The Oklahoma City Thunder want to be champions, badly. They’ve believed for so long that the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, surrounded by the right pieces, will finally get them there. They changed head coaches, flipping Scott Brooks into Billy Donovan. They’re trying to play a different style of basketball. And it’s working out, but in the same way it has in the past, which means they’re setting themselves up for disappointment.
While the regular season doesn’t always translate well in the change to the postseason, the 115-92 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was something of a slap to the face, coming after the Thunder blowing a lead on Friday against the Indiana Pacers, making it two consecutive losses to kick off their post All-Star stretch. But when you listen to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who think they’re a bit above answering questions and shouldn’t talk to the media at all, everything is just fine and OK.
Durant has always been one of the more boring interview subjects in the league. Every answer from him is about digging deep and making shots. He might love basketball, but he hates talking about it. Or at least he hates reporters asking him questions and challenging him about the Thunder playing poorly. Playing bad defense. Playing their usual brand of offense, which is pretty much giving Durant and Westbrook the ball while the rest get out of the way.
The defense in the loss to the Cavaliers and in general is probably the more worrying aspect of this team right now. Ibaka might put up some nice blocking numbers, but regardless of their lineup, the Thunder have a problem protecting the basket. It comes from focus and will, but also from ability. Enes Kanter is simply non existent on defense, Steven Adams isn’t what Kendrick Perkins was at his best, while Durant and Westbrook often don’t think about that side of the ball. Dion Waiters and the rest? They often look like they’re playing for their rivals.
Some called Waiters performance in the loss the best game he’s ever played for the Cavaliers. He finished with 1-of-8 from the field and looked to harm his team in every thing he did. Andre Roberson didn’t even play. Anthony Morrow and Randy Foye didn’t do a much better job. The Thunder went from Harden to Kevin Martin to Reggie Jackson to whatever it is right now at second guard next to Westbrook. And it’s not like they’ve upgraded themselves in other slots, maybe except for Kanter.
The interesting thing about the Thunder is that for the Cavaliers, they’re a dream matchup if they ever make the finals. They don’t have anyone who can even bother LeBron James, and their offensive system is easy to slow down. You’re willing to take Durant and Westbrook forcing shots over the course of a series. But of the Cavs-Spurs-Thunder trio, OKC might have the best matchup when it comes to the Warriors, the Thunder might be best suited to deal with them, although one game (8 point loss) isn’t enough to really tell us, and we probably won’t really know until we see a playoff clash.
But in general, the Thunder seem like the same team with slight variations every year. This is still the Durant and Westbrook show, playing the same kind of basketball, relying on skill rather than thinking about what hasn’t worked in past years. If the Thunder keep realizing the answer is injuries, than they haven’t been paying attention.