As the Thunder made an intense fourth quarter comeback and the Nuggets almost blundered it away, I was hit with an epiphany. Didn't I see the exact same thing happen two nights ago? Yes, the teams had undergone a role reversal. The Nuggets were suddenly the superior team making a run down the stretch, and the Thunder were the team desperately trying to catch up by firing up threes. And instead of J.R. Smith calling for a foul on a wild end-of-game three point attempt, it was Russell Westbrook.
How did this happen? How did everything get to this point? Well, tonight, the finger was pointed at one man, and one man only. Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was just too involved. I saw it, you saw it, your grandmother saw it. Westbrook was hogging the ball furiously, and seemed to want to put the team on his back. Sometimes, it worked. But sometimes, it failed so miserably that all you could do was just shake your head.
Eric Maynor seems to be the more viable option in times of crisis, but he isn't invulnerable to the "put the team on his back" bug, either. He had quite a few attempts while playing scare minutes in game two. Generally though, he provides a cool headed alternative to Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately, he's only really a viable alternative when there's a lot of time left on the clock. When the game is on the line, you can't give Russell Westbrook the vaudeville cane. You've just got to watch the rest of the performance, and hope he doesn't fail. Because if you put in Maynor, it gives you one less offensive option and puts pressure on Durant.
Last Night, he was a blessing and a curse. He's one of the best in the league at driving to the basket, but sometimes he'd just take on too many defenders. He's also a great clutch shooter, but sometimes he'd just end up airballing a critical three. And sometimes, he got too wrapped up in his emotions, failing to get back on defense and watching Ty Lawson streak down the court for some free points.
Below: Not Pinning the Loss on Westbrook, How the Thunder Pissed the Game Away, Awards!
I'm not trying to paint Westbrook as an emotional basketcase, or even pin this loss on him. Playing the same team six times over the course of a couple weeks can be grating on the mind, and I'm sure everyone is eager to get this series overwith. Also, there's plenty of blame to go around. Harden and Cook were non-factors on offense, allowing unanswered Denver runs. Our offense looked sloppier and more basic than ever, and we jacked up shots like the Golden State Warriors. Kendrick Perkins was practically begging to get his second technical at the end of the game, and the Thunder's defense crumbled down the stretch.
I know I'm sounding like Mr. Doom and Gloom here, and if the Thunder had made another three, we would have all been singing their praises. But the Thunder did not get outplayed tonight. They pissed the game away. I'm not trying to insult the Nuggets or their fans, or even suggest that they didn't try their utmost last night. But the Nuggets weren't doing amazing shots, concocting fancy plays or utilizing their advantages. They were simply exploiting the Thunder's weaknesses emotionally, and ran away with the victory. The Nuggets didn't score a field goal in the last three minutes, and their end-of-game defense left a lot to be desired. Just to make it clear, there are times when other teams outright win a game, like when Kobe Bryant hits some incredibly hard clutch shots or when the Thunder hold the other team scoreless in the final minutes. And it will be like that when teams find themselves deep in the playoffs. Thus, the Thunder must learn to keep a cool head. That's all I have to say.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 31 Points, 5 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 1 Steal.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 13 Points, 14 Rebounds, 5 Blocks.
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, for going 0-7 from three point range and losing his head.
Thunder Plunderer: Ty Lawson, 27 Points, 3 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 2 Blocks:
Next Game: Game 5 Versus the Denver Nuggets, Wednesday, April 26th, 9:30 PM Central Daylight Time.