We're a bit behind this week in handing out our weekly awards, but we don't want to leave behind a series of games where we finally saw some resurgence of a dominant Thunder team. Here we go!
Buffy Summers Award (Team MVP) - Kevin Durant
It is no secret that Durant has been in a bit of a funk over these past 2 months. Call it fatigue, call it the doldrums of the long season, call it whatever you like, but Durant seemed to have taken a step backward. Especially in light of LeBron James and the Heat's historic winning streak, it seemed like Durant was actually slipping more than he was, because LeBron is the only player worth comparing to.
In any event, the 3rd quarter of the Grizzlies game seemed to mark a change in Durant. Yes, the Thunder still lost the after the Grizzlies hit two amazing shots to tie (Jerryd Bayless 3-pointer in regulation) and then to win (Marc Gasol tip-in in OT), but we finally saw some fight and resolve in the Thunder. For some reason playing the Grizzlies seems to bring that out in OKC, so in a way the Memphis loss may mark an inflection point for Durant. His 17 points in a row which brought the Thunder back in the game against the Grizz defense showed us that an engaged and focused Durant is still unstoppable.
Tom Haverford Award (Best Supporting Player) Reggie Jackson
Jackson, i.e. "Better Basketball," has really come into his own over these past few weeks. The biggest element to Jackson's improvement is that he is no longer a hit-or-miss player who can as easily be a liability as a team asset. The biggest change that we've seen is that Jackson looks incredibly calm on the court now and is always in complete control. He's a very different personality than Russell Westbrook so RJ runs the team differently, but Jackson has the same ability as Westbrook to take the ball off the dribble and get to the rim. In fact, he makes it look amazingly easy, and that is a testament to Jackson's growth in the game.
While Jackson still has a lot of work to do in the off-season to establish a consistent jump shot, it is not by accident that Jackson is getting more and more end-game minutes. Paired with Westbrook in the backcourt and flanked by Durant, Kevin Martin, and Serge Ibaka, Jackson is an offensive threat at the guard spot that the Thunder have been sorely needing.
Not-Dumb National Narrative Story Of The Week that is going to plague us forever - Derek Fisher needs to play less
Everybody sees it. Everybody.
Remember last season when everybody was freaking out because it seemed like Kendrick Perkins was playing too much and involved in key spots of playoff games where he was actively hurting OKC? It seems like Scott Brooks has that under control better this year, as he is much more likely to keep Perkins in spots where he is effective. The downside is that Brooks has transferred that tendency (as well as our collective ire) to old man Fisher, who is actually playing worse than ever. He is on a stretch where he has missed his last 18 shots and hasn't hit one in 2 weeks. On top of that, his physical liabilities as a 38 year old are manifesting on the defensive end as well.
As a general rule we try to reserve personnel decisions to the experts, but at some point I don't think we have to pretend that we're wrong on this one. Yes, Fisher can be used better, but the Thunder's best chance to win is by not using him at all in 2nd half situations.
Danger Zone Award - Thunder 2nd half defense
Earlier in the season, the Thunder had become prone to play some very poor 4th quarter defense. They were missing assignments, playing lazy, and poor teams like the Wizards and Cavaliers were catching them in the end. As of this past week however, we have seen a major improvement in this area. Against the Grizzlies, OKC held them to 39 2nd half points, which allowed the Thunder to have a shot to win in the end.
Against the Magic, the Thunder put the clamps on very late in the game, allowing only 1 FG over the final 5 minutes of play. Against the Trail Blazers, the defensive effort was even more dramatic as they held the Blazers from scoring a single point over the final 6 minutes of the game. Lastly, the Thunder allowed the Wizards to score only 14 total points in the 4th quarter as OKC coasted to the win.
While the offense is still going to have its ups and downs, it is a good sign to see that the Thunder is reacclimatizing that late-game defensive swagger that propelled them through the playoffs last year.
Prometheus Award (Biggest Disappoint) Thunder's final sequence vs Grizzlies
The Thunder had a 6 point lead with 1:25 remaining in the game. Given that the Grizzlies were not exactly lighting the world on fire, all the Thunder needed to do was produce enough offense while forcing the Grizzlies to burn clock to try and catch up.
While the Thunder did a solid enough job getting to the free throw line and staying out in front, their defense had a bit of a meltdown. Through a series of bad defensive rotations, carelessness, and some opportunistic shooting by Jerryd Bayless, the Grizz (actually, just Bayless) scored 7 points in the final 11 seconds of regulation.
That would have been bad enough, but then we got to see the Thunder's final shot attempt sequence. With 3.6 seconds remaining in the game, we saw the exact same kind of offensive 'play' that we've seen over the past 3 seasons. In other words, no play at all. The ball was inbounded too far from the rim, players were moving away from the rim instead of toward it, and if it weren't for a Durant turnover, the Thunder would have gotten a 30 foot desperation 3-pointer AT BEST.
The point of the gripe is not necessarily the defensive let-down. In truth, I was very impressed by how the Grizz executed. They made did everything they had to do to give themselves a shot. The Thunder's shot though, it made me sick to my stomach because I knew exactly what was going to happen before they even inbounded the ball. I wanted to see something different, something creative, something that we haven't seen tried dozens of times before.
We didn't. I still hold out hope.
Walter White Empire Scale - 6 (Last Week: 5)
We don't want to make too much of the past 3 wins because they all came against non-playoff teams, but the return to some semblance of dominant basketball was a nice thing to see. While the Magic game was a wee bit shaky, the Thunder began to exert themselves against the Blazers and Wizards.