Reeling Thunder seem out of answers

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA crew hands out some advice for struggling Thunder

SAN ANTONIO – The Thunder had to feel pretty good. Relatively speaking. No, they hadn’t shot it well and the offense remained a combination of two overburdened superstars and haphazard execution.

But they had also stemmed another early San Antonio paint party and were getting enough hustle and grit from role players off the bench to survive Kevin Durant sitting out the first 5:42 of the second quarter, darn near a vacation for Mr. Inexhaustible during this postseason.

As the MVP checked back into the game between Tim Duncan free throws, the first tying it 36-36 and the second giving the Spurs back the lead, 37-36, the Thunder did have to like what was happening. They were hanging in, defending well enough that the Spurs, shooting under 40 percent, had to earn their looks.

Coming out of a timeout with 2:37 left in the half, San Antonio went up 47-42. Then the hurricane hit with a devastating wallop. First a Danny Green 3-pointer followed by a Boris Diaw reverse layup and then another quick-trigger Green 3 as Durant lunged, helplessly out of position to contest.

Suddenly it was 55-44 — an 8-2 explosion in 81 seconds.

Durant and Westbrook exchanged words heading to the bench for a timeout — leaders getting on one another, Westbrook explained, “what leaders do” — although it’s doubtful either could hear what the other had said.

The ascending roars inside AT&T Center reverberated off every seat in the house until the place felt as if it was going to blast off. For the Thunder it must have felt like the roof had caved in on them, leaving them stumbling through choking clouds of rubble. At least that’s how they played on the Spurs’ next possession.

First Diaw grabbed Ginobili’s missed layup. Then Ginobili snuck inside of Durant and rebounded Tony Parker‘s errant 3. Ginobili dribbled freely all the way out beyond the arc as if taking it back behind an imaginary line on his driveway, lined up a 27-footer and buried it with 33 seconds left in the half.

It was 58-44, a 22-8 burst being the precursor to a second consecutive blowout, 112-77.

“You can’t go from down 5 to 14, not in two minutes,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said.

“I messed the game up at the end of the second quarter,” Durant said. “I got hit on the screen and Danny Green got open for a 3. I overhelped and he got another 3, and then Ginobili hit the 3. All those plays was on me … We shouldn’t have been down that much at halftime, but I made three bonehead plays.”

Durant sounded a lot like Chris Paul after the Clippers’ Game 5 loss at Oklahoma City. Paul shouldered blame for a series of bungled plays. This one obviously had much more time to play out, but just as the Clippers never recovered, there’s an undeniable dire feeling attached to this so-far non-competitive Western Conference finals.

Durant and Westbrook could have combined for 60 points and it still wouldn’t have been enough. Shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha was held scoreless again. He, Perkins and Ibaka fill-in Nick Collison have combined for nine points in the two games. Only Jeremy Lamb off the bench cracked double-digits and those points came after this one was long over.

With 5:41 to go in the third quarter the Spurs led 76-50. “Sweet Caroline” played over the audio system during a timeout and 18,581 swaying fans turned the arena into a rollicking sing-a-long.

With 1:47 left in the period, the margin stretched to 87-58 after a Kawhi Leonard layup, another layup that accounted for 54 point in the paint, 120 in the series. Durant slammed the ball to the floor and Thunder coach Scott Brooks threw in the towel. Durant, just 6-for-16 for a playoff-low 15 points, and Westbrook, 7-for-24 for 15 points, watched the rest of it from the bench.

Inevitably, the Thunder’s 2012 West finals comeback when they went home down 0-2 to the Spurs and then steamrolled them with waves of athleticism in four straight, became a popular line of postgame questioning. And OKC’s players all answered as they should, that they’re not giving up the fight.

But three key differences make this time feel a whole lot different: James Harden plays in Houston, Serge Ibaka is on crutches and this souped-up Spurs team, humming at top efficiency, is even better than that one.

Game 3 in Oklahoma City is not until Sunday night, leaving Brooks 72 hours to dissect this two-game train wreck and seek solutions to questions that seem unanswerable. Ibaka’s athleticism to defend Duncan in the post, meet Parker on penetrations and step out for 15-foot target practice on the offensive end, appear too much to overcome.

Brooks went small in Game 1 and he tried to go big in Game 2. He got by with again starting the second quarter without Durant and Westbrook on the floor. At the 9:13 mark, Westbrook returned with OKC up one. They’d keep it right there over the next three minutes when Durant returned to anchor another newly concocted lineup with Westbrook, Collison, Perry Jones and Steven Adams.

They got flattened. Now comes three days of introspection before the Thunder puts their season, their championship dreams, on the line in Game 3.

“It’s hard to do, but like I said, we can do it,” Durant said. “Of course everybody is going to try to spread us apart these next few days, but we’ve never been a team that front-runs. We always stick together no matter what. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.”

51 Comments

  1. gospursgo says:

    Must win game 3 for the Spurs.The series doesn’t start until you win on the road and SanAntonio have been the best Road Warriors. this seaon.

  2. fourputtforsnowman says:

    One overlooked strategy: The Spurs are going straight at Darunt on offense. Diaw, Leonard particularly. So Darunt, for once, has to play real D. And he doesn’t have that skill. He’s winded; he’s tired; he’s challenged. The Spurs are breaking him down enough to throw him off on O. RW has never played well versus the Spurs (statistically speaking). As for the regular season, the Spurs only played their starters 30 minutes or less (all season). OKC’s Brooks plays KD and RW what, 40+ per game (???). No surprise at the playoff turnaround now that the Spurs are playing their best guys more minutes.

  3. rafael says:

    no matter what everybody wants okc wins this series but have something to say spurs is #1 in the league and spurs going to win this series no matter what people said okc is done for this year sorry !!!!!!

  4. Gillsy says:

    I agree with Chuck which is a surprise and play Jackson at the1 and Westbrook at the two. Surprise surprise wasn’t Jackson playing the 1 when they were doing well when Westbrook was injured. I am not sure how they fix their problems. Its like only yesterday they had Ibaba, Westbrook, Harden and Durant. They really got a handful of beans for Harden. Now you get the feeling the Durant and Westbrook show is starting to get the feeling of Kg and Steph, Kobe and Shaq where the town is only big enough for one of them and I don’t think Durant is going anywhere. The option of Rondo and a pick for Westbrook may not be such a bad idea.

  5. Game Time says:

    Westbrooks needs to lay off the PEDs. He’s way too amp’d and it turns into him playing one on five all the time.

  6. okcDoke2014 says:

    Serge and Harden back, they might be able to make a run at Spurs. Spurs in 5

  7. Kome the Black Dumba says:

    Westbrook(-34) needs to start playing like a PG and involve his teammates when his shots not falling. Everyone except Durant was watching this two men show. Don’t be a Kome!

  8. BANDWAGON EXPRESS says:

    Get rid of Perkins and start Adams. Trade Westbrook to the Cavs for Kyrie Irving. Picking up K-Love.

  9. KING says:

    Spurs and Heat in finals. Heat 3 peat. Story of this year

  10. Darrell Darrellson says:

    Last year they built the team around losing a scorer and this post season they lose a solid two way player and defensive anchor. Perkins, Collison, and Sefolosha should not be playing on the Thunder because we go deep in the playoffs each year and they cannot produce consistently. I think they should give Collison a trade because hes been with the organization for so long, amnesty Perk, and simply not resign Thabo.

  11. JDizzle says:

    Ugh, RW needs to just calm down, and stop jacking up every semi-open look he gets.

    RW – you’re the SECOND option, why are you taking more shots than Durant?

  12. lakers says:

    problem with OKC is that Westbrook and KD DONTMAKE PLAYERS AROUND THEM BETTER…WESTBROOK THINKS HES BETTER THEN KD AND KD DOESNT PLAY D…THE LOSS OF IBAKA HURT BUT EVEN IF HE WAS PLAYING SPURS STILL WIN ..REPEAT OF LAST YEAR FINALS JUST LIKE I PREDICTED ..THIS TIME SPURS WIN AND TD MANU RETIRE…

  13. balldontlie says:

    This business that Durant and Westbrook don’t make their teammates better, a Barkleyism, is a typical response of someone who does not really understand how the Thunder win ballgames–on the shoulders of the miraculous play of Durant and Westbrook. Give them even a third scorer, let alone a whole teamful of them like San Antonio, they would not be looking up at scoreboards, knowing, as they knew in both their previous series, that in this make it or miss it league, it is on them to be rain makers. They have no other options. Duncan or Ginobli or Parker can all have off scoring games, but the Spurs don’t require one or two players to carry the load. And no matter how offensive, all championship teams also lean on their defense to win games. Ibaka is a monster, one of the two or three best defensive players in the game, not to mention a pretty good third scoring option. The way it is. San Antonio is drawing from a full deck: OKC, however great their front two are, perhaps as good a duo as to ever strap them up on one team, with years ahead of them yet, are playing without their ace in the hole.

  14. Agreed. Move Westbrook to the 2 position. All he wants to do is shoot the ball…

  15. kiwisepp says:

    I think , Westbrook is the problem.

  16. Jack says:

    The problem is……Durant and Westbrick don’t make any of the players around them better. Until they decide to do so, this is going to be the ceiling for OKC.

  17. TheKush says:

    I’m just a fan but looking at the Thunder “Butler” and “Scott Brooks” seem like the problem to me. I’ve seen Brooks BENCH WESTBROOK AND DURANT at the SAME time? I don’t understand that in a Playoff game? Furthermore trust your young guys I think Jeremy Lamb needs some of those Butler minutes as well as Perry Jones! The spurs seem to be targeting Butler as if he’s the weak link defensively and I personally think Scott Brooks at the very least needs to STOP benching Russell and Kevin at the same time in any quarter. Honestly I see bad coaching right now at the very least if you’re going to lose get those younger guys some experience the Butler experiment hasn’t work from even in the regular season. He shoots a decent percentage but he’s a liability on defense and he’s evolved into a jump shooter OKC has enough jump shooters. My two cents!

  18. Is it surprising that OKC are getting crushed? No. Will they be eliminated by SAS? Yes.

  19. TROYBOY says:

    I look at OKC a lot like the Indiana Pacers.

    The pair of KD and Westbrook is Indiana’s PG and Lance. The difference is OKC does not have a David West to put them in check. You’ll never see Lance go off like that to PG. Not because of PG but because of David West. Frank Vogel can say whatever he wants to say to those guys but when David West speaks everyone pays attention. That is a true definition of a leader. OKC doesn’t have that in their squad making Westbrook say things like “THAT’S WHAT LEADERS DO”. A piece of advise for Westbrook. Accept the number 2 role and let KD… “DO WHAT LEADERS DO”.

  20. LebronHater says:

    OKC fans sound desperate now. OKC will never be OK against SA, even Ibaka was not injured Pop had already gameplan for them. OKC is no match to SA. So dont reason Ibaka’s absence that why they losing. SA in 5.

    • amitpal says:

      Really, did you forget 2012 or how about 2014 where the spurs lost 4 straight against the thunder some even without westbrook. The problem for thunder is defense. They can score 100 plus against the spurs but all spurs get is layups. If ibaka is there, those layups wouldn’t be there and okc players can contest the jump shooter.

      • King Locario says:

        they only won in 2012 because they had harden coming off the bench who is a great scorer. This year they have no one

  21. zhiggi says:

    OKC are known for having the propensity of playing pure offense but they are not known for playing defense, having said that they have to really focus on playing D….plus their gonna be playing the next two at home so let’s see how this plays out……

  22. MR210 says:

    Series not over yet – only 2-0….but it’s over, and OKC knows it.

    Might actually get swept – but OKC should not hang their head in shame. They got beat by the best team in NBA.
    Everyone in the OKC organization (and NBA for that matter) should learn from Spurs on how to win as a team.

    OKC should start thinking about what changes need to be made…Westbrook / Scott Brooks / Bench…
    They have some good pieces to build around: KD / Ibaka / Jackson…

    Spurs have learned over the years what can happen when one of your top players go down: 2000 Playoffs (Duncan), 2009 Playoffs (Ginobili).

    OKC (as other NBA Teams) need to have contingencies in place – they didn’t have a back-up plan for Ibaka.

    This will not be a repeat of 2012 when OKC won 4 straight. Both of these teams are different – OKC had Harden and Ibaka was healthy. Spurs had Green/Tiago/Kawhi/Boris, but they were pretty much new to Spurs system, and were non-factors.

    Spurs – The Model Franchise in the NBA (players and front office).

    GO SPURS GO – DRIVE FOR FIVE!

  23. James says:

    Its funny on the video clip where RW was barking at KD. In the second quarter when OKC was doing ok then history repeat RW was shooting 1 for 8 and continue to shoot and miss. He also got frustrate and loose control, turned over a few times….I’ve been saying all these year that as long as RW is with OKC, they’ll never win a championship…Tony Parker can toy him anyway he wanted….

  24. Marcus says:

    The problem is that the Spurs play as a team, while the Thunder play individually. With an injured Ibaka, the Thunder’s defense was never going to be that good, but their offense has been horrific to watch. On a typical play, you see Durant or Westbrick chucking up contested jump shots. Yes, they have the ability to make them, but it is impossible to beat a team like the Spurs or Heat just shooting jump shots.

    I wonder why Brooks doesn’t play Thabeet? I know in college he was known as a defensive beast, so maybe he can try and put him in?

    But lets not dis-credit the Spurs. They are playing beautiful basketball right now. And the scary part about last night’s game? Belinelli and Patty Mills had off shooting nights. If they can find their stroke, it’s over.

  25. exocast33 says:

    OKC almost lost to a Grizzly team that can’t score but can defend. They almost lost to the Clippers who can score but had no real perimeter defenders. Now they face a Spurs team that are in top 5 on both O and D so it’s no surprise to me. Ibaka is really good — but people need to stop acting like he is Olajuwon, he avg. 15pts a game and 3 blocks — Missing Serge is NOT the only reason why OKC is down 2-0

    • okckd35 says:

      And changes almost every shot in the paint. U are blind to see that the reason the spurs are up 2-0 is their domination in the paint. Half those shots wouldnt even be attempted with serge there

  26. cp10 says:

    We’ll see how it goes at OKC

  27. thespectator says:

    well this series is an official wrap! spurs look straight up dangerous and scary..cant believe ima say this but if spurs continue to dominate, i dont think anyone can really beat them, looks like spurs will win the title after all.

  28. okc2014 says:

    Correction: Adams got nothing other than annoyed their opponent. He should stay at the bench.

  29. Brainundrum says:

    To all you fools that said “Thunder had this series easy”, or “if you think Spurs will win you don’t know basketball” here’s what I have for you

    1) I told you so
    2) Get the broom ready

    You all are witness to one of the greatest basketball teams in the history of the game.

  30. lino says:

    westbrook explaining “what leaders do” is almost as pathetic as the thunder’s performance has been for the last two games. leaders lead, russell, they don’t bicker in public.

  31. celentano says:

    Okc is done,i mention’d many times here! Kevin D.is a nice scoringmachine and that’s it,If Kevin wants a title than he better go to a big market team,end of story!!!

  32. HellYeah says:

    i heard this before but only the mavs made it happen

  33. okc2014 says:

    Get out Perkins, Sefalosha and Collison. Get in Jackson, Lamb, Jones and Adams!!!!! Scotty Brooks please try something else!

  34. jdub455 says:

    Spurs can win it all… damn… i want miami to get that 3peat…

    • shhh says:

      man! okc post season looks very promising, so unfortunate for what happen to ibaka.
      but being buried by this much points is because okc has not prepared the bench in the absence of ibaka.
      spurs will win this 4-1.

      it’s true spurs looks very good but if they face miami they’re facing a team that does not rely on big men. i don’t think spurs-pacers will be exciting, it is an insurance though to get duncan another ring. pacers look good on paper but in the finals they’ll be schooled by spurs.

      i still think a spurs-miami rematch still be a great series.

    • Game Time says:

      Spurs have a tougher defensive matchup with Miami. Wade seems good, Bron is doing what he needs to. I think if San plays Miami Oden will get time and it will be a big factor if he’s pulling down extra boards.

  35. Vic says:

    looks to me that SAS are gonna win the ring, don’t think of a difference if it’s against Indiana or Miami. The have no flashing stars but the best team with a least 5 or 6 players that can take over at any time.

    • TMac says:

      Not saying that Spurs are won’t be able beat Indiana or Miami because the way they are playing, you surely can…..but you really can’t compare how Spurs are playing OKC to how they will play against Miami or Indiana. As great as KD is and as good as Westbrook can be, they are not the whole team. The whole team needs to show up to play…Miami and Indiana play better as a team then OKC. Miami and Indiana my have their struggles, but they can get Spurs to struggle as well.

  36. OKC had 82 games to get the bench ready. ( Jackson, Lamb, Pj3, Adams) should be part of the rotation. Thabeet is 7’3, and has rotted on their bench for over a year. Now , they need a rim protector and Scott Brooks won’t play him or the more talented younger players in a proper role. He’d rather let the vets waste away the minutes while Westbrook and Durant chuck shots.

    This Buddy Ball between Westbrook and Durant will cost them. They have the Talent to win, but as long as they play like a 2 man team that won’t accept a 3rd star, they’ll never win a Championship.

    • chris says:

      It does not matter what Brooks does. Brooks can try and change it up over and over again but will not be successful. Brooks is so used to playing Durant and Westbrooks and depending on them to make the points and he is scared of making any big changes. WestBrook and Durant are competing for the role as leader of the team and that is their main issue. The other issue is like I said OKC depends on Westbrook annd Durant for scoring and Spurs have figured out how to contain them. Looking at this series I don’t see why Durant was MVP. Reggie Jackson is laughable and is not a Spurs killer. The Spurs have a bench so deep that it appears that the Spurs have two teams to work with to keep the rolling. Even with Duncan and Ginobili resting we still have others who can easily fill in their role. I’m sorry but OKC is not winning the conference finals this year. Oh.. and I am tired of OKC fans saying that its because Ibaka is not playing. Ibaka is not the answer to OKC problems.

  37. Gillsy says:

    None of this is surprise. The Spurs are a deep team with players that can contribute at every position. While in comparison the Thunder rely on two people for points Durant and Westbrook, which is ok. but other than Ibaka who is a defensive power house who has improved his offensive game. Other than Jackson who has relished more responsibility and the young rookie centre Adams looking promising. There is little left. This is exemplified by Collision and Perkins combining for 9 points in two games. Then you over the hill Fish and the only other hope on the bench Butler. I can see a roster shake up at the end of the season.

    • 36yrfan says:

      ….ya think !!??

    • kamote says:

      roster shake up? Sam Presti include Scott Brooks!!!!
      its hard to watch two opposite gameplay!!!
      one team who executes play every possession..
      the other team plays iso almost every possession..

    • Jason says:

      Fisher will be playing ’til he’s 45.

  38. Chris says:

    2012 doesn’t matter. This is 2014, and the spurs are a better team than they were. OKC is arguably not worse. Fisher is two years older, Ibaka is hurt, no Harden, and for some reason Sefolosha’s defense is not making up for his declining offense. The only bright spot in game 2 for the Thunder is they got blown out so early Durant probably rested more than he has all season.

    Still, we’ve seen this movie before, 0-2 suddenly they win four straight and go to the finals.. But everybody knows remakes fail.