By Mike Sherman, Sports Editor, The Oklahoman
If the Thunder and Grizzlies are going to keep playing bonus basketball, it figures that our readers would have extra questions. Here’s the leftover questions and my answers from today’s NewsOK Sports Power Lunch live chat, which went overtime.
Q: “Westbrook swooped in and rescued OKC”? Is it real rescue when you play an integral part in digging the team into the hole in the first place? I believe to beat Memphis we need sound basketball. Fewer turns, share the ball and defend. Not late-game heroics. What’s your take?
A: Excellent question, based on my statement that Russell Westbrook swooped in and rescued Oklahoma City in the second half of Game 3. The Thunder rallied from deficits of 8 after two, 10 after three and 17 with eight-plus minutes left. Here’s Westbrook’s halftime line: 3 of 8 shooting, 1 of 3 on 3-pointers, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 9 points. By the end of three quarters he had 21 points on 7 of 15 shooting, still no assists and 1 turnover. “Integral part in digging the team into the hole in the first place” obviously is an overstatement. It’s no overstatement, however, that he saved OKC from certain demise (see his ignite spurt in the third quarter and in the final minute his tying 3-pointer and tying 4-point play). Sharing the ball more in overtime would have been wise. Sharing it more at closing time in regulation would not.
Q: How about that spin move Beno (Udrih) put on Durant?
A: I’d love to know what’s gotten into him. Escaping from New York and the Knicks culture (which Phil Jackson obviously will now change) will give most players a new lease on life. But I want to know who saw this coming. We’ve just witnessed only his second back-to-back double-figure scoring games this season.
Q: I could let the whole game slide, but 2.5 left and KD takes a fade away 3!!! Didn’t even dribble the ball. Unacceptable and the two 3s with 40 seconds left was almost as ridiculous.
A: Reminds me of this.
When you’ve turned so many games into Rucker Park – at Toronto, the closing minute of Game 2 – you start believing you can do it every night. He’s done it plenty. What’s the old saying? Nothing fails like success.
Q: Mike, it is not about Scott Brooks “throwing KD and Westbrook under the bus.” If as you say he tries to reign them in when they are flying off the reservation, why then do they keep doing it? That then shows they don’t respect his direction and someone needs to go period. You can sugarcoat this I don’t think. This is not the first time they are doing this. They do this each single game we are down. Attempt to take over with a carefree attitude knowing no one can tell them different. True or false.
A: Frue. No wait, talse. What care-free attitude are you referring to. These guys are some of the most intense competitors in the league. I don’t think Russell Westbrook has a care-free bone in his body, certainly not when he’s playing. They are fearless, extremely confident. These traits rallied the Thunder into overtime, and then drove it off the cliff. But the attributes that make them great led to their undoing. Sometimes it just takes time and maturity to learn how to moderate that and to not only hear but listen.
Q: I think we’re all forgetting nothing is easy in the West! A No. 7 seed would be a contender in the East. Ease up a bit!
A: There is that.
Q: When is the Thunder going to post up Durant in the low post?
A: You, Charles Barkley and everyone else wonders. LeBron left Cleveland with that question still hanging in the air about him. Lost to the Mavs in the Finals with it still unanswered. Then came the Heat-Thunder Finals. What if Durant doesn’t like posting up because he doesn’t think he’s good at it? I’d imagine he’d eventually do it, and it could even be Game 4, though I’d be surprised if it’s for more than a couple possessions. Two of the game-changing plays in Game 3 came when Westbrook tried to force-feed the ball to Durant and Tony Allen knocked it away and then stole it outright. The supply lines become more complicated when Durant goes to the post. The best post players are frequently surrounded by good passers. Westbrook is a good passer in the open court. His entry passes can be rough. Sefolosha is solid. Ibaka. Perkins. Meh. The Thunder is not a great half-court passing team. I wish there was a hockey assist stat handy. I’m guessing OKC ranks now.
Q: What does the Thunder bench need to do to get better? They were outperformed in both these games. It was shameful.
A: It needs Reggie Jackson to break out of his funk. To go all the way to the rim against this team instead of pulling up. Where’s the great shot-blocker for Memphis?
Q: I’d really like to see Adams get some floor time, if for no other reason than to try and draw some fouls from Gasol & Randolph. Any chance of seeing him this series?
A: He has been idle since Game 1. I’d imagine it’s because of his defensive deficiencies. I mentioned somewhere else, Randolph would be twice as effective against Adams as he is against Perk (5 of 20 in Game 2). Want to see a 17-point lead turn into 27? Let Randolph shoot 50 percent on that many attempts. The only fouls Adams is going to draw is in a Hack-A-Adams strategy.
Q: With Perkins and Sefolosha on the floor we are always 3 vs. 5 offensively. Agree?
A: Disagree. The Thunder is built on turning defensive pressure and guards who are elite defensive rebounders into fast-break opportunities. And when that happens it brings Thabo and to a far lesser degree Perk into the offensive equation. Granted, walking the ball up the court with these guys against Memphis is deadly. The 17-point comeback was aided by Thabo and Perk contributions. But what no one ever seems to account for is how many open shots Kendrick Perkins’ screens create. Watch the game, not just the ball. You’ll see them. That stuff matters. Watch how many loose ball Thabo rounds up to create extra possessions. Those don’t fit in a box score.
Q: What do the Thunder do differently to turn this series around? Been a die-hard fan since they’ve been there. Thought they were going to win a championship this year. Can they still do that?
A: I don’t see anyone beating the Heat. OK, maybe the Washington Wizards (I’ve got pictures of me with Elvin Hayes on Meet The Bullets Day, so pardon that momentary break from reality). If Durant gets a bit more efficient. If the Thunder gets back to normal at the line (80 pct. Instead of 73.3 pct). If OKC rediscovers its pick-and-pop game with Ibaka. If it can accomplish two of those three I’d say it wins Game 4.
Q: Why are the Thunder always able to generate runs when their backs are against the wall for come-from-behind wins and to force overtime but can’t do that the rest of the game? Mental issues? Are the Grizzlies in their heads?
A: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” – Samuel Johnson. As for the Grizzlies, I think it’s more a matter of them being in Durant’s jersey (Come on out, Tony Allen) than heads.
Q: Do you have Memphis pompoms? You seem like their biggest fan on Twitter. Or do you just enjoy trolling Thunder fans?
A: Neither. Just calling it like I see it. I enjoy good basketball games, of which this series has produced three.
Q: How come all these people are not coaching some big-time basketball team somewhere, since they seem think they know just what it would take for the Thunder to win?
A: My old buddy Al Miller, a state champion football coach at Carl Albert High School and even a better man, had a saying I always remember in these circumstances. “There’s three things everyone thinks they can do better than someone else: Preach, teach and coach.”
Q: When can Adams and Lamb go the free-agent way? I would not blame either one if they got out of OKC ASAP.
A: Lamb is first. He’ll be a restricted free agent after next season, which means the Thunder can match any offer. The Thunder can keep Adams with what’s called a qualifying offer after next season. He can be a restricted free agent after the 2016 season. There’s a wide range of opinions on Lamb. Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose think he and Perry Jones are on their way out of the league. It’s part of Simmons’ Harden trade tantrum. Sam Presti is pretty fond of Adams. I don’t think he’s going anywhere and Lamb is going to have his chances, perhaps in the next series if there is one for OKC.
Q: Hey Mike, what is going on with our flow? Durant and Westbrook seem to have reverted back to getting nervous in big games like they did when we went to the Finals. Not running the offense. Why do you think this is?
A: It sure isn’t nervousness. It’s overconfidence if anything. Like I said, it’s the Rucker Park Syndrome.
Q: Any chance Brooks will get fired after first-round exit? I hope so. If not then KD will pull a LeBron and Clay Bennett can then regret for the rest of his life for not spending money to get good pieces and not getting a good coach.
A: I just heard ESPN’s Ryan Russillo say that Brooks would be fired after a first-round exit if he coached in a bigger market. (Double hypothetical alert). I presume he means that in larger markets there’s tougher/better/more media coverage that would create the pressure on the front office to make a move. The pressure on Brooks is already there. It’s called championship expectations. It’s called the ticking clock on Durant and Westbrook contracts. It’s the nature of professional sports, and it’s no different in a larger or small market for franchises with championship aspirations. Firing Brooks after a first-round loss still seems character for this franchise. Seems. But I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on him being the coach if OKC goes out in five or six games.