Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Overtimes have been killers

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 25, 2014 at 11:50 am •  Published: April 25, 2014

Memphis fans cheer behind Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha (25) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., Thursday, April 24, 2014. Memphis won 98-95. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Memphis fans cheer behind Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha (25) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., Thursday, April 24, 2014. Memphis won 98-95. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

The last two Thunder-Memphis games have been so wild and dramatic that they’ve done the virtual impossible. They’ve taken the spotlight off overtimes. Usually in an overtime game, we focus on the OT and forget the first 48 minutes. Can’t do that these last two games.

But let’s look at the last two overtimes, both won by the Grizzlies despite the emotional letdowns that come from having given up big leads.

Game 2 offense: 10 possessions, six points, 2-of-8 shooting, 1-of-3 3-pointers, 1-of-2 foul shots, two turnovers.

Game 3 offense: 11 possessions, 10 points, 3-of-12 shooting, 0-of-5 3-pointers, 4-of-6 foul shots, one turnover.

So that’s 10 minutes, with 21 possessions. And the Thunder has scored 16 points, on 5-of-20 shooting, 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, 5-of-8 on foul shots, with three turnovers. That’s losing basketball. Which the results say.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have taken 19 of the 20 shots, all eight of the 3-pointers, all eight of the foul shots, committed two of the three turnovers and recorded both assists (by Westbrook, to Durant).

Go back and look at those numbers. In 10 minutes of court time, during which the Thunder starters have played almost all of that time (Kendrick Perkins fouled out with 2:18 left in Game 2’s overtime and came out for the final 14 seconds of Game 3’s), the Thunder has had 25 shots or turnovers. And Durant and Westbrook have used 23 of those 25.

Serge Ibaka was called for traveling with 20.6 seconds left in Game 2’s overtime, and Thabo Sefolosha hit a 12-foot jumper with 2.4 seconds left in Game 3’s overtime.

Yes, Durant and Westbrook dominate the ball during games. But that domination is soaring in overtime: 92 percent usage. Ninety-percent of possessions are ended by Durant and Westbrook in those two overtimes. In Game 2 regulation, Durant and Westbrook accounted for 58 of the 102 usages, which is 56.9 percent. In Game 3 regulation, Durant and Westbrook accounted for 59 of the 102 usages, which is 57.8 percent. Both high figures. But not anything approaching 92 percent.

And here’s the biggest problem with 92 percent. IT’S NOT WORKING. Sixteen points on 21 possessions will lose almost any NBA basketball game.

OK, now the other side. When Memphis has the ball.

Game 2 defense: 10 possessions, 12 points, 4-of-8 shooting, no 3-point shots, 4-of-5 foul shots, three turnovers.

Game 3 defense: 10 possessions, 13 points, 4-of-7 shooting, 1-of-1 3-pointers, 4-of-6 foul shots, no turnovers.

So that’s 10 minutes, with 20 possessions. And the Grizzlies have scored 25 points on 20 possessions, on 8-of-15 shooting, 1-of-1 3-pointers, 8-of-11 foul shots, with three turnovers.

Four of those possessions resulted in intentional fouls, off which the Grizzlies made seven of eight. So if you want to subtract those, that’s 16 possessions, 18 points. Which is winning basketball. Nobody ever said the margin of victory in the NBA isn’t slim.

The Thunder’s overtime performance has been disappointing. Lackluster offense in which no one outside of Durant and Westbrook are involved. Mostly a literal two-man game in which Ibaka, Sefolosha and Perkins don’t even touch the ball. And shaky defense, in which Memphis’ patience usually pays off.

“We didn’t come up with enough 50-50 balls,” Perkins said. “We didn’t play the smartest down the stretch. It hurts when you fight that hard to get to overtime, and you don’t play smart or capitalize. The good thing about it is we still have daylight. We are only one down one. We just have to go out there and handle our business.”

Here’s Memphis’ Marc Gasol on the Grizzlies’ overtime success: “We had to up the pace and we had to play a little faster, play through the drags. Don’t let their defense set and blitz Mike (Conley) and keep it on the side and bring everybody from the weakside over so there’s no roll, there’s no pop, there’s no ducking, there’s nothing. So if we play a little faster, we can move around a little easier with them. We have more room to operate.”

I don’t know if Memphis is playing faster in overtime or not. Of the Grizzlies’ eight possessions before OKC started fouling, Memphis five times ran the shot clock down to at least six seconds. One of the times the Grizzlies shot quick was a breakaway layup by Conley. So only twice in setup offense did Memphis shoot rather quickly – Conley made a go-ahead 3-pointer nine seconds into the shot clock, and Gasol hit a 12-foot jumper 13 seconds into the shot clock.

The Grizzlies are controlling the pace. Even in overtime when everyone is drained physically and mentally.

 

THE WORM HAS TURNED

Remember when beating Memphis meant stopping Gasol and Zach Randolph? Those were the days, my friend.

Through three games, Gasol has made 20 of 48 shots, six of nine foul shots, and has scored 46 points with two turnovers and three offensive rebounds. His plus/minus is -14. That’s 54 possessions to score 46 points.

Through three games, Randolph has made 22 of 61 shots, 18 of 25 foul shots, and has scored 62 points with six turnovers and 14 offensive rebounds, though eight came in Game 1. His plus/minus is plus-4. That’s 79 possessions to score 62 points.

I don’t guess there’s a clearer way to state it. Ibaka and Perkins are playing their butt off. The Thunder has asked its interior players to defend one-on-one, with no help from the perimeter, since Memphis is a better shooting team than in years past. And Ibaka and Perk have answered the challenge.

And before you get to that, Ibaka’s offense has been solid. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and is shooting 60 percent from the field (18 of 30). Here’s a clue for the Thunder: get Ibaka more involved in the offense.

Even Perkins was a plus offensively in Game 3 – 3-of-3 shooting, seven points, to go with nine rebounds. Perk might have played his best game ever Thursday night. To make Zach Randolph shoot 5-of-20, while also contributing offensively?

And despite the rest of the bench staging a disappearing act, Nick Collison has been solid. But to no avail. The Grizzlies are killing the Thunder on the perimeter.

 

ALLENTOWN

Durant spent two days back in OKC obviously annoyed of all the credit given Allen for Durant’s offensive malaise. Turns out Durant was right. Allen’s defense was no big factor in Game 3.

With 4:36 left in the third quarter, Allen checked into the game. At that point, he had played 11:01 of the game’s 31:24. Allen had played barely a third of the game. At that point, Memphis led 64-54 and Durant had made five of 11 shots, with 14 points. With Allen off the court to that time, Durant had nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. So the Thunder was taking advantage of Allen’s absence. Just not enough.

So with 4:36 left in the third quarter, Durant already had played 20 minutes and 10 seconds WITHOUT Allen on the floor. And had gotten just six shots during that time.

Give Tayshaun Prince credit for some good defense. He’s a prideful veteran himself. But also, that’s a faux pas by the Thunder, to not incorporate Durant more. Hard to believe a guy who took 27 shots on the night got only six (plus one trip to the foul line) in those 20 minutes.

Westbrook took nine shots during those 20 minutes when Durant was free of Allen. But don’t knock Westbrook; he made five of the nine and scored 14 points during that stretch.

Think about that. Those 20 minutes when Allen didn’t play the first 21/2 quarters, Westbrook and Durant combined to make nine of 13 shots. The rest of the game, they combined to make 10 of 40.

Tony Allen on the court means Memphis’ defense is better everywhere.

And oh by the way, he wasn’t half bad on offense – 16 points, three assists, 8-of-15 shooting.

“The guy did 99 percent of everything on the floor, and it was spectacular,” said Memphis coach Dave Joerger. “That’s the guy that we all love with his passion, how hard he plays and his IQ is off the charts. It’s a nice thing to have defensively and offensively. I thought he was aggressive. He was decisive.”

 

BENCH & MOAN

Given the numbers I just threw at you, you’d half expect Tony Allen’s plus/minus to be, oh, plus-20. But no. It was minus-one.

Kosta Koufos was a plus-nine. That shows how awful has been the Thunder bench. OKC’s B team is getting torched by the Memphis reserves. And that’s even with Mike Miller being largely ineffective. He hit the big 3-pointer in Game 2, but Miller for this series is 4-of-15 shooting and went scoreless in Game 3.

No matter. Beno Udrih is playing like an all-star – 26 points in 28 minutes the last two games, on 11 of 14 shooting. Reggie Jackson’s defense has been abysmal.

True story. My nephew on Monday night told his dad, my brother, that Jackson ought to come into the game only when Tayshaun Prince plays for Memphis, because that’s the only guy he can guard.

My nephew is six years old. And he can figure it out.

Jackson’s offense has been awful – 3-of-19 shooting, 15 points. But his defense has been worse.

And whatever happened to Caron Butler: 1-of-9 shooting the last two games, with three points. Butler’s never assigned to anyone of substance defensively, so maybe it’s time for a Jeremy Lamb appearance.

 

DEJA BLUES

Deja Blues was our headline in the Friday Oklahoman, and a good headline it was, referring to the similarities between Games 2 and 3, down to a four-point play in the final 30 seconds.

But it’s also Deja Blues concerning the 2013 Memphis series.

Durant’s shooting in the five-game series last year: 13-of-26, 11-of-21, 9-of-19, 10-of-27, 5-of-21. Durant’s shooting so far this season: 13-of-25, 12-of-28, 10-of-27. Progressively worse. That’s not a good sign.

 

STARTING FIVE

The Thunder’s starting unit rarely has had a finer time. It played 29 1/2 minutes together. And outscored the Grizzlies 58-48.

With 7:43 left in the game, Scotty Brooks inserted Sefolosha, Westbrook and Perkins, to go with Durant and Ibaka. The Thunder trailed 81-64. Three minutes later, OKC had cut the lead to seven. With 2:07 left, the lead was cut to three. With 57 seconds left, Westbrook’s 3-pointer tied the game, capping a 17-0 run.

“They are very athletic and very long,” Joerger said. “We walked the ball up too many times. It’s not just the point guard. We need to get the ball up the floor and get in our stuff quicker. I’ll do a better job of that. They locked us up. They stood where they could. They made their selves very athletic. We ended up with too many shots with three, four, five or six seconds left on the shot clock. I try to rotate guys and keep guys fresh as much as possible.”

The starting unit had a 9-8 lead when Brooks first substituted. It played well down the stretch of the second quarter, outscoring Memphis 6-4 over a span of 3:43. The only down times for the starting unit were the beginning of the third quarter, when the Grizzlies outscored OKC 20-15 before Brooks subbed, and of course overtime, which we’ve well-documented.

“I think we hung our hats on the defensive end,” Perkins said. “It translated into offensive. We have to put all 48 minutes together against this team. We are going to keep fighting. It isn’t over. The series is far from over.”

But I think we’ve seen what we’re going to see. Foreman Scotty is going to live and die with his tried and true starters.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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