A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Why OKC is struggling in the playoffs

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Oklahoma City is down 3-2 headed to a Game 6 in Memphis. If the Grizzlies close out at home, it will be a disastrous result for the Thunder who haven’t had a healthy playoff exit since the 2012 Finals and who would be forced to celebrate Kevin Durant’s MVP in a press conference, 2007 Dirk Nowitzki style. If they get through the Grizzlies, this series and losing 2 games at home already, doesn’t bode well for them in the 2nd round and beyond.

What is happening? Scott Brooks is getting the biggest blame, Russell Westbrook as always has his detractors and Kevin Durant’s disappointing numbers, possibly from fatigue, haven’t helped. There’s also the fact that the Grizzlies may just be one of the 4 best teams in the league with the Heat, Spurs and Clippers and sometimes, you just get took by an even bigger dragon.

My explanation for the Thunder’s problems and why I never expected them to get out of the first 2 rounds heading into these playoffs, can be explained in an 7 word sentence:

They don’t move the ball well enough

Ball movement is crucial in the postseason. When I envision most of the great playoff runs, I see teams who are surgical dissecting the opponent’s halfcourt defense. By moving the ball they pressure the defense into exposing an open shot sometime in the 24 second shot clock. From the stars to the shooters to the big guys, if a team is smart and patient enough they can find the shots. The phrase “read and react” is important when understanding how great offenses beat great defenses.

For having one of the best records in the league the Thunder are not good enough at this. Whether it’s because of Russell Westbrook’s erratic of play, Scott Brooks lack of an offensive system, the insistence to play non-offensive threats like Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, or a combination of factors. They are not a team who patiently dissects the opponent or excels at read and reacting. Instead of working the body to weaken their opponent, they just throw haymakers and hope they land.

Consider the example of the 2011 Mavericks, one of my favorite recent champions. Offensively they gave the opponent a no-win situation. If you didn’t cover Dirk with more defenders, he annihilates his matchup. The moment you put extra defensive attention on Dirk, the Mavs supporting cast used their passing skill and basketball IQ, to find one of their many open 3 pt shooters or bigs at the rim. They at once had the most unguardable one on one scorer in the league and a team masterful at taking advantage of it once you left other defenders open to guard him. The combination meant there was practically nothing teams could do except hope they missed good shots.

Ideally the same could be built around Durant, but with an even more talented star. But right now the Thunder are not a skilled or smart enough team, or are not getting the right message from the coach, to play a read and react style or to master their opponent tactically. The Thunder are losing for the same reason John Calipari’s Kentucky only has one national title so far, despite having the most talented team virtually every season. In the tournament Kentucky’s age and less refined style of play, usually catches up to them. The difference is Cal’s team’s warts come with the territory of building rosters around often raw freshman. In OKC’s case, they can build whatever type of team they want and have just chosen this path.

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Written by jr.

April 30, 2014 at 2:58 pm

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