Tag Archives: Oklahoma City Thunder

Whose Dynamic Duo is Better? – This Series May Settle The Question

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There are a pair of Batman and Robin’s on the court for the Oklahoma City Thunder – L.A. Clippers NBA Western Semifinal series and the argument rages on as to which duo is numero uno.

On one side, Blake Griffin, third place in the NBA MVP voting, alongside Chris Paul, perennial all-star and arguably the top point guard in the NBA.

On the other side, league MVP Kevin Durant and all-star human dynamo Russell Westbrook, who may be closer to the Human Torch than Robin.

In game one of the best of seven Monday night in Oklahoma City, the combined numbers were fairly close but in the Clippers favor. Griffin and Paul combined for 19-of-30 shooting, 8-0f-9 from three-point range (all Paul), 9-of-12 from the line (all Griffin) for 55 points, seven rebounds and 15 assists. Durant and Westbrook combined for 18-of-33 shooting, 4-of-10 threes, 14-of-18 from the line for 54 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Chris Paul hit his first seven threes on Monday night

Chris Paul hit his first seven threes on Monday night

The big difference in the game was the fact that the rest of the Thunder players combined to score three fewer points than Durnat and Westbrook combined, along with the fact that nobody covered Paul or the rest of the Clippers from three-point range as they hit a whopping 15-of-29.

Griffin and Paul work more in tandem, feeding off each other’s offensive and defensive actions and knowing how to complement (and compliment) each other. Griffin sensed early in game one that Paul had the feeling, so instead of posting up and calling for the ball, he came high and set screens to get Paul free.

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“When somebody’s got it going like that, you just try to stay of the way as much as possible, but also help keep that fire going,” said the Oklahoma City native Griffin.  “In the second half, we were moving the ball so well, but it all started defensively. We just tried to stay out of his way and let him do what he was doing.”

For Paul’s part, as Westbrook put it, “He wasn’t doing anything crazy.  He was just shooting threes.”  Paul didn’t go out looking to have a big offensive game, but  as just took what he was given.

“It wasn’t like I was coming down and making unbelievable shot,” said Paul., “It was because the court was open and I had two defenders on Blake. He puts so much pressure on the defense and BG is such a great passer.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers described Paul this way.

“He’s just very, very smart .  He sometimes gets in the way with that because he’s thinking so much, but today he was in a great place,” said Rivers. “He played free without thought but when we needed him to, he did it.  I thought his intuition was phenomenal.  He knew we needed a good start and he got one for us.  That’s why he’s just who he is.

After playing a controlled game in the first round series finale against Memphis, Westbrook reverted somewhat to his Jekyll and Hyde ways, hitting most of his shots, but committing some unforced turnovers, six of them to be exact.  Durant missed some chippies that he would normally convert and both he and Westbrook were part of the Thunder’s total defensive collapse.

By the time the Thunder made enough contact with the Clippers to pick up their first team foul, L.A. already had 32 points and there was just over a minute left in the opening quarter.  Durant knows the defense must tighten up.

“We have to get more physical,” said Durant. “I’m not talking about hard fouls, I’m talking about jamming the lane, fighting through screens and not letting guys run free.  We just have to be more physical.”

 

Coach Scott Brooks and his MVP must figure it out before Wednesday night
Coach Scott Brooks and his MVP must figure it out before Wednesday night

It’s not often that you are treated to these type of combos matched up in one series.  If the Thunder’s stars can rally back in game two Wednesday night, the debate on which duo has the o

 

 

 

 

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No Apologies

The world was in a uproar over a headline in the Daily Oklahoman from Thursday morning that dubbed Kevin Durant as “Mr. Unreliable”. It was perched above a column by Berry Tramel that opined about the Oklahoma City Thunder star’s struggles in the playoff. Newspaper columnists and reporters don’t write the headlines – there’s a whole separate crew responsible for that – but they do suffer the wrath of those headlines from the reading and non-reading public.

That headline went through a three-step approval process and no one along that line, including the top newspaper brass, objected to the two words that rocked the state and the sports nation.  I will have to admit I was surprised to see what was screaming from the top of the Thunder Extra, given that the local paper is usually one of the biggest cheerleaders on the planet and never courts controversy unless it occasionally deals with who is feeding who fried chicken and whether someone is qualified to be a man at the age of 40.

But despite my raised eyebrows, I didn’t see a problem with the headline although I knew the great majority would.  In fact, if it had included a question mark at the end, it would have probably weathered the thunderstorm of criticism that followed.

What I did have a problem with was the apology from Oklahoman Sports Editor Mike Sherman.

Oh, I don’t have a problem with Mike.  I have known him since his days as a cub reporter, have respect for his honesty and dedication, and I even sat next to him at Tuesday’s Thunder-Grizzlies game in OKC. In fact, our kids will probably be attending the same school this fall.

However, one thing you never, ever, ever do in the world of journalism is apologize for a stand you took on a particular story of theme. What it implies is that you don’t have the courage of conviction to stand behind what you believe.  And the apology likely caused the Oklahoman more embarrassment as the day continued than the original headline.  Stick to your guns, take your medicine and live to fight another day.

I’m sure the pressure to apologize came from the top office, after getting a number of calls from advertisers and possibly from one of the Thunder owners who just happens to be the son-in-law of the old newspaper owners.  But this is where the editorial side needed to bow up and say “No, we got this.”

In fact, given Durant’s public response, which was that it was no big deal, and his on court response, which was to throw up a big FU in busting out to a 14 point first quarter en route to a 36 point explosion, the Oklahoman could have taken some credit for his turnaround in the series with a Friday headline saying “I Guess We Were Wrong” (and so was I).

While the newspaper will probably have to scuttle a pending special Thunder edition they were trying to sell in the upcoming weeks due to adverse response to the headline from irate advertisers, at least they were relevant again for a day.

Just remember next time, don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  And own it once you do say it.

 

KD – From MVP to Decoy. Who gets the blame?

Kevin Durant, almost everybody’s choice for regular season NBA MVP, scored the first two baskets in overtime for Oklahoma City in their loss to Memphis Tuesday night – and then didn’t touch the ball again until grabbing a rebound in the final minute. That was when he was fouled and missed the second of two free throws after referee Joey Crawford’s bizarre sprint and grab that disrupted Duran’ts concentration at the line. He got another chance to win the game in the final two seconds, but his long jumper missed and the Serge Ibaka follow was a half tick too late.

Joey Crawford ices KD
Joey Crawford ices KD

So Oklahoma City, one of the favorites to represent the West in the NBA finals, finds themselves on the brink of elimination in the first round and the finger pointing is in full force.  Whose fault is it?  Is it coach Scott Brooks, who seems content with a “fling it and hope strategy” in last second situations?  Is it Russell Westbrook for dominating the ball and sometimes being better than the defense in cooling off the league’s leading scorer, Durant?  Or is it KD himself, for reverting to meek and mild status and not taking control of the situation.  The sad fact is that it is probably a combination of all three and it will likely lead to the end of the Thunder’s season tonight in Memphis.

In the aftermath of the fourth straight overtime game and third one the Thunder lost in the series,  none of the trio instilled confidence in their ability to come back and win on the road to bring the series back to Oklahoma City.  In addition to the three minute stretch in overtime where Durant was shotless after hitting two straight, he went six minutes in the final period of regulation without being involved while Westbrook, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler were firing up threes.  Brooks’ explanation for the lack of touches by Durant was, well, lacking.

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“We’ve got some plays where he has to space the floor. We’re giving Reggie (Jackson) some opportunities. We did that the game before and we were able to get into the paint and create easy opportunities,” said Brooks. “They did a good job of guarding him.  We obviously have to find better looks for all of our guys.”

His guys, especially Westbrook and Jackson, could find better looks by not flying out of control down the court and throwing up off balance prayers.  The two combined for 12-of-38 shooting (31.6 %) and while Durant was right around 42% on his 24 shots, I’d rather take my chances with the leading scorer and MVP shoo-in taking most of that 14 shot differential.

Westbrook sees himself as the Alpha Dog, although he is still hobbling
Westbrook sees himself as the Alpha Dog, although he is still hobbling

When asked if Durant is struggling mentally against the defense of Memphis’ Tony Allen and to a lesser degree, Tayshaun Prince, Brooks didn’t exactly say no.

“Well, he hasn’t made shots but he’s still competing. He’s a great shooter,” Brooks said. “I believe in all the work that he puts in.  I believe that he’s going to come back next game and give us another great effort and I believe that his shots will fall.”

And I believe the children are our future, but that doesn’t make it so.  Durant played almost 52 minutes Tuesday night – more than any other player on either team – and he is showing some signs of fatigue after four straight overtime games.  That plays right into Memphis’ defensive strategy against him and Westbrook, who played 48 minutes on a still bum knee that saw him limping down the court on several occasions.

“As far as KD and Russell, we’re just trying to be aggressive, trying to be physical and make them take and make tough shots. That’s all you can do,” said Memphis point guard Mike Conley. “They’re both phenomenal players and can score at will, so you just have to try to make it tough on them.  Wear them down throughout the game and hope you wear them down enough to where at the end of the game, they miss a couple of those shots.”

The Memphis defense of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince has stifled Durant
The Memphis defense of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince has stifled Durant

Durant concedes the Memphis defense has taken its toll, in part, because he hasn’t taken charge of his own game.

“It’s a little bit of both. They’ve been doing a good job, but I have to just stay disciplined on my shots  and knock ‘em down. Can’t just rely on the jumpers,” said Durant. “I’ve got to be more aggressive and have to stay positive.  I’ll figure out where to catch the ball and how I’m being defended.”

First of all, Durant has to actually get the ball, something that has been difficult during the series, as those stretches without shots will attest.  Secondly, you wonder if KD has the burning drive to make it happen.  It appeared so during the stretch when Westbrook was out following the All-Star game, as Durant went on a scoring tear and started showing some Michael Jordan-esque desire.  But since Westbrook has come off of his minutes restriction, Durant has sometimes turned back into a shrinking violet.  There is one cure for that and these comments make you wonder if Durant is ready to step up and take charge.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be a decoy out there and I’m fine with that.  If the basketball comes my way, I have to be ready and be aggressive on my touches,” Durant said. “If I want the ball, I’ve got to go rebound it and bring it up on the break.  So, I trust my teammates with whatever decisions they make, I just gotta be better for ’em.”

Can you ever imagine Jordan, Bird, Magic or Kobe Bryant saying that? LeBron James at one point, maybe. But that’s where we are with Kevin Durant and unless he regains the fire tonight, the Thunder’s playoff hopes will be extinguished.

Durant's frustration has caused him to shrink rather than rise
Durant’s frustration has caused him to shrink rather than rise