The downer that is OKC and KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double, the Grizzlies took Game 5 in OT

Full disclosure: I picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to win it all this season. I have defended Russell Westbrook as a worthy co-pilot for Kevin Durant, going so far as to declare them the most dynamic duo in the league. I’ve written that Scott Brooks deserves less criticism as a tactician and more credit as a talent developer and team builder.

These defenses are crumbling right along with the Thunder’s title hopes. So perplexing are their performances that the Oklahoma City fans, a tremendously friendly and faithful base, booed their boys during a particularly lethargic patch when they got down by 20 in Tuesday’s 100-99 overtime loss that moved my hand-picked champs to the brink of elimination.

And now everything I thought I knew about the Thunder is flapping in the wind.

The argument that the 50-win Memphis Grizzlies are not a typical No. 7 seed and a bear of a matchup for any opponent is valid. They have played solidly and a scheme to make the league’s scoring champ and soon-to-be named regular-season MVP miserable has worked.

A playoff-record four consecutive games have gone to overtime, three won by the Grizzlies. Rationally, it can be touted that a favorable bounce here, a shot lipping in instead of out, one extra tenth-of-a-second, and the Thunder own this series. But even the Thunder wouldn’t go there.

Suddenly Thunder general manager Sam Presti, the bright, young and bespectacled executive credited with creating this juggernaut is 48 minutes from facing a mountain of questions he didn’t see coming.

All the past criticisms are more real than ever, and things don’t turn quickly they swirl around the compatibility of Durant and Westbrook, and Brooks’ ability to make it work. Westbrook, the force-of-nature point guard who plays with no restrictor plate at all times, has said sitting out last postseason provided him new perspective of his position and role within the team. But as the Thunder offense devolves into an alarmingly high rate of isolation and heavy dribbling, his shots, some too early in the shot clock, some bewilderingly off-balance and from awkward angles, keep mounting.

His shot attempts have increased from 17.2 in the regular season to 25.6 in the playoffs. That he’s shooting only 34.4 percent overall and 18.4 percent from 3-point range, is as troubling as Brooks’ inability or unwillingness to reign in him at key times.

After Game 5, Westbrook said his shot selection can get better, but if Memphis is giving him the 15-foot jumper he’ll make it nine times out of 10.

Unfortunately, he finished Game 5 10-for-30 overall and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. And never was his complexity more apparent. He totaled a triple-double with 13 assists and 10 rebounds, plus a critical steal, pick-pocketing Memphis point guard Mike Conley that ensured overtime. He also allowed Conley to blow by him twice in overtime.

As for Durant, a cold-blooded killer during his historic regular season,  he is just cold. His smile has vanished, his body language has slumped. With grinding defender Tony Allen or long-limbed Tayshaun Prince hounding him on the perimeter and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol waiting in the paint, getting to the rim against the Grizzlies isn’t for the faint of heart.

But Durant’s perceived passivity — Brooks, and even Conley, said he remains aggressive — is removing a major part of his scoring arsenal, the free throw. According to SportVU stats, Durant has made fewer drives to the basket than Miami’s Dwyane Wade, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, and Dallas’ 37-year-old shooting guard Vince Carter, while playing in one more game than all of them.

It’s resulting in two fewer free throws a game than he averaged in the regular season, and more stunningly, he’s making just 71.8 percent (28-for-39). He is an 88.2 percent free throw shooter over his career and eclipsed 90 percent last season. Durant was 3-for-6 in Game 5 and missed the potential game-tying free throw with 27.6 seconds to go. Is that a sign of fatigue for the league’s far-and-away minutes leader during the regular season?

After Game 5, Durant said he was “fine” with being used as a decoy in the final six minutes after knocking down a 3-pointer that capped a 27-6 run and gave OKC it’s first lead of the game. He then went 12 consecutive possessions without getting off a shot. He only touched it three times as Brooks made the curious decision to use Durant in the corner to space the floor for Reggie Jackson to drive.

The Thunder haven’t looked like the team expected to make a run at the title since it came out smoking in the first half of Game 1. Maybe they figure things out and turn it on in Game 6, and maybe Durant regains his MVP groove that saw him accomplish multiple feats that hadn’t been done since Michael Jordan.

But then, that was the plot line for Game 5, and it didn’t happen.

47 Comments

  1. rich1977 says:

    Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Where are the haters and the Memphis bandwagoners now,huh? Dear Mr Jeff Caplan, you were right all along except for just being a little impatient after Game 5 and the eagerness to write off OKC. There seems to be a forgotten, important fact here; Oklahoma City Thunder is a talented,powerhouse,defense-oriented,legitimate title contender. This team is on a mission to wrestle their first Larry O’ Brien trophy from the Heat and fortify their claim as the NBA Champion this season. Let’s go OKC Thunder!!!!!!!!

  2. likeucare says:

    Way to support your team Oklahoma City. Don’t forget these comments if KD leaves in free agency. You cannot expect loyalty to be returned that is not given.people seem to be ignorant to how good the grizz and their defense has been the last half of this season.and the officials have swallowed their whistles when it comes to KD in the first 5 games of the series. Even if they lose in 7 to a fine grizzlies squad it will be no disgrace. They are not your typical 7 seed.if Brooks,KD and Russ are not good enough for you maybe you should stick to watching football.

  3. Pepe says:

    Westbrook too many ill-advise shots, and Kevin Durant is just shooting poorly. But just come to think of it, if Westbrook just gave those 30 shots he took to Durant, Durant may have gotten his groove back and be more efficient.

  4. OKc2014 says:

    It is obvious Durant and Westbrook are building value to move to larger market team. Did LeBron stay in Cleveland to win Rings

  5. Deuce says:

    OKC problem is DEFENSE first; Westbrook second and Brooks third. No Defense…no win…..Westbrook is a ballhog and there’s no more ignoring the obvious. Brooks is a problem because he will not reign Westbrook in and sit him on the bench when he gets too erratic. He also has not made ONE adjustment to either free up Durant or get the rest of the team involved (sitting Westbrook). Reggie is a capable point guard who sees for the floor very well and can facilitate the team much better than Westbrook. Westbrook is a 2, who really believes he can win the game by himself. He has become a serious problem for this team. Unfortunate that the MVP will be going home….they had an excellent formula for success when Westbrook was out…I say go back to that strategy.

  6. OKc2014 says:

    I am out as OKC fan !!!! Go Grizzzzzzzzz

  7. Grizzled says:

    Those whom do not learn from history are DOOMED to repeat it.We were here last year (Oh wait that was Westbrooks fault for being hurt) Or you could say , Fool me Once shame on you. Fool me Twice shame on me. Can someone explain to me why they think that OKC is the better team? Overall series since 2011 the Grizz lead , Head to head in the playoffs since2011 Grizz lead, When the Grizz win tonight ,will OKC still be the better team? Hell, this article is about Okc loosing- not the Grizzlies taking it from them IN THIER HOUSE ,TWICE!!! BEWARE THE BLUE BEAR…..

  8. L B says:

    ehehehehehehhe Z – BO my dowg OKC underdog vs the 8 seat

  9. Flop says:

    Why isnt anyone talking about the elephant in the room? Oklahoma is losing because of Durant. While Durant doesnt do anything else that shoots his difficult jumpers, he isnt contributing to their game nearly as much as for example Lebron James does. Durant doesnt share the ball and create room for the shooters. That means Oklahoma needs to have a different primary ball handler and that is Westbrook. Durants faults are being seen clearly now when its playoffs and defence is tighter and its a completely different game. But Durant is a FAVOURITE OF THE MEDIA so no one talks about this. The fact is that he is a new Kobe Bryant, not a new Michael Jordan or Lebron James.

    • RP says:

      Because Durant isn’t the problem. The team chemistry died when Westbrook came back….and he refuses to even attempt to adjust.

  10. Benjie says:

    Number 1 killer of OKC is mike miller .he did it with miami vs OKC .now his doing it again .mike millers consecutive 3s will kill OKC.by the way I’m a heat fan.

  11. Knicks4Life says:

    Meanwhile the Heat are relaxing at home…getting some rest…..while the West will be exhausted by Finals time…3Peat for the King….then he’ll go to New York to build a new legacy…..I wish!!

  12. ED06MH says:

    Great Players especially in 2 or 3 positions don’t need a great point guard. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant & Lebron James got their Rings without an All-Star Caliber Point Guard. This is a tested formula.

  13. Drago says:

    Westbrok is not a great player to mix with Durant a shoot first point guard is a detrement to a team that allready has the best scorer in the NBA if those two shoot more than 40 shoots a game the entire team colapses .It’s not a good playoff strategy especialy when you play against Memphis.I would trade Westbrok for a point like Rondo or Jeff Teague in a heart beat.Westbrook is a decent enugh player but he is not number two material and i seriosly doubt he can cary a team by himself due to his low shot percentage.

  14. jimmy says:

    when adams plays real minutes thunder win. may be luck he’s no stat sheet stuffer but wins a win play adams brooks. and yes im a kiwi just wana see the bro rough it up chur.

  15. jolyon says:

    KD is going through when we need him the mose. i wish i could have go and c him play in real life. that dude is the best in my eyes OKC 2 THE WORLD

  16. jake s. says:

    It is all about match-ups. If the Grizz make it to the WCF then they will be swept by the Spurs again. It’s all about who you play. OKC would beat the Spurs, but the Spurs would beat the Grizz. It’s ALL about match-ups in the west.

  17. JASON says:

    OKC WILL BOUNCE BACK AND WIN SERIES JUST LIKE THEY DID AGAINST THEY SPURS A FEW YEARS AGO,SCOTT BROOKS WILL MAKE THE ADJUSTMENTS THEY WILL START TO SCORE MORE IN THE POST.

  18. JASON says:

    THE TEAM IS DEPENDING ON DURANT AND WESTBROOK TOO MUCH THE BENCH NEED TO BE GIVEN A CHANCE THEY NEED TO STEP UP.ALSO THE REFEREES ARE DOING A POOR JOB ON DURANT ,HE KEEPS GETTING FOUL BY TONY ALLEN AND OTHER MEMPHIS PLAYERS AND THE REFS ARE NOT CALLING THE FOULS.ITS THE SEEMS LIKE THE NBA FINAL VS HEAT ALL OVER AGAIN.

  19. shayla says:

    ok ok ok… give KD the MVP trophy, NOW!!! but, Sorry NO Championship RING…

  20. Anna says:

    You are the best player in the world and thunder is definitely a best team. I feel deliriously happy to watch the playoffs which has OKC. What you want to do is believe yourself and keeps the ball in the run. All the fans truly believe the THUNDER can be the champion in 2014.

  21. rich1977 says:

    Down but not out. 2012 vs Spurs. 0-2. It ain’t over yet. Durant’s breakout game of the playoffs is coming. This is how the playoffs should be played. Respect for these 2 teams. OKC will still win the series. Game 7 at Chesapeake for the clincher! Go OKC THunder!

  22. ReppinRaps says:

    its all about those raps

  23. jdub455 says:

    Durant is the MVP no doubt… But he’s no MJ. In fact, currently LBJ is still the best. That’s why the Heat will still win it all.

  24. Number 13 says:

    The Grizz were highly underrated coming into these playoffs.
    Memphis went 50-32 total in the regular season, 40-19 with Gasol in the lineup and a mediocre 10-13 with him out. It is likely they could have won close to 60 games and have been a top seed if he had been healthy all season long.

    The Grizz’s low points per game average is the only thing keeping OKC in this series.

  25. JOhn says:

    OKC going back (Seattle Super Sonic) needs a good shooter. They need some one like young Ray Allen, Dale Ellis, Ricky Pierce….etc. They need a shooter

  26. OKc2014 says:

    Actually keep the coach and trade Durant and Westbrook for Vince Carter! Then go with draft picks and we will be fine

  27. OKc2014 says:

    Memphis should have won it in 5 games! There done. Trade KD and rebuild………….

  28. Blog-So-Hard says:

    Durant is “one-dimensional” and lacking a post-game

  29. Erin Larson says:

    Basketball is a team sport!!! As much as I love OKC, they won’t win a championship until they understand this… They have many good players other than KD and Westbrook; USE THEM!!!!

  30. okc2014 says:

    Stop hacking my name! I hate the LA Fakers and I have not given up on Kevin Durant! Still OKC2014!!!! Knock it off!

  31. OKC2014 says:

    I am a fake bandwagon fan and i gave up on OKC. Going back bandwagoning the Black mamba Lakers. Lakers2015

  32. googergieger says:

    You mean Durant and OKC look awfully human when the refs aren’t giving them literally everything like they did in the regular season? WHODA THUNK IT?!

  33. Villmatic says:

    Plain and simple, the Lil B curse is real. That’s why the Thunder are losing. KD brought the curse upon the whole team

  34. Clyde says:

    Best team is in the past for OKC and they need DEFENSE if they want their First Championship

  35. grizzli fan says:

    it doesn’t matter how many okc fan say what, we beat ya twice at ya home court, tell them crowd to go defense somewhere out L O L

  36. Clyde says:

    Grizzlies close it out at home in game 6

  37. MPS says:

    Thunder are done. Read the writing on their faces! I love the team but am not impressed with their perseverance!

  38. Mezo says:

    OKC has a better chance of winning their series with Memphis than the Pacers do with Atlanta.

  39. Ben says:

    Jeff, you have said everything I also feel about this Thunder team.

    The truth is that in this series they are fulfilling the negative prophecies that I think others have unfairly put upon them in the past. Hero ball, lack of good coaching, Westbrook and Durant not co-existing,

    It’s not the fact they are losing, its how they are losing. It isn’t the bounce of the ball here. It’s taking the first half off and having to dig themselves out of holes every single game.

    For OKC to turn this around and being title contenders, they can’t simply win these last two games. They need to play them in a way which puts them at no real risk of losing them – they need to be winning by 15 points. Because no matter that Memphis is a good match up, if OKC were playing the game at a championship winning level, this series wouldn’t have gone to any consecutive overtimes, and it would already be over.

  40. Victor Lebron says:

    I still remember the last game of the season Grizzlies vs Dallas; a couple of girls Dallas fans were almost crying when Memphis beat Dallas and they said to me; do not celebrate; Memphis will lose to OKC in four and I told them oh yeah right… Dont underestimate my Grizzlies!!! Well everyone underestimates the Grizz and this is what happens next. People dont understand this is a better Grizzlies team than the one that beat the Spurs a few years ago in the Playoffs. People dont understand Randolph is in shape and not 50 pounds overweight like he was two seasons ago. People dont understand Conley is averaging 7 more points per game and is a better player; people dont understand Tony Allen is a better scorer and we have Lee and Tayshaun Prince along with other players in the bench that can play better than the old bench. Most importantly people dont understand the current numbers dont mean nothing our 7th seed does not reflect the potential of the Grizz who played without Gasol for almost half of the season and Conley and Allen were hurt many games and we still made it to the playoffs. Now sit back and enjoy the ride because we are going to the NBA Finals like it or not we will beat Miami Heat any day of the week; the numbers dont lie right now Memphis has one more win over Miami overall and over the last three seasons we have the advantage.

    I just hate it when people that dont know nothing about NBA or stats make comments…

    The only team that can eliminate Memphis is the Spurs other than that we have it easy.

  41. lakerslakerslakers says:

    somewhere Jodie Meeks is at home laughing at Russell Westbrook.

  42. cp10 says:

    Thunder… what about these Pacers? Hopefully I eat my words.