Thunder’s star duo under more pressure

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook address the media after the Game 2 loss

SAN ANTONIO – The game suddenly and irrepressibly slipping away under a second-quarter Spurs blitz that melted the Thunder into a pool of mistakes and frustration, Russell Westbrook glared at co-star Kevin Durant as they labored to a timeout.

Durant had lost his man on the previous play and Westbrook was simultaneously jabbing his index fingers at either side of his head, a motion unmistakably meant to coerce league MVP Durantto “Think!” or “wake up!”

The interaction was inevitably perceived as the first sign of fissure for a team whose championship dreams are breaking apart.

“I was just getting on Kevin about some stuff and he got on me right back,” Westbrook said after the 112-77 Game 2 loss, the Thunder’s second consecutive blowout in San Antonio’s that puts them in an 0-2 West finals hole.

“That’s what teammates do, that’s what leaders do, we get on each other, we come back and we talk about it and then we come out like nothing ever happened.”

Nothing more happened for the Thunder. Midway through the third quarter, the Spurs’ approached 30 points. It’s become clear how badly OKC misses Serge Ibaka, its 6-foot-10 shot-blocker and mid-range jumpshooter. Without him, the Thunder have shrunk from title contender to not even belonging on the same floor as the well-oiled Spurs.

“It hurts us, it hurts us without him, there’s no question,” said veteran forward Nick Collison, who has just two points and five rebounds in the two games while starting in Ibaka’s spot. “But a lot of the breakdowns are basic [coverages] you start on the first day of training camp.”

The Thunder have three days to simmer and come up with a plan. It’s less about X’s and O’s and more about will. At Wednesday morning’s shootaround, Durant said he has another level he can achieve, but that did not happen in Game 2. The Spurs, with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, have made him work hard for his offense.

Durant was 6-for-16 for just 15 points in 28 minutes. He missed all four 3-point attempts and got to the free throw line just five times, all coming in the first quarter. That mirrored Game 1 when he made three trips to the foul line in the first quarter and then just once after that.

Westbrook took 24 shots in 29 minutes and also finished with 15 points. He fell into funks of rushing shots and wasting possessions that helped fuel a Spurs roll that reached 43-14 during a stretch from the second quarter to third.

He has arguably been the Thunder’s best player this postseason, but with the Spurs able to key their defensive approach almost exclusively on Westbrook and Durant, there’s been little room to operate with no one stepping up to reduce that pressure.

Both superstars say they’re not overcompensating for the loss of Ibaka. But they’re getting so little help that it’d be impossible to blame them if they feel they must, if they think superhuman efforts are their only hope.

Durant was asked why he and Westbrook lost faith in their teammates as reasoning for combining for 40 shots in the less than three quarters.

“We didn’t stop trusting,” Durant said.

Then why did you stop moving the ball, he was asked.

“We didn’t,” Durant said.

Then how do you explain so many shots during the period in which the Spurs broke it open?

“Because we’re the focal point of the offense,” Durant said.

Thabo Sefolosha has been lost, going scoreless in both games. He could be benched for Game 3 in favor of Caron Butler — which was the lineup change OKC made in Games 6 and 7 of the first round. Collison has been ineffective. Reggie Jackson, who averaged 21 points and shot 68 percent in four regular-season wins against San Antonio, has 22 total points in the two games. He attempted only seven shots in 26 minutes in Game 2.

“We’re just going to play the way we play, man, regardless of what happens,” Westbrook said. “We’re going to play the way we play, man, regardless of miss or make shots. We’re going to live by it. That’s how we won all season. We’re not about to change now. We’re going to continue to trust our teammates, continue to play our game, and continue to compete.”

At this point, there’s little else they can do.

29 Comments

  1. 3 PEAT says:

    I don’t even care who wins the west final, because the Heat will win it all. Lebron fan since 2003

  2. okc2014 says:

    HillJr, do you mean to say unicorn farts? LOL

  3. hilljr says:

    I owe Serge Ibaka an apology. I used to think he was an overrated player. It always seemed like he take himself completely out of position defensively to chase blocks. If he could get the block, he couldn’t stop you. What I have come to realize is that the reason he’s so far out of position is because he’s trying to cover some serious defensive brain farts that KD and Russ make on almost every posseion. You can’t have brain farts against Pop. He can smell them from a mile away. Spurs in 5

    • Another Heat Fan says:

      OKC used to rely on Ibaka to scare people from driving in through the middle. If you watch previous OKC games, sometimes their team defense meant letting their man get past them so that Ibaka can block it.
      And I’ll tell you another thing: it worked. When you don’t need to worry so much about a man getting past you, because you have a rim protector, it allows you to go for more steals, or to close out on the guys that don’t have the ball.
      Take away that rim protector, and you can’t play like that anymore. You have to play solid man to man defense, with every defender doing their job right the way Miami did it in game 2.
      The defensive intensity needs to be cranked up by OKC as a team.
      And on offense the other players need to step up and ask for the ball. You can’t have 2 players take 80% of your team’s shots. Especially if these 2 players are gonna make <40% of those shots….

  4. LebronHater says:

    Whatever adjustments OKC will do, it will never beat the Spurs. Poor OKC all they just do on this series is to adjust, adjust and adjust but none of it will beat SA.

  5. 36yrfan says:

    …Are you serious , Jeff…….”glared at HIS co-star” ??????? little russ is the co-star here…..and that’s what is the root of the problem …..RW trying to ‘out-do’ the mvp and multiple scoring champ KD…….. it is amusing to watch. Unless RW grows up/matures and quits acting out on Every call or perceived non-call …He will NEVER win a ring…..

  6. Mr Ho says:

    I think Durant will never win an championship with Westbrook on the team.
    It is a matter of fact how good OKC is as a team in the regular season without Westbrook.
    They can play as a winning team only without Westbrook. Jackson , Lamb and other reserve players
    play so well and confident when Westbrook was injury . If it is Westbrook got injury again this time but not Ibaker ,
    it should be OKC up 2-0. OKC made a very bad decision to trade Harden away but not Westbrook.
    Westbrook is not a team player at all and i’m sure he want to keep the ball in his hand and take 50,60 shots every game.

    • 36yrfan says:

      Indeed ! It is like RW said himself…….”we/(I) are just gonna keep on playing the way we play”…… Translation: keep losing…..

  7. osvaldo says:

    thunder will win game 3 but that will only encourage spurs to win the next two ibaka and harden were the key to the comeback they had two years ago this is not the same team okc fans are quick to point out the 2-0 comeback and have hopes of another comeback this time unless perkins can start shooting jumpers or block shots its over

  8. Willy Spurd says:

    Like Shaq said, “you don’t experiment against the Spurs”. I find it hard to believe that Houston, OKC and Portland all seemed to take care of SA during the regular season. Raising many doubts and doubters against the Spurs making it back to the Finals again. Mentally they are superior over any team in the NBA.

  9. thespectator says:

    sorry but spurs are on a mission…getting the best record in the league, playin all your guys under 30 minutes, all fairly healthy…they want miami and theyll get them, okc the last bump on the road..hate to say it but the title is for the spurs this year..

  10. celentano says:

    it’s over for okc!

  11. Ray says:

    I think they should make a lineup change. Either Jackson or Butler, should be inserted in the starting five. Westbrook can play SG and Jackson could serve as the primary ball handler to facilitate both superstars and can also add a scoring punch aside the two. Fish could point from the bench a couple of mins with Butler and Thabo, and Adams with either one of the two superstars. But I still think it’s too late to figure that out. Thunder’s offense is so lethal yet very predictable, making it easy for the opponents to focus their defense. And i just think the Spurs got that figured out.

  12. Mr basketball says:

    The Thunder will win next 2 games to tie the series. Thunders coach needs to use J lamb more . Thabeet as a shot blocker for a few mins in each Qtr, Switch sefalosha from defender to shooter as the need arises in each Qtrr. Use Fisher, Butler and Jackson more and less mins for westbrook. Switch the focal point of attack if westbrook or durant is not knocking down shots.

    • 36yrfan says:

      …..MR basketball…….that’s funny, your handle that is………… but not as funny –“Switch sefalosha from defender?? to shooter” ????? You will need a magic wand to pull off that feat…..
      Mr BBall………LOL……

  13. okcDoke2014 says:

    Game two was Defensive work of Art.

  14. Chris says:

    I love it how when the media darling gets beat it’s more about what went wrong than what the winner did right. Spurs destroyed them, and they did it beautifully with team basketball and great skill.

    OKC is not deep enough. The whole world aside from thunder fans has known this. There’s nothing wrong with Westbrook or Durant.

  15. cp10 says:

    My prediction: OKC will win both games at home, I think Spurs will get an injury, could be Tony Parker reaggravating the strain he got. This’ll be another game 7 I think.

    • cpfool says:

      dumb prediction

    • 36yrfan says:

      …So that is what you hope for as a fan of this game…..for the other team to sustain an injury……how childish And another game seven????? ……lol……lol I guess you have not been paying attention…..

    • Aaron says:

      With the way the Spurs are playing, it will be another Gentleman’s sweep for them. I doubt anyone will get an injury, especially on the Spurs as hardly anyone is playing over 30 minutes per game.

  16. leborn jaems says:

    3 key things in the next game: move the ball, rebound and guard the perimeter..

  17. Max says:

    Really feel for Scottie Brooks! He has two of the most outstanding players, BUT those same two players? Well they do NOT want anyone offering them advice, of how they might improve. Sad, lack of maturity? How many years does it take a player to at least try to improve? “Bullheaded”! Scottie Brooks deserved better as an outstanding Coach, but with mature Stars!

    • tool316 says:

      You’re an idiot! It’s not a maturity issue; Scott brooks is very conservative in his coaching. Change is not a concept
      brooks is familiar with. He relentlessly use the same lineup over and over. He’s a one trick pony. The Thunder’s offense is very predictable.

      • 36yrfan says:

        …he acts like a child……THAT IS a maturity issue……maybe you can’t see that for whatever reason……tool….and you know Nothing about coaching as there is not a thing that can be done ….this is the kind of team they could “afford” …..2 hot dogs and alot of relish……

  18. amitpal says:

    Just another step in the way of becoming eventual champions. Its these painful moments that makes winning a championship even more gratifying. The thunder aren’t beating the spurs this year and it just goes to show you that no matter how young you are, the championship window isn’t open every year.