For two weeks — as the Thunder battled through a grueling 7-game test against a bruising Memphis team — OKC quietly got a reprieve from what had been its biggest issue.
This season, the Thunder was among the worst teams in the NBA covering the 3-point line. Opponents made 8.6 threes per game, fourth most in the league, and, since the All-Star Break, shot a deadly 39 percent.
But besides Mike Miller, Memphis didn’t have a player that could exploit that Thunder weakness. In the 14-day slugfest, the Grizzlies barely shot threes and rarely made them.
Oh how things have now changed, though, with the up-tempo, free-flowing and talented Clippers in town. The Grizzlies made only 3.8 threes per game against OKC, shooting a dreadful 29 percent. They never made more than seven in a game.
On Monday night, the Clippers had seven in the first quarter and 15 in the game. Chris Paul had six at halftime and eight on the night. For Thunder fans and the media that cover the team, it was like an ‘Oh, yeah, I forgot how big a problem this was’ epiphany.
And in this edition of the Thunder Film Room, we look at why L.A. was able to have so much success from deep:
One of the leading causes of open threes is an inability to capture defensive rebounds. You can play great defense for an entire possession, force a tough shot and get a miss. But if you don’t get the loose ball, your defense is often left out of order. On this play, Thabo Sefolosha initially does a fine job of sticking with J.J. Redick through some baseline screens. But as Blake Griffin clangs a long-range two, Sefolosha crashes the glass along with Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins. Problem is, none of the three show any urgency in trying to get the rebound, allowing DeAndre Jordan to swoop in, snatch it up and feed it back out to Paul. Paul then hands it to Redick, who is all alone because Sefolosha is now lost in the fray, scrambling after a missed rebound opportunity. Easy look, easy three for a sharpshooter:
On this next play, an unaware Serge Ibaka allows Blake Griffin to poke a rebound away from behind. Griffin then tosses it back out to Chris Paul. At this point, the Clippers point guard was starting to feel it. But Kevin Durant acts like he’s basically a non-threat, casually strolling over and giving him way too much space:
These are the kind of looks OKC can’t give the Clippers. It comes from sloppy, lazy rotations and a defensive energy level that’s somewhere between preseason exhibition and All-Star Game. On the first play, Chris Paul spins at the top of the key and drags a double-team toward the left side of the floor. Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins follow and Caron Butler, who is at fault on this play, gets completely lost. J.J. Redick is a terrible matchup for him and this is the best example. He struggles to keep up with Redick’s constant movement and use of screens. Butler, already trailing Redick too much, runs into Paul and basically gets taken out of the play. Paul then swings it over the top of a gambling Westbrook (surprise) to an open Redick at the top of the key. After whiffing on the steal attempt, Westbrook turns into lazy spectator, literally standing and staring as the rest of the play develops. He has no intention of recovery or help. And this forces Durant to shoot out toward Redick — which he also does with little urgency — and leave Matt Barnes wide open in the corner. Smart swing pass by Redick, easy three by Barnes, terrible defense by OKC:
On this next play, just ignore the fact that Chris Paul easily dissects a Thunder double-team and scoots past Steven Adams for what should have been a layup. Instead focus on Russell Westbrook, who is guarding Jamal Crawford at the top of the screen. And I use the word ‘guarding’ loosely. Again, he’s basically just standing and staring. As Paul enters the paint, Westbrook makes a half-hearted flinch toward Paul, who seems unaffected by this YMCA defense. Paul passes up the layup and swings it to Crawford, Westbrook’s man, sitting wide open in the corner. For Crawford, a sharpshooter in every sense of the word, this is essentially a 3-point layup. Westbrook remains stuck in quicksand, not even feigning a close-out:
One of the Thunder’s biggest issues has been a tendency to overhelp. They trap pick-and-rolls and pack the paint with collapsing rotations. Against Memphis, that’s fine. Throw all your bodies at Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and leave Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince on the perimeter to fire line drive bricks. But the Clippers present different problems. They brought a bunch of snipers to OKC. Take this play below for example. As OKC traps Paul off a simple pick-and-roll at the top of the key, DeAndre Jordan dives toward the lane. But he doesn’t do it as much of a threat. It’s more of a wander with no intentions of getting the ball. But Thabo Sefolosha quickly crashes down, even though Serge Ibaka is in the vicinity, and it leaves Matt Barnes wide open in the corner. Chris Paul will find that open man every time and Barnes will knock it down on a consistent basis:
Paul’s big night
Chris Paul even admitted it after the game: He’s not going to have another night like this. Probably not again in his life. Entering Monday, in 665 regular season and postseason games, Paul’s career-high was five made threes. At halftime, he was 6-of-6. At the end of the third quarter, he was 8-of-9. The dude was just feeling it. Some of his looks, there was nothing the Thunder could do. On most nights, you want the dynamic playmaker to take contested, off-balance 3s instead of slice you up on the pick-and-roll. But on this night, he was dropping shots like these:
But that said, the Thunder still gave Paul far too much room, particularly after he flashed that scorching shot. Maybe they got a little too comfortable in the Memphis series against Mike Conley, who went 3-of-27 in the seven games, missing a ton of uncontested looks. But you can’t allow open looks like in these next few clips. On the first play, Westbrook too easily allows a screen to force him into a switch, putting Butler on Paul. And then Butler lays way too far off, giving a guy who has already canned seven 3s in 30 minutes his eighth of the night:
Here’s an example of bad communication. Derek Fisher and Serge Ibaka get lost on a side pick-and-pop, both hesitating on who and if they are switching and allowing Paul to can another easy three.
Reggie Jackson gets absolutely lost on what should be a double-team. Then he sticks too far away from Paul. Scott Brooks should try to avoid any RJ vs CP3 matchups at all cost in this series.
On this last one, Russell Westbrook gets a little jumpy at the sight of DeAndre Jordan, shuffling toward his body and allowing the crafty Chris Paul to scoot a couple feet away before planting and shooting a wide-open three.
The Clippers final line from three, 15-of-29, looks a lot worse than it really was. Paul nailed a batch of shots that he won’t take or make for the rest of the series and Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley hit a few in the fourth quarter against the Thunder’s B Team. But some familiar areas of concern clearly popped up in the first half. The first half Redick, Barnes and Crawford makes, I thought, were the most worrisome. Those are the fringe shooters that’ll burn this overloaded Thunder scheme. Especially if they defend with the lack of passion and focus that we saw on Monday night.