The Oklahoma City Thunder have a head coach who seems to be unwilling to make any sort of offensive adjustment while relying on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant trying to win games with pull up jumpers from beyond the arc. If it works, he looks like a genius, but in the 122-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns, it once again pointed towards a glaring problem with the team.
The Suns force the Thunder to move a lot more than they’d like to on defense. Goran Dragic scored 26 points in a big game, getting plenty of help from P.J. Tucker with 22, Gerald Green with 24 off the bench and Eric Bledsoe scoring 16 points. The Suns shot 11-of-23 from beyond the arc, took advantage of the Thunder moving slowly on defense or overreacting to plays which caused gaping holes either in the paint or on the wing. Yes, the Sefolosha excuse can still be used, but the Thunder are great not just because Kevin Durant can almost score at will. Without a solid defense, the kind we saw from them against the Spurs, there isn’t going to be a championship banner hanging from the rafters next season.
Kevin Durant set a new record for consecutive games with 25 points or more. He finished with 38 points, but after two free throws with 2:39 left in the game that put the Thunder 112-111 in the lead, he pretty much turned away from the offense, and made mistakes with the few things he did try to do. What were they? A turnover, which happens, and yes, a famous pull up jumper, which Russell Westbrook decided to emulate without too much success in the final minutes.
Westbrook had 33 points. He ravaged through the Suns’ defense early in the game, but when it became time for some actual thinking at the end of the game, no play was drawn up by Brooks, and if there was, Westbrook and Durant completely ignored it. Westbrook kept pulling up for jumpers from three without really trying to create anything better, which is something a point guard or ball handler should try and do, as he and Durant finished with 6-of-24 from beyond the arc as the two seemed to fall in love at the wrong time with the idea that their offense can overcome any problem they have on defense.
Meanwhile, Phoenix forced turnovers and hustled, going to the line time after time while the Thunder’s offense kept making the same mistake of shooting ill-advised 3’s, which eventually became a gap they couldn’t close down in the final seconds.
Scott Brooks knows to coach defense, or at least it seems that way. But this reliance on talent instead of brains from time to time makes the Thunder seems like a team that hasn’t evolved at all over the last three years, and makes people wonder about Brooks, and not for the first time, asking whether or not he has an idea about the adjustments he needs to make in order to get the best out of probably the most talented team in the NBA.
Doom and gloom prophecies might be a bit of a stretch, but the Thunder might be putting too many eggs in the same basket that might eventually backfire on them. The Thunder looked like a great team when Russell Westbrook wasn’t playing, and letting him get away with playing so foolishly at the end of games is hard to comprehend.