Today was not only the first time that Kevin Durant got ejected from an NBA basketball game. It was also the first time I remember the game ending in a smattering of boos. KD's words pretty much sum up the feeling of a lot of Thunder fans about this game. I have it under good authority, also known as friends on my Facebook that sit courtside and extensive looks at video replay, that Durant said, "F*** this." Technical #1. "You can suck a d***." Technical #2. "F*** you." Durant walks out, slaps hands.
I suppose the slew of profanities was kind of cool because it reminds us all that Kevin Durant is human. He can get frustrated, have bad days, and blow his top. And you have to give it to Scott Brooks, who had the presence of mind to sub out the starters before anything ugly happened. But man, something serious had to have gone down for a guy like KD to lose his cool.
It's easy to understand where the anger is coming from. Violet Palmer is notorious for calling ticky tack games, blowing her whistle constantly. Dan Crawford has been accused of bias in the past, and is also considered a referee who likes to call fouls. The Thunder weren't getting any foul calls in the fourth, while the Nets were receiving late Christmas gifts every other possession. But, before you start shouting out your favorite conspiracy theory relating to David Stern, step out and think of things from a larger perspective.
The Nets got 29 free throws tonight, which is about 5 above their season average. When you take into consideration that they got in the free throw bonus before the fourth quarter was even half-over, what happened is less shocking. Yes, OKC had 17, ten less than their season average of 27. But they also took five less shots overall, and committed four more turnovers. In general, the pace was slower, the Thunder took more threes, and were sloppier with the ball. Thus, less foul calls.
That doesn't convince you? I challenge you to look at the fourth quarter footage and tell me what the refs did wrong. Play-by-play. Let's hear it. I looked over all of the fouls called in the fourth. Let's get one thing straight: The Nets earned this win. All biases aside, they made the Thunder fall for silly pumpfakes on four separate occasions, leading to the accidental bump while the Brooklyn shooter was going up. Did the fouls look skimpy? Yes. But the official will call that type of play every time, and the Nets did an excellent job of avoiding that pickle on the other end. The only real foul that you can point to as questionable was Perkins' moving screen foul that sent Kevin Durant to the locker room. But, let's be honest. Perk commits moving screen fouls all of the time, and was probably being a bit too obvious on that play.
Were the refs calling fouls on the Thunder? Heck yes! When the Thunder got fouled, they were sent to the line. The Thunder were simply frustrated because they had to work for points all night. The Nets did the right thing. They stayed on the floor, played solid man-to-man defense, and were constantly in the Thunder passing lanes. Gerald Wallace was particularly impressive. Yes, he only got 1 foul. Why? Because he's one of the NBA's best defenders. He averages 2.1 fouls a game, with 1.6 steals. The man is skilled, and knows how to play hard defense. Plus, the Thunder were shooting a lot of jumpshots in the fourth, while the Nets were doing work in the paint.
I know, you might be thinking that I'm giving the refs a pass. But I call out the refs when they're wrong. I've done it twice in four years, but I do it. The refs have some of the toughest jobs in the entire world, and they do the best they can with what they have. They're human, and they miss calls. But their performance is constantly reviewed, and generally, they do the right thing. The bottom line is that if you're a good team, you win basketball games, and you can adjust your game according to how things are being called. The Thunder didn't do that tonight.
Anyway, there's other things to talk about. It should seem fairly obvious from my synopsis above that the Thunder had a terrible fourth quarter. Aside from sending the Nets into the bonus way too early, they could hardly get anything going offensively. Durant missed a wide open three. Serge Ibaka tried to score with his back to the basket (which almost never works). Durant had the ball poked away by the dexterous Deron Williams. Westbrook missed a stop and pop after the defense was set. Durant fell on his back because he fully expected a foul from Gerald Wallace, who backed off at the last second. And the coup de grace was a terrible Kevin Martin drive into traffic. If you look at all of the above plays collectively, the reason for the loss becomes clear. Aside from the open Durant brick, the Thunder were simply playing to their own weaknesses. Shots that they would hardly make on a good day.
Ultimately, offense was their biggest problem. The Nets scored 111 in their December loss to the Thunder, so it should be expected that this was a high-scoring game. But the Thunder just couldn't put it together. In the first half, it was a lack of aggressiveness combined with a lack of distribution. In the second half, it was the 13 turnovers they committed.
But you could also look to the Thunder's defensive problems in the first half. They were constantly falling for the same old plays, over and over again. Joe Johnson was canning open threes via off-ball screens, and was able to easily get into his post sweet spots against Sefolosha on iso plays. Brook Lopez was ignored in the mid-range, allowing for wide-open jumpers along with his usual offensive moves in the post.
Really though, when you get down to brass tacks, the Thunder were playing an extremely motivated Brooklyn team today. They just saw their coach get fired, they got creamed against San Antonio, and they had one of the loudest men in the NBA screaming at them in the post-game locker room. This is a veteran team that knows how to win when they can put it together. The Thunder committed way too many turnovers, didn't make smart plays when it mattered, couldn't get role players involved in the offense, played their starters for too long, lost the battle on the offensive glass, and couldn't rely on getting to the line. When that many things go wrong on one night, not even 50% from the floor can save you.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who never ceases to amaze.
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, who hit some of the toughest shots I've seen him take all year.
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Martin, who was way too quiet early on, took a few bad shots and provided nothing defensively.
Thunder Plunderer: Joe Johnson, who had absolutely no trouble scoring against one of the league's best defenders in Sefolosha.
Next Game: Versus the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, January 4th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.