After a game one win in which the Oklahoma City Thunder seemingly dispatched of the Memphis Grizzlies easily, the two teams combined to give us a playoff classic on Monday. Kevin Durant hit an impossible three from the corner while almost horizontal and Kendrick Perkins sent it to overtime with a putback at the buzzer, but the team could not pull out the win in the extra time.
While one loss is by no means a reason to scrap everything and change the team’s philosophy immediately, the loss was a real eye opener in terms of the Thunder’s deficiencies on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Some of the changes are just discipline issues, but there is more to it than that. As probably the only team that the San Antonio Spurs truly fear in a seven game series, the Thunder have to dispatch the Grizzlies in a way that preserves their bodies as best as possible, and the physicality of this Memphis team will make doing that very tough.
People always tend to blame offensive inefficiencies for Thunder losses, and while I do agree that offensive production and distribution is an issue, I will come back to that later. The biggest reason why the Thunder lost game two is defense.
Oklahoma City gave up 117.4 points per 100 possessions to Memphis in game two, an awful total. Numerous times in regulation, the Thunder allowed Mike Conley to slash his way to the basket and either finish or dish the ball for an assist, finishing with 19 points and 12 dimes. Zach Randolph also was the beating heart of the win, scoring 25, and willing the Grizzlies to baskets long after Marc Gasol and Kendrick Perkins had fouled out with eight overtime points.
But that was to be expected. Conley and Randolph are two of the top three, if not the top two, players on this Grizzlies team. Where the Thunder really lost the game was the points they gave up to the lesser names. Beno Udrih scored 14 points off of just eight shots, routinely being left open off of Memphis ball screens. Mike Miller hit three of his four three-pointers, including a wide open shot with under a minute left to reclaim the lead. Courtney Lee even scored 16.
The Thunder at times seemed confused on defense, unsure of their help assignments and getting swallowed up by screens. A perfect example came late in overtime. Tony Allen drove in, guarded closely by Thabo Sefolosha. As he pump faked, Serge Ibaka came over to provide help defense, selling out for the block and leaving Zach Randolph wide open under the basket for an easy bucket. Ibaka is a fantastic defender, but he needs to be disciplined enough to stay with the Grizzlies leading scorer and let an excellent defender in Sefolosha handle the offensively inept Allen.
Now to the offense.
I hate to say it, but Skip Bayless may be right. As great as they both are, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant cannot monopolize the Thunder shot attempts like they do. On an off shooting night, which Westbrook is prone to and Durant may have every once in a while, it makes it hard for any other scoring option to be established. In game two, both players took 28 shots. Serge Ibaka only took 12. With such a gifted player down in the post, Westbrook needs to distribute the ball to him down low more and let him go to work.
This is especially true in this series with Tony Allen guarding Kevin Durant. Through two games, Durant is shooting only 36% when guarded by Allen, compared to 56% when guarded by anyone else. Combine that with Russell Westbrook shooting just 1-12 from three so far, a shot he loves to take, and we could be seeing a lot more Ibaka going into game three in Memphis.
So hold on tight, Thunder fans. While Scott Brooks is not known for making adjustments, game two’s performance showed that the Thunder need something to change if they want to be able to win their first round series.
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