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Thunder has to be willing to let non-stars shoot in crunch time

The Dallas Mavericks dared someone other than Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook to beat them down the stretch, and the Thunder didn't double dare, writes columnist Berry Tramel.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 24, 2011

DALLAS — Disaster and embarrassment and infamy filled the Thunder rearview mirror as the Mavericks threatened to post a comeback for the ages Monday night.

Twentysomething seconds left, the Thunder up two after leading by 15 less than five minutes previous, needing a basket to stave off an epic collapse, Kevin Durant passed the ball.

To Thabo Sefolosha. And I have no problem with that.

You know the rest. Thabo missed an open corner jumper, Dallas forced overtime and the Mavs won 112-105 to effectively end the Western Conference Finals. Coronation is set for Wednesday night with Game 5.

Will such a meltdown have lasting impact on this franchise that could/should run at least this deep in the NBA playoffs for several more seasons? Only if the Thunder fails to recognize how it happened.

And here's how. A total offensive train wreck. One basket in those final five minutes. Only two foul shots (both missed). Two turnovers. Eleven possessions, two points.

James Harden foolishly fouled out after the first of those possessions, at which point the Mavericks committed to all-out blitz.

“James ... takes a lot of pressure off me and Russell,” Durant said.

Dallas double-teamed Durant whenever he had the ball. Double-teamed Russell Westbrook on all pick-and-rolls.

“The other guys were kind of helping and zoning,” said Mav star Dirk Nowitzki.

Said Dallas center Brendan Haywood, “When Harden fouled out, we then focused all of our attention on KD. We really shrunk the court ... everybody was concentrating on not letting KD get to the hole, so he was forced to throw deep jumpers without Harden to space the court for him.”

That's desperation defense. Selling out to stop two players is not fundamental in the NBA. But it paid off because the Thunder wilted under the pressure.

Durant didn't pass quick enough or smart enough or well enough out of double teams. Westbrook didn't recognize the double teams soon enough to swing the ball elsewhere. Coach Scotty Brooks failed to get another scorer on the court, Daequan Cook, for example, who by all means has Dallas' attention this series.

“They were loading one side whenever KD had the ball,” Sefolosha said. “They were playing zone defense on the opposite side. We need to move the ball a little more. It was a little too stagnant.”

The Mavericks pounced on a Thunder bugaboo. Lack of crisp passing. For all the wonderful things these Boomers do, quick and efficient passing is not one of them.

That proved fatal Monday night.

You can blame Westbrook's lack of quarterbacking skill, but you also can blame Durant's weakness with the ball (a ridiculous nine turnovers in Game 4). And you can blame a lack of offensive weapons.

Harden is a good player who gets better by the week and might be a star. Manu Ginobili with a beard.

But in May 2011, Harden shouldn't hold all the hope of the Thunder offense in his skilled left hand.

Tramel: Ultimate resiliency test in Game 5

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by Berry Tramel
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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