By Paul Gotham
One play does not make a game or season, but it can represent something larger. In this case, the final play of game four from the Oklahoma City Thunder-Los Angeles Clippers Western Conference semi-finals tells a tale.
In case you haven’t already seen it:
This is too easy, but let’s get it out of the way: a high school team runs a more organized break in this situation (this will serve as a point of reference for us to return).
Humor always makes for a good starting point, so how about the unintentional comedy provided by Reggie Jackson. He’s the guy showing his hands to Russell Westbrook like “Hey! I’m open! Let me get the rock.”
Reggie? It does not matter that you were two of three on the day from behind the arc (four of eight FG), and the guy with the ball was, at that moment, one of three. Showing your hands like you’re ready to shoot is amusing. (Joe Manganiello Side bar: Jackson was minus-22 for the game.)
Kevin Durant is the teammate standing to Jackson’s right. He may be hard to recognize, partially because of video quality, and partially because of how he is just standing there: hands to his side; straight up and down; not ready; body language stating “Yeah, it doesn’t matter. I’m not getting it.”
Think about this – The league’s MVP, and he knows he’s not touching the ball on the game’s final possession.
Another Joe Manganiello sidebar: Durant played 44:54 and had 79 touches. Westbrook logged 38:35 and accumulated 92 touches. Yes, he is the point guard, but shouldn’t it be a priority to have KD touch the ball? I bring this up because there were four possessions late in the game where Durant either (a) did not touch it or (b) was 17 feet from the basket with his back to the rim when he received the ball.
End sidebar. Thanks, Joe.
Chris Paul, Durant’s defender, knows it too. One might think the league’s MVP needed to be face-guarded in the situation; Paul is at least seven feet from Durant.
Back to the poorly organized break. Maybe, juuuuuuuust maybe, Durant was waiting for a screen from Jackson. It makes sense. One would want to help the team’s best player get open. You set a screen off the ball. Right?
More unintentional comedy. This is in effect a four on five situation. Thabo Sefolosha, who grabbed the defensive rebound at the other end, didn’t even bother to run the floor. Tends to happen when there is little motivation for getting the ball.
That speaks to a point made by Charles Barkley: Oklahoma City has done nothing to develop a third scorer in their lineup. Thunder players outside of Westbrook and Durant scored nine in the entire second half. Darren Collison scored 12 points for the Clippers in the fourth. Has anyone from OKC other than KD and RW scored 12 in the fourth at any point this season?
Collison netted 18, while Jamal Crawford combined with J.J. Redick to drop 24 from the shooting guard spot. This after Redick accounted for 12 and 18 in Games 1 and 2. Redick was off on Sunday but L.A. still figured it out. The Clippers know how to get production from that spot. The best example of this came during the fourth when L.A. outscored OKC 38-24. Paul and Blake Griffin ran a high ball screen. OKC overplayed it. Crawford filled behind and whacked a wide open 3 to give the Clips a 97-95 lead with 1:23 remaining. It’s basic basketball or any sport for that matter: you take what the defense gives you and adjust.
Geez…after looking at all those numbers, how is it the Clippers haven’t swept this series?
Speaking of wide open – a few analysts used the term “good look” to describe Westbrook’s attempt at the end of the game. Good look, sure, because he is five feet behind the arc. No coincidence Collison straddled the arc. Do you think if say…Stephen Curry had the ball, Collison would have played that far off? Collison can match his former UCLA teammate’s foot speed. Westbrook ignored his advantage which is his upper body strength. Had he driven, one of a few things happens: (1) Paul drops off KD for a penetrate and pitch, (2) Collison is forced to foul, (3) Westbrook gets to the rim and ties the game, or (4) Westbrook scores and gets fouled.
Pulling up five feet behind the arc is somewhat understandable if Westbrook is a second or third-year player. Inexperienced players makes those choices. Of course, second or third year guys don’t usually get that chance. Hard to believe a sixth-year guy makes that decision.
In other words, he took a heat check after stepping out of the walk-in beer cooler at the local Fortune 500 company. That’s not just messed up; it’s Most Messed Up.
Serge Ibaka running the floor is amusing. He has no idea what Westbrook is going to do. At one point he spins around in spot. Consistency. Understanding what a teammate is doing. High school?
Did the Thunder let L.A. off the canvas? Is this a wake up call for OKC? Have the Clippers figured out how to beat the Thunder – especially now that CP3 is guarding Durant (shrewd move by Doc Rivers)? It’s a best of three now. Does Scott Brook have a move?
A parting question: who was the last shoot-first point guard to lead his team to the NBA title?