Tuesday Lunch: Oklahoma City’s Choke Job Kills Finals’ Chances

Posted: May 24, 2011 in basketball, nba, professional sports, sports
Tags: , , , , , , ,

By Will Robinson

Last night, I checked out the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City completely owned the first 43 minutes of the game, up 15, looking like they would assuredly have another game on their home court, possibly to win the series and book their first trip to the NBA Finals since they were in Seattle (sorry, Sonics fans). But they couldn’t do it.

With 4:36 remaining, Thunder guard James Harden committed his sixth foul and had to watch the rest of the game from the bench. Harden has been a critical element to Oklahoma City’s success, averaging 31 minutes per game, and a respectable 12.4-5.4-3.4 off the bench. Harden had 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists – not amazing but his presence and playmaking ability was sorely missed. The Thunder managed 6 points in the final 9:34 (including overtime) with Harden off the floor; the Mavericks scored 23. There was a deeper problem for OKC than Harden removed from the game: They could not finish with their two best players in the game.

The end of the game was ugly for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. After Durant’s three pointer with 5:05 remaining, Durant and Westbrook combined for 1/6 (Westbrook missed two free throws too) and three turnovers. Durant and Westbrook did not try to run any set offense – their possessions consisted of isolations and no ball movement. Westbrook barely set Durant up for good opportunities, while on the other end of the court, Jason Kidd consistently got the ball in Dirk Nowitzki’s hands and let him make things happen: Dirk led the comeback effort and scored 12 of his 40 in the fourth quarter. Durant didn’t do much when he had the chance too – he settled on a 30 footer with three seconds left that could have cost them the game in regulation had Dallas scored on its next possession.

Oklahoma City is dead in the water. The basketball they are playing at the end of games is not conducive to succeeding, clearly, and they need a point guard who knows how to run the offense. Westbrook could be the guy, but he has shown to have too much of a hero complex and has not deferred to Durant when needed. He needs to mature as a player and a person with his role on the team.

Durant is not completely blameless either. He was settling for poor shots down the stretch last night, especially their last play in regulation, and was off for most of the second half. He started hot but had trouble finding the rim the rest of the game. I understand he was doubled a lot which caused problems, but young stars before Durant have managed to perform well while having the kitchen sink thrown at them (sorry I just compared Durant to MJ, but the point stands). This was a game fans could have remembered for a long time had Durant done more at the end of the game to deadlock the series, but he faded. He could have had his big-game-coming-out-party, but he fell flat when it mattered most.

The Thunder need a miracle to win the series. They have to win two games in Dallas and one in their building. Somehow, they need to contain Dirk (not stop, impossible) and run an organized offense. This iso BS they’ve ran the last two games must change for their long term success or they can never be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

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