What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The tenor of the heartbreaking ending felt like it was building throughout the full 48 minutes of the game. In what was a scintillating ending to a moribund first 40 minutes of Thunder basketball, OKC found their inner Hollywood script and came almost all the way back from a 13 point deficit with 9 minutes remaining to have a chance to tie or win in the end.
This is my honest assessment of Game 2 - the Thunder played pretty bad basketball throughout, and it was only by the sheer force of will and pure talent of their players that they even found themselves down two points with the ball with 14 seconds remaining. They probably should not have had that chance. This is a crazy game however and as OKC showed earlier in these playoffs, most notably against Dallas in Game 1 and the Lakers in Game 5, they have the ability to win games by playing breathtaking basketball for short bursts. They almost did it again in Game 2.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
One of the key elements in OKC's ability to come back from big deficits in these playoffs is that they have been able to follow bad quarters by playing dominant subsequent quarters. This progression did not happen in Game 2. The Thunder played a terrible 1st quarter (again) and then, unlike in Game 2, did not play significantly better in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and then concluded by playing a good-but-not-great 4th quarter.
The two obvious elements in the game - the 1st quarter and the 4th quarter - make a nice bookend for disappointment. The Thunder actually played worse in the 1st quarter of Game 2 than they did in Game 1. How bad was it? OKC had exactly 2 points with almost 8 minutes gone in the quarter. For a team that features 3 of the best offensive players in the league and one of the top 2 offenses, something like that should never, ever happen in a regular season game, let alone Game 2 of the Finals. The early going of the 1st quarter was just a cacophony of missed shots from all over the floor by everyone involved. At some point the deficit, which grew to 18-2 at one point, actually became a subset of the real problem - the team was lost and needed to stop and regroup much earlier than the 6:35 mark to plan a deliberate and intentional way to get two points on the board. It had to be some sort of play that either produced a shot at the rim or a chance for a player to draw a foul. To go that long though with only 2 points to show for it, that is a failure of execution from head coaching on down the roster.
The 4th quarter was like a stake in the heart because the Thunder once again showed the resolve that has come to define them - no deficit is too big and no game is out of reach for Kevin Durant and the gang - but it was coupled with shoddy execution down the stretch and a missed shot that could have tied it. Here is the final sequence of plays:
When Durant hit that 3-pointer to bring OKC within a basket and then the team followed up by forcing LeBron to miss a deep 3-pointer, I am sure that everyone in the Chesapeake thought that Durant's game-tying attempt would have found the bottom of the net. In perusing the blogosphere after the game, I saw there was a mixed bag of sentiment toward the Thunder's final play. Some argued that Durant went too early and others argued that he should have been looking for a spot-up shooter to attempt a game-winning three.
From my own perspective, I thought it was a good shot attempt because above all else, OKC had to put themselves in the best position they could to make a basket. Had they in-bounded the ball to Westbrook as planned and run their pindown play for Durant coming off the baseline, could OKC have produced a better shot than Durant got? Derek Fisher made a great pass to Durant on the baseline which allowed Durant to spin hard, put LeBron on his heels, and then elevate for a clean look 8 feet away from the rim. In that situation, that's a good shot. That's probably going to be the best shot OKC is going to get.
Unfortunately, just like in the way OKC started out the game in the 1st quarter, Durant missed.
(There was some controversy in the play regarding whether LeBron fouled Durant. You can find the analysis here)
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Here are 3 for you:
- Kevin Durant shot 4-10 from 3-point range. When morning arrives and you peruse the box score you might be inclined to think that despite the big miss at the end, Durant played pretty well. From my perspective, I thought he played pretty poor offensive ball throughout, and as we've seen over the course of the last 2 seasons, the easiest tell-tale sign is to look at his number of 3-point attempts. Any time Durant attempts a double-digit number of 3-point shots, it is a clear indication that he is not playing to his strengths. Even though 4-10 is technically a high shooting percentage, when Durant is taking almost half of his shots from beyond the arc it means that he is not getting to the rim, he is not making the defense work, and he is not drawing fouls. Durant only attempted 6 free throws on the night (compared to LeBron's 12-12 effort at the stripe).
- The Thunder missed an incredibly high number of shots within 10 feet of the rim. When Scott Brooks discusses Game 2 further, you will be sure to hear the phrase "we just missed some shots" multiple times, and it will be largely true. In total, OKC shot only 16-34 from inside 10 feet, compared to 23-44 for Miami. Even when OKC was able to run a good offense and get the ball in the paint, they were still missing shots. By contrast, LeBron had 10 field goals on the night, and 9 of them came within that range. The Thunder just missed shots.
- Lastly, the Thunder allowed Chris Bosh to control the offensive and defensive boards.To his credit, Bosh appears to be fully recovered from his stomach injury. Despite a continued run of struggles executing the high-5, Bosh played what I thought the most important role in the Heat's win by grabbing 15 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive. To contrast, the Thunder front line featured 4 rebounds from Serge Ibaka, 3 from Durant, and 3 from Nick Collison. To be fair, Durant was hindered by fouls all game long and was unlikely to repeat his 14 rebound performance from Game 1, but this total with Ibaka has been consistent for quite some time now and we've warned that it was going to hurt the team in the long run. The Thunder starting power forward has to be able to grab more than 4-5 rebounds per game, especially when he's matching up against another player in Bosh who is physically just about the same as Ibaka. This wasn't Zach Randolph or Andrew Bynum muscling Ibaka out of the way; it was the 'Bostrich' just being active and agressive in chasing the ball. Ibaka and Durant have to do a better job controlling the defensive boards so that the Thunder don't waste good defensive stops by giving the smaller Heat lineup additional cracks at the rim.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder lost their 1st home game of the post-season, are tied in the series at 1-1, and now must head to Miami knowing that they have to win at least one time if they want to see their home court again. It is the bitter, but nobody said this would be easy.
It is unfortunate that such a home game letdown had to occur at a moment when the stakes were so high, but OKC has been unsuccessful in correcting their early struggles for 3 consecutive games now. Hopefully this loss finally grabs their attention and they make amends.
There is reason for hope. Despite the horrific start and what I would charitably call "C+ basketball with a healthy dose of emotion" from there on out, the Thunder had a chance to win in the end. Their defense and offense still gets better as the game goes on while Miami's gets worse. A better start could spell a win in Game 3, but with a loss in Game 2, the room for error has shrunk greatly.
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, 32 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, only 7 points, 4 rebounds
Thunder Plunderer: Chris Bosh, 16 points, 15 rebounds (7 offensive)
Next Game: Game 3, Sunday, 7:00 PM Central Standard Time