percent — still six below Durant’s season average — and we’re talking about an entirely different series. Instead, we’re looking at a potentially huge postseason asterisk on Durant’s first MVP season. That is, unless he reverses course in Games 6 and 7.
KD’s shooting lines
Game 1: 13-of-25 FG, 3-of-7 from three, win
Game 2: 12-of-28 FG, 5-of-12 from three, loss
Game 3: 10-of-27, 0-of-8 from three, loss
Game 4: 5-of-21 FG, 1-of-7 from three, win
Game 5: 10-of-24 FG, 3-of-8 from three, loss
-A ton of this clearly has to do with Tony Allen’s bulldog defense and the Grizzlies crisp backside help, but Durant’s still missing a ton of makable shots. He’s botching open layups, clanging 15-footers, rushing clean looks, committing sloppy turnovers and not getting bailed out by the refs. Allen may be in his head, but Durant’s the MVP. He’s widely considered the most skilled offensive player in the world (and maybe of our generation). It’s his job to figure it out.
3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Westbrook - For Wednesday’s paper, I wrote about the constantly entertaining, always confounding Russell Westbrook (you can read it here). And Tuesday night may be the greatest microcosm of who he is as an NBA player. The dude put up a 30-10-13 triple-double, made a game-saving steal/dunk and kept the Thunder afloat at times with his clutch playmaking (11 second-half assists) and infectious will to win. But he also took 31 shots (seven more than KD, 14 more than anyone on Memphis), committed sloppy turnovers, had some costly defensive lapses and exhibited some of the strangest shot selection you’ll ever see out of an average jump-shooting point guard. Then after the game, wearing one of his patented ‘Wait, is that a Halloween costume?’ outfits, he said: “If they’re giving me a 15-footer, I’ll make that nine times out of 10, so I’m going to shoot it.” That coming from a guy who is now 13-of-44 on mid-range shots in the series and 7-of-38 from three. A bit irrational, always entertaining, annually polarizing. Personalities make sports so great. And Russell Westbrook’s certainly got a unique one.
-Per Elias, Russell Westbrook is the first person in playoff history to put up a 30-10-10 triple-double while also missing 20-plus shots from the field.
4. Film room - The thing that makes the Grizzlies defense so good is the steady energy, communication and rotation that they play with. The Thunder have enough athleticism and shot-making ability to explode for spurts, but the Grizzlies don’t panic. OKC, meanwhile, has immense defensive skill and length, but doesn’t utilize it consistently. The Thunder terrorize opposing offenses in these wild and explosive bursts, which can be exhilarating and game-changing. But the occasional lapses are what hurt them. Multiple times per game, they have a defensive breakdown or an individual brain fart that allows the other team an easy bucket or a crucial rebound. And in a series this evenly-matched, those are deadly.
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