As he staggered toward the deep corner, falling out of bounds and likely taking the Thunder’s faint hopes with him, Kevin Durant threw up a fadeeeeeeawayyyyyy prayer.
Swish. Plus the foul.
Then moments later, following an errant game-winning three attempt by Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins corralled the rebound and tossed in a putback at the buzzer to send it to overtime.
Two miracle plays. Two of the most unlikely shots in Thunder history. And two moments that would be remembered a lot more fondly had OKC not eventually fell 111-105 in overtime on Monday night.
But both also served as perfect examples of what, again, ailed the Thunder on Monday night and stands as a glaring concern as this series moves forward.
Ineffective late-game offense.
Not much movement, not much structure, far too many contested threes. The Thunder lost this game down the stretch because of unstructured offense and a pair of stars who settled for too many deep, guarded threes.
“You have to find a good shot,” Scott Brooks said. “And we didn’t find enough of them.”
In the final six minutes of Monday’s loss – the last minute of regulation and all of overtime – the Thunder made only four of its 12 shots.
Two were well-designed plays, one resulting in a Durant 14-footer over the smaller Courtney Lee and the other a solid pin-down screen which freed Durant for an open three.
But the other two were the miraculous Durant heave and the fortunate Perkins putback, neither of which came off well-designed plays.
“We pressured some passes,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger explained. “Pressured the basketball.”
And he’s right. The Grizzlies tenacious and unrelenting defense had a lot to do with the Thunder’s late struggles. But it seemed that, instead of attacking the physicality, OKC shied away.
The Thunder took 30 threes and made nine. Durant took 12 and made five – including the prayer. Westbrook took seven and made one.
“I think that’s a good percentage if I’m not mistaken. We took the shots that were open,” a defensive Durant said, referring to his 5-of-12 line, before admitting: “We settled for a few.”
But some of the late-game blame must also fall to Brooks. Since arriving in OKC, the Thunder has struggled down the stretch in tight games. With two superstars, OKC tends to allow them to force up contested jumpers following uncreative sets.
“I thought we might have taken a few too many 3s,” Brooks admitted. “It’s something we’ll look back at and see how many of them were good shots or contested shots.”
One time, with 20 seconds left in overtime and trailing by two, it looked as if Brooks drew up a solid play. Following some misdirection action, Durant was able to hit Serge Ibaka cutting to the rim for what looked like an open lane.
But Ibaka shuffled his feet following the catch and got called for a travel that essentially sealed the Thunder’s fate.
“Serge has been great finishing around the basket,” Brooks said. “I’m happy with the catch, but I’m not thrilled with the result. That’s part of the game. You’ve got to live with it.”
Maybe it was a step forward – a solid design for what should have been a good shot. Or maybe it was the exact reason OKC tends to let Westbrook and Durant freelance.
Whatever the issue, OKC better figure it out soon. Because late-game opportunities are what’s likely to define this suddenly toss-up series.