Two games. Three starters. Nine points.
That’s all you need to know about the state of the Oklahoma City Thunder sans Serge Ibaka.
In two games, three Thunder starters have combined to score nine points. It’s become an embarrassing stat that has exposed Oklahoma City’s offense in the Western Conference Finals for being overly reliant on stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
With the arrival of Game 3 on Sunday night, something seemingly must change.
The preferred solution is for players to simply play better. But the Thunder appears to be well beyond that. With the first string struggling so mightily, a change to the starting lineup could be in order.
And Thunder coach Scott Brooks at Saturday’s practice spoke as if changes are indeed on the horizon.
“We’ve made changes before, and I think definitely we have some time to think about that,” Brooks said. “I don’t have to get into the specifics right now…We have some time. We’ll see.”
Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison have totaled nine points on 4-for-19 shooting in these first two games. Perkins has supplied seven of those points.
That defensive-minded trio has made things tougher on Westbrook and Durant on the offensive end, as the Spurs have dared those role players to beat them while focusing on the Thunder’s two stars.
They’ve been unable to.
Sefolosha is scoreless in the series, missing all nine of his shots, and Collison is 1-for-5 from the field.
They’ve left the Thunder searching for answers.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Durant said Saturday when asked how OKC can win like this. “It’s tough. We got to help. Russell and myself have got to do a better job.”
Their best efforts haven’t been nearly enough. In fact, their inclination to do more has played right into the Spurs’ hands.
Of the 18 lineups Brooks has used in this series, the Thunder’s starting unit is by far the team’s worst despite playing the bulk of the minutes. In 23 minutes, that group has been outscored by 14 points and is shooting 32.6 percent. No other group has played more than nine minutes.
The dilemma for Brooks is that lineup has been one of the team’s best defensive units in this series. Of course, that’s not saying much in this case, but for what it’s worth the first string has yielded 47.8 percent shooting. Sounds high until you consider San Antonio is shooting an eye-popping 53.8 percent in the series thus far.
“I think we need production out of our group. That’s the main focus,” Brooks said. “It’s unfair to label Nick and Perk and Thabo that they need to score more. As a group, we need to play better for longer stretches against one of the best teams. We’re not asking for guys all of a sudden to be 15-point scorers and block shots. We’re just asking the group to play better, and we have to figure out ways to do that.
“If a change to the starting lineup can help that we will explore that. But we have to make sure we play better as a group first before we start saying lineups need to be changed. I’m not saying that might not happen. But we still have some time to think about that.”
At this point it seems certain Brooks will call on Caron Butler. He was inserted into the first five for Thabo Sefolosha in Game 6 against the Grizzlies, and that change played a small role in helping the Thunder win the final two games to advance to the semifinals.
Whether that’s the best move or simply one that Brooks will resort to because it worked before is another matter. Other options include Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Steven Adams and Derek Fisher. Each has his strengths and weaknesses, but all six can supply more offensive substance to a starting lineup that sorely needs it.
If a change isn’t seen Sunday, it’ll stand as the strongest evidence yet that the Thunder is content looking to Westbrook and Durant to bail out its offense.
The Spurs so far simply have sat back and feasted on that strategy, one that has turned this year’s Western Conference Finals into a glorified game of two-on-five.
“We got to do more, just point blank,” Durant insisted, referring to himself and Westbrook. “We have to dig deep and do more for our team. You can always say ‘What if? What if this, what if that.’ We have who we have on this team and we trust the guys we have on the floor. We just have to play better for them. We have to put them in better positions as the attackers on this team. We know that. We own up to that. We know we were terrible at it the first two games. We can just grow from it. That’s the best part of playing in a series is that you can learn from your mistakes.”