Thunder paying price for inexperience

BY foxsports • May 21, 2011

Bricktown, a former warehouse district now devoted to restaurants and retail stores, is just a couple blocks east of where the Thunder play. But based on what I saw Saturday night, I suggest that the city fathers (or whatever municipal politicians are called these days) extend the boundaries to include the Oklahoma City Arena.

Bricktown, indeed. Yes, I know. The Thunder made it close, got it down to four points in the last minutes. And, yes, I’m well aware that the Dallas Mavericks, a team with a long-established tradition of poor defense and playoff collapses, turned in an excellent defensive effort in their 93-87 win to take a 2-1 series lead.

Just the same, you have to wonder if the Thunder are still too young to play any other role but upstarts. Good defense had something to do with it, sure. But it also was boneheaded plays, an inexplicably unprepared start (4 for 17 from the field with seven turnovers in that first quarter), and plain old lousy shooting, especially on the part of their best shooter.

“I missed three or four wide open threes,” said Kevin Durant, who last year became the youngest player ever to lead the league in scoring.

Actually, he was 0 for 8, though not all of them were well-advised.

“I missed a lot of chippies,” he said.

Yes, that too.

I don’t mean to pick on Durant. He seems like an awfully nice kid, even if that revenge-of-the-nerds backpack thing isn’t a particularly flattering look. But he’s billed, with ample justification, as a transcendent player, and the conference finals are a good time to transcend.

Oklahoma City scored all of 12 points in the first quarter, and was lucky to be down 16 at the half. But you go as your best player goes, and at that point, Durant was 2 for 10. After three quarters, he was 4 for 18. The Thunder could never close that gap.

They have but three scorers – Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden (who didn’t start playing until the fourth quarter himself). But for all their youth and athleticism, they don’t pass well. They have neither the experience nor the finesse to survive such a subpar night by guy who averages almost 28 points a game.

Dirk Nowitzki, who also had an off-night, is aided by Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion — four other guys who are easily capable of scoring in double figures. They provide a margin for offensive error Durant simply doesn’t have.

As it happened, he scored 24 points. But again, I’m not picking on the guy if I say those might be the 24 quietest points I’ve ever seen. Ten of them came from the line on a night when the refs were being quite kind to the home team.

Did I mention that Oklahoma City shot twice as many free throws as Dallas, 36 to 18? And did I mention Durant was 7 for 22 from the field?

Maybe that’s OK for Kobe Bryant. Bryant has five championship rings and an ego voracious enough to guarantee he’ll take the biggest shots in the biggest games. But Durant has none and doesn’t, or doesn’t always. He took three shots in the final 10 minutes.

“As far as myself getting the ball,” he said, “I think that Russ had it going and Daequan came in the game, so we were looking for him and James, and everybody was being aggressive.”

By Russ, he means Westbrook.

James refers to Harden. And Daequan refers to Daequan Cook, who missed two 3-pointers in the final minutes.

I’m all for the virtues of team basketball. But you don’t want to see the league’s best scorer two years running deferring to Daequan Cook. Unless, of course, you’re the Mavericks.

“Kevin Durant is a guy you game plan for in your sleep,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.

Dallas gave him some new looks, sure. There were more double-teams and traps, and the Mavericks were quicker to the ball. Just the same, even Carlisle had to admit, “He missed some shots he would normally make.”

In fact, if you happen to be counting along at home, Durant hasn’t hit a 3-pointer in a couple of games now. He’s 0 for 13 from behind the arc.

“It’s not like me to miss 12 or 13 threes in a row,” he said. “… I work on it every day. It is just a matter of being confident. I can’t come into the game and, you know, pass up on wide open shots. … I’ve got to stay confident."

That’s how it is in Bricktown.


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