One of the best plays of the Thunder season occurred Sunday, and then it almost immediately was lost in the glare of Serge Ibaka’s cheap shot on Blake Griffin. For the Monday Oklahoman, I wrote about Ibaka’s low-blow strike on Griffin. You can read that column here.
But before the Clippers’ seven-point possession, the Thunder scored to take a 99-93 lead with 2:23 left. And here’s how the Thunder did it. As he crossed halfcourt, Russell Westbrook tossed the ball to Kevin Durant on the wing. Durant flipped the ball to Thabo Sefolosha back out front. Thabo passed to Westbrook. Westbrook passed back to Durant. Durant threw the ball to Thabo on the deep right wing. Thabo zipped a pass to Kendrick Perkins on the baseline. As the Clippers’ zone defense collapsed on Perk, he fired a pass to Ibaka under the basket for an easy dunk.
Seven passes. A bunch of hockey assists, which the Thunder likes to talk about although it doesn’t much embrace the concept.
How amazing was the possession? On Friday night in Denver, the Thunder made six passes — in the final eight minutes of the game. Six passes total. No. I’m not kidding.
I charted every Thunder possession of the fourth quarter in OKC’s 105-103 loss at Denver on Friday night. And it was a monument to hero ball, the NBA’s term for stars going one-on-one. Coaches, Scotty Brooks among them, preach ball movement, but that doesn’t mean we see the result on the court. Not counting inbound passes or passes in the backcourt, the Thunder made six passes in their final 17 possessions. Not six assists. Six passes. Total.
Durant re-entered the Denver game with 9:44 left in the fourth quarter. On the first OKC possession, backup point guard Reggie Jackson made the only pass — for an assist on a Durant jumper. On the next possession, the Thunder made three passes, leading to a missed Thabo Sefolosha drive. Then Russell Westbrook replaced Jackson, and on the ensuing possession, the Thunder made three passes, leading to Kevin Martin’s 3-pointer that drew OKC within 89-83.
And then the Thunder resorted exclusively to one-on-one basketball. On 11 of the last 17 OKC possessions, the player who dribbled across court never passed it — Westbrook eight times, Durant three. Now, some of those were in transition — Westbrook, primarily, pushing the tempo. On three of Westbrook’s eight hero possessions, he was fouled and shot foul shots, not counting a three-point play opportunity. On the others, Westbrook shot 2-of-5 — he made a driving basket, then scored in transition. He missed a 3-pointer, a jumper and a drive.