The playoffs are different from the regular season, and not everything that worked then has the same impact now. The Memphis Grizzlies are forcing to Oklahoma City Thunder to try and win by giving Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the ball while the rest stand around and watch. The result? Grizzlies win game 3 98-95, taking a 2-1 lead in the series.
Numbers might be misleading. Kevin Durant scored 30 points. He also had nine rebounds and five blocks. Russell Westbrook scored 30 points as well. When your two stars score that many points, you shouldn’t find yourself on the losing end two games in a row. But the Grizzlies are getting what they want: The two stars trying to do everything on their own, combining to take 53 out of the Thunder’s 87 shots, while the rest of the players are either not involved or too cold to make a difference.
Like in most games the Thunder fall behind early, they have a massive comeback in the final quarter, capped off by Russell Westbrook making a four point play, something that has become a habit for the Thunder in the series, to send the game into overtime. But then the same problems the Thunder have had with both Durant and Westbrook on the floor return: The ball doesn’t move, the offense doesn’t try to do something that isn’t simplistic, and the Grizzlies don’t have that much of a difficult time contesting shots.
Tony Allen is the one making life difficult for Durant. The league’s best scorer missed all eight 3-point attempts and was 1-of-13 from the field on shots at least 10 feet from the basket. He was 10-of-27 from the field overall and is shooting just 43.8% from the field in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook wasn’t too efficient as well, but he did make four 3-pointers but the Thunder’s obsession with shooting 3’s doesn’t seem to be helping them all that much.
Something the Thunder did very well through this season was crowd the paint, but against the Grizzlies it isn’t working; at least it didn’t in game 3. Zach Randolph was bad, with only 5-of-20 from the field en route to 16 points. But it grinds and chips away at what the Thunder can do on defense, helping others get in. Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies scored 62 points in the paint on 57.4% shooting. Those are numbers you win with, regardless of who you’re playing.
The Thunder keep talking about open shots they’ve been missing, but that’s simply the wrong way to look at it. All through this season there’s been an issue with how their offense operates, and it is getting worse in the playoffs: Caron Butler was 0-for-5 from the field, Reggie Jackson is playing badly and Jeremy Lamb has been taken out of the rotation. Letting Durant and Westbrook go wild just isn’t going to cut it with the Grizzlies playing at this kind of level defensively.
The talk of Scott Brook being on the hot seat is foolish. Even if the Thunder do get knocked out, it doesn’t mean he should get fired. But there’s a string of results and actions that happens to be thought provoking for the men in charge. The Thunder improve if Durant and Westbrook improve as individuals, but as a team, it seems like Brooks got them to a certain point two years ago and hasn’t moved them forward an inch. It might not be pink slip worthy, but certainly should make him worry about the job he’s doing.