Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have combined to take 100 of the Thunder’s 169 shot attempts in Oklahoma City’s first two games of this first-round series against Memphis.
That’s 59.1 percent of the team’s attempts.
The duo has taken 34 of the team’s 43 shots in the fourth quarters and overtime.
That’s 79 percent.
Hero ball, at least for the time being, appears to be back.
And that’s not a good thing. Never has been for the Thunder.
The question is can OKC get away from that style in Game 3 on Thursday night in Memphis? Against the gritty Grizzlies, it seems the Thunder has to.
“We have to trust what we do and not try to scrap it (and look) for the homerun play,” said forward Nick Collison. “In our history, we’ve gone to that sometimes and it doesn’t work very well.”
Monday was nothing more than a reminder.
In the Game 2 loss, Westbrook and Durant took 24 of the Thunder’s 29 shots in the fourth quarter and overtime. Most everything was a struggle. Some of it was due to poor shot selection and questionable decisions. Some of it had to do with Memphis making things difficult with determined defense. Still, the late-game offense fizzled. It became a basic two-man game, with Westbrook and Durant taking turns trying to bail out the Thunder with big shots.
“We didn’t look as though we were in control of ourselves,” said guard Derek Fisher. “We looked like we wanted it too badly and too quickly.”
But in the game’s final 10 minutes, play-calling wasn’t the problem it appeared to be. OKC ran several go-to plays designed to get quality shots. The Thunder’s undoing seemed to be a lack of discipline.
Ball movement was replaced by an overreliance on ball screens designed solely to get shots for Durant and Westbrook. Cutting took a backseat to watching. Patience was substituted with settling.
“With us, it’s like, in our minds, when we need a basket, instead of saying one guy’s got to make a play, it’s got to be we need to run our offense even better,” Collison said. “Get to our spots quicker. Screen better so that the shot’s better. And realize that’s the way we’re going to be able to execute down the stretch of these games instead of a guy thinking, ‘OK, we need a shot. I need to go make a shot.’ It needs to be a collective thing as a team. We need to really, as a five-man unit, execute and get the best shot possible.”
Part of the Thunder’s problem Monday was the team’s offense suffered from its poor defense. Of the Thunder’s 24 possessions in final 10 minutes, only three were fast-break opportunities.
That left the Thunder forced to make plays in halfcourt sets, something that’s never been a strong suit. Thunder coach Scott Brooks attempted to attack the Grizzlies defense by putting Durant and Westbrook in positions they’re most comfortable. He used ball screens or down screens to free Durant or Westbrook on 11 trips. The problem the Thunder ran into was it got stuck in scramble mode when those screens didn’t spring Durant free — something for which Memphis can credit Tony Allen’s impeccable ball denial skills — or produce a quality look. With little to no secondary action away from the ball to keep the defense guessing, the Thunder’s All-Stars were then forced to make a play. At times, they settled for long-range shots.
The most glaring sign of how much the Thunder reverted to its old ways was seen in Serge Ibaka’s inclusion. In a career year, Ibaka didn’t take a single shot in the fourth quarter or overtime in Game 2. The Thunder used eight isolations in the final 10 minutes.
“We got to figure it out,” Durant said. “We got to trust our teammates, which we’ve been doing, just trusting everybody. And guys have been coming through for us. We lost last game. We got to just move past it and continue to trust each other, not just the fourth quarter but the start of the game. That’s going to give guys confidence in the fourth as well.”