VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s 33 points lift Warriors past Thunder
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder had some problems down the stretch of games against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. The Thunder were outscored 18-7 in the final 4:33 of the fourth quarter against Golden State and 22-3 in the final 4:59 at L.A.
Ugly endings, of course, put the Thunder’s late-game offense under scrutiny. It was the story when Scott Brooks was coach and it’s still the story with Billy Donovan now on the bench. In those two games, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 3-for-16 in the clutch (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points).
The Thunder rank last in passes per game overall, so it’s not like they play like the Spurs before the game gets late. But it sure seems like things get even more stagnant with the game on the line.
The numbers back that up. According to SportVU, the Thunder were averaging 2.68 passes on non-clutch possessions, but just 2.23 on clutch possessions through Wednesday. 3. Only three of Westbrook’s 33 clutch-time baskets and only 16 of Durant’s 42 clutch-time baskets have been assisted.
Both those passes per possession numbers (clutch and non-clutch) rank in the bottom two of the league, but the drop-off of 17 percent is about the league average. Other teams see a greater reduction…
The Jazz are that team that throws 2-3 passes at the beginning of most possessions that do nothing. So ball movement is definitely going to go down when they’re more purposefully looking to get the ball into the hands of Gordon Hayward or Rodney Hood to run a pick-and-roll.
The Cavs? Yeah, you can see that.
On the other end of the list are the Spurs, of course. They move the ball whether the game is on the line or not. They rank third with 3.50 passes per possession on non-clutch possessions and first with 3.36 on clutch possessions.
VIDEO: Dissecting OKC’s late-game woes
Though the Thunder are 2-6 since the All-Star break, their starting lineup has been the league’s best five-man unit that has played at least 250 minutes, having outscored its opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions. In their two games against the Warriors in the last week, the OKC starters were a plus-23 (outscoring the champs 81-58) in 32 minutes.
But all other OKC lineups were a minus-41 and Dion Waiters was a minus-42 in 51:34 in the two games. No other Thunder player was worse than a minus-17.
Donovan has been staggering the minutes of Durant and Westbrook over the last six games, keeping one of them on the floor at all (non-garbage) times. Instead of playing the entire first quarter like he typically had done through the first two games after the break, Durant has been taking a few-minute break midway through the period.
It’s too early to tell if it’s working, but Thursday’s game seemed to be lost in 7:43 stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, where only one of Durant or Westbrook was on the floor. When Durant subbed out at 4:38 of the third, OKC led by nine and by the time both were on the floor together again with 8:55 to go in the fourth, the Thunder were down five.
Would things have been different if they both stayed on the floor together longer and the Thunder played a few minutes of the fourth with neither in the game? Who knows.
In the six games that Donovan has been staggering his stars’ minutes, the Thunder are a plus-4 in 159 minutes with both on the floor and a plus-6 in 130 minutes with only one of the two on the floor. The offense has been great and the defense has been terrible no matter who has been on the floor. More study is needed.
There are plenty of numbers to explain how good the Warriors have been this season. Here’s another data point that makes their ridiculous 55-5 record look even more impressive than it looks on the surface…
Thursday’s win over the Thunder was just the sixth game this season in which the Warriors had a rest advantage, where they didn’t play the day before, but their opponent did. Only the Boston Celtics (5) have had fewer such games.
The Warriors have played twice as many games (12) with a rest disadvantage, where they played the night before, but their opponent didn’t. That’s the biggest negative rest-advantage-to-rest-disadvantage differential (-6) in the league.
Of course, they haven’t lost in either situation. The Warriors are 6-0 with a rest advantage and 12-0 with a rest disadvantage. All five of their losses have come when both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back (2-1) or when both teams didn’t play the day before (35-4).
The champs’ differential will be reduced a bit before the end of the season. They have seven games remaining with a rest advantage and five remaining at a disadvantage.
On the other end of the spectrum are the New York Knicks, who have played eight more games with a rest advantage (14) than they have with a rest disadvantage (6). No other team has a positive differential of more than three. But the Knicks are just 5-9 with an advantage, having allowed 108.1 points per 100 possessions in those 14 games.
Teams with a rest advantage (160-115) have the same winning percentage (.582) as home teams (530-381) do this season.
Point differential per 100 possessions…
Rest advantage: plus-2.2
Home court: plus-2.3