Still, the Thunder has more weapons than ever with the additions of Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams, the two biggest pieces the Thunder received in the Harden package. Lamb can supply perimeter shooting and playmaking when given the opportunity, while Adams already has proved to be a pest on the inside against these Spurs with his defense and rebounding.
Then there’s Derek Fisher and Caron Butler, the catch-and-shoot guys Brooks referenced. Both have been streaky in the postseason, but they’ve been solid so far in this series with the Spurs.
Additionally, no one can argue that the best two players in this series are Westbrook and Durant. Westbrook went off for a historic performance in Game 4, joining Michael Jordan as the only player to ever record 40 points with 10 assists and five steals in a postseason game. And Durant appears to be finding his stride.
But set aside the names on the back of the jerseys. Consider the production of this year’s team compared to the 2012 squad.
Oklahoma City’s offense, which Harden helped most during his tenure, isn’t significantly worse in any category. The Thunder is now a better passing team, averaging 1.3 more assists than the 2012 postseason; it generates more free throws, attempting 2.2 more per game; and it has only a slightly lower offensive rating, producing 2.2 fewer points per 100 possessions.
The biggest dropoffs have been seen in the Thunder’s ball security, scoring off turnovers and 3-point shooting. OKC is averaging 3.5 more turnovers in this postseason, 3.1 fewer points off turnovers and shooting 2.6 percentage points worse from beyond the 3-point line.
Although the Thunder has been worse at protecting the paint, allowing six more points in that area, it has become significantly better at defending the 3-point line, where it has shaved 4.2 percent off opponents’ percentage on the same 20.2 attempts per game. OKC also is a much improved rebounding team, particularly on the offensive end. Overall, the Thunder is allowing the same 104.3 points per 100 possessions now as it did then, as well as a nearly identical opponent field-goal percentage, 44.1 percent then to 44 percent now.
But regardless of the revamped roster or how similar the results have been between 2012 and 2014, if the Thunder falls into a 3-2 series hole Thursday night, you can bank on the team’s critics bringing up their 2-year-old reason for what’s holding back Oklahoma City.
No longer having Big Game James.