OKC Thunder And the Problem With Blow-Outs

Thunder-celebration_mediumOver the course of this season, the OKC Thunder has walked the straight and narrow. The team mantra, repeated from the top on down, is that everything is about: the team, the defense, the confidence, the patience, and the learning of lessons. The team plays with enthusiasm on the court, but it has only been on the rarest of occasions where one of the players go off-script in the press.

Before the Denver series in round one, George Karl and Raymond Felton tried to stir the pot a little, calling the Thunder players both cocky and talkers of the smack. I think these comments caught everybody by surprise, because we have been watching this franchise since the beginning and there has been nary a trace of anything resembling what Denver was accusing OKC of. Never the less, the media picked it up and ran with it, crafting and narrating the story line. Of course, we know that the narrative was false, and Karl's strategy backfired on them. OKC ran out to a 3-0 series lead and it was really over before it began.

So now, with the Thunder-Grizzlies series reaching its denouement and the "Westbrook is feuding with Durant!" meme petering out, the new nugget on the block is the idea that, at the tail end of the Thunder blow-out in Game Five, the team was yukking it up and running up the score, and that they're setting themselves up for some righteous payback by the Grizzlies.

Where did the catcalls begin?

"For me, Oklahoma City did a little too much celebrating the last couple minutes...Lionel Hollins will show them the tape, and the Memphis Grizzlies will win Game 6 back home at the Mailbox. The big fellows will be upset". - Kevin McHale

Charles Barkley countered:

"I'm going to take a guy into the stands, and I'm going to make it look like an accident."

Lending credence to the storyline, Kendrick Perkins commented after the game:

"We have to end the game with better class than that. That's too disrespectful in my eyes. That's not what the Thunder are about. ... I think we were too flashy."

The theme continued as various writers started to write their predictions for Game Six:

"Short term memory loss. That's the key for Game 6, after the Oklahoma City Thunder wiped the court with the Memphis Grizzlies, running up the score and celebrating to their heart's desire in a 99-72 blowout win in Game 5." - CBS Sports

And:

"Oklahoma City celebrated like they won the NBA Championship in Game 6. If Memphis has to regain the confidence and toughness that got the team to this point then OKC has to regain the focus and determination that got them here as well." - 3 Shades of Blue

A few comments:

  • Overall, this discussion is silly and it feels so contrived, but as I alluded to at the top, this sort of thing has defined the coverage of the Thunder during these playoffs. The team is as milquetoast as can be, so narratives have to be created to spice things up for both the media and viewing public.
  • "But wait!" you say, "Perkins gives the complaint validity!" Perhaps it does, but I would only argue it in the most general pretense. Perkins is one of the only guys who knows that the playoffs are barely even half-over, that even if the Thunder take the win tonight there is still a long, long way to go. Because of this, Perkins wants to make sure his team never gives the opposition any foothold to gain some momentum, no matter how small it may be. In the words of Leonidas, "give them nothing, but take from them everything."
  • For the record, a team is not "running up the score" when it only manages to score 99 total points in the game. "Running up the score" is what you call it when a team like, say, the Nuggets puts up over 130 points in ripping up a team with a losing record. And even then I'm picking on the Nuggets a bit because they scored most of those points with their starters on the bench. Also, hoisting 3-pointers at the end of the game is not "running up the score" either. In fact, it is the very opposite. The 3-point shot is what happens when a team simply hangs onto the ball to run out the clock, as the Thunder was doing, and then must shoot a long shot to avoid a shot clock violation. It is in essence the de facto "running out the clock" shot.
  • Speaking of starters, this isn't college football; there are only 12 guys on the bench. Russell Westbrook was pulled with two minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and sat the rest of the way, while Kevin Durant sat out the duration of the 4th.  Nate Robinson and Royal Ivey both played the final four minutes of the game. They came in, ran around, made some buckets, and the rest of their teammates were genuinely happy to see them get some playoff minutes. I watched the Thunder bench closely; I did not see anything that could be construed as over-celebration. Never the less, people will see what they want to see. 
  • Speaking of Nate-Dog, if ever there were a legitimate complaint about signs of disrespect, it should probably be aimed at him. I acknowledge that he does serve a purpose on the bench by bringing enthusiasm in the huddle and on the side-line, but his in-game antics were a bit juvenile. Robinson has been in the league for eight years and been a starter for several of those seasons. Scott Brooks probably should have pulled him out after he screwed around and submitted a highlight clip for the And 1 Mixed Tape Tour. Robinson is an excitable guy and should be enthused to be playing, but he's still a professional and probably should have left that part of his game on the cutting room floor.
  • I seriously doubt that Memphis will find any motivation from this "OKC was partying too early!" storyline, because they too know what the truth is. The Thunder dominated them, and they got beat. I did not see a single Memphis player or coach gripe about the Thunder's actions at the end. Also, as we saw from Game Four, emotions only take a team so far. Eventually winning and losing swings around performance and execution. That is the area where the Thunder won the game, and that is the area which the Grizzlies must thrive if they are to take this series to seven.
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