Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grizzlies - Thunder Game Five: Kevin Durant's Waterloo

Needs a new mouthpiece
The simple and stupid way to look at this is that Kevin Durant didn't shoot well, so he must not be that good as we thought. But what we really learned by the end of this series was that having the second-best player in the world doesn't really matter when the rest of your teammates are losing their matchups. Just like in the last series, Memphis started off by losing to one of the best players in the world, and ended it by destroying him.

Beyond the frantic finish of this one, Memphis spent five games not working as hard as Oklahoma City to score, and idiots are now going to chastise Durant for not having a post game -- as if the finest shooting big man in the league should have old man craftiness at age 24, and to just suddenly acquire those skills when the ever-present guard suddenly isn't there. (Note: if he had a post game, he wouldn't have anyone to get him the damn ball. There's no way he was winning this series, folks.)

But what this series showed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is how utterly and completely worthless Kendrick Perkins is. This is the series that OKC traded for, the physical Grizzlies being one of the few teams that don't just go small in more than enough minutes to make a traditional 5 mostly pointless. With the sole and shocking exception of stopping Zach Randolph at the end of regulation to force an overtime where OKC got crushed, I don't remember any good moments for Perk in these games. Even when he got rebounds they were immediately punctuated by turnovers and disasters. This isn't a matter of a bad matchup or a bad series; this is, simply, a very bad basketball player that causes you to play 4 on 5 on offense, and 5 on Fail on defense. I think OKC would be better off releasing him and giving Hasheem Thabeet all of the minutes, just to see if you have something there. You know you have nothing in Perk.

As for the rest of this franchise, I don't mean to make too much of this; they were without their second-best player, and they are going against a team that clearly could be the Western Conference champion. But when you desperately need Derek Fisher to make shots, five years after Fish was way too damn old to be counted on, that's a problem. When you trade away a breakout talent for an erratic shooter with no defensive position, that's also Not Good. And when your coaching plan for an elimination game at home against guys who have been pounding you down low the entire series is More Of The Same Is Sure To Work This Time... well, that's a special kind of confident in your team's talent. Unwarranted confidence.

Even during the Thunder's big third quarter run to bring this game back to interesting, I never lost confidence in the Grizzlies' ability to close this out, just from watching the flow of the game. Grizzly coach Lionel Hollins kept defensive hammer Tony Allen on the bench during the run, then brought him back fresh for the close. No panic; no panic. Memphis knows the game is going to be close and that they are going to be OK when it is, because their offense isn't going to turn the ball over, and their defense is going to make damn sure that yours, well, is. They are also going to get to the line with their power game; your drive and kick thing, not so much.

In the fourth, the Grizzlies just put the clamps on, got some calls, hit some shots, and more or less squeezed the life out of the Thunder up until nearly spitting the bit late. Durant's going to wear the goat horns for a poor percentage and turnovers, but none of his teammates wanted to shoot when it mattered, and so many threes were left short as to just make you wonder if there were giving up in mid-shot. That's what game after game of going against better and bigger players will do. OKC made yet another run late to make this one closer than it should have been, but the end was still the same; Gasol hitting a bailout at the end of the clock, Allen taking advantage of a shockingly bad defensive breakdown for a 3-point play with 90 seconds left, fouling Ibaka out he actually made some finishes at the rim to get the crowd back into it.

What the world will see is that Durant was 5 for 21 and missed a chance to tie it in the last seconds. And sure, he could have played better, and just might in the future. But in the words of Kenny Smith, if he hits that shot, it just gives them five more minutes to lose, against a team that keeps ending All-NBA players. And now the Grizzlies will get rest, and an opponent that won't match up at all well with them. Ride the big men, folks.


snd_dsgnr said...

Do you get the impression that the Thunder have simply blown their shot at competing for titles, at least in the short term, with the Harden trade? With Westbrook they may have won this series, but I don't think he would have been the difference in them winning a title.

I don't agree with Bill Simmons on all that much, but I think he's pretty spot on when he says that it was just a bad plan from the start to break up the Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio.

DMtShooter said...

Right up there with saying that Lincoln was really enjoying the play up until Booth ruined things. OKC dealt Harden because you can't keep both him and Ibaka, and without Ibaka, they have no shotblocking. They also dealt Harden because Westbrook never got hurt. Oh well.

I also believe that they don't beat Memphis with Westbrook in the lineup. I love Russ, but he just makes one guy better, and the edge he gives you over Jackson isn't worth 3 games in 7.

The bigger issue is that OKC drafted Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka and Jeff Green, but only got to keep 3/5ths of that. When a team hits home runs in the draft, but doesn't get to keep them, that's where the game seems wrong.

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