After tonight's loss, it's pretty clear that this series will be won through defense, not offense. I'm not saying that the situation is completely black and white, but five out of six games in this series were won by defensive shutdowns, not offensive runs. Sure, the Grizzlies closed the game with a 23 to 14 fourth quarter, but there was never any explosion of offense or significant turning point that lost the Thunder the game. The Thunder's chances of winning just died a slow, painful death.
Hopefully this game will shut up the national analysts who keep screaming, "GIVE THE BALL TO DURANT!" "WHY IS THE BALL NOT IN DURANT'S HANDS 97.8% OF THE TIME?" "WESTBROOK IS SUCH A SELFISH, SCORE FIRST POINT GUARD!" There's a reason Westbrook does what he does. He had a solid 50% shooting mark, along with 4 points from the line. He did have 5 turnovers, but I've just come to accept that Conley is one of the quickest PGs in the league, and if Westbrook is going to take it to the hole, he's going to lose the ball a couple of times.
Similarly, there's a reason Durant doesn't get the ball all of the time. He doesn't have unlimited range, and he doesn't hit every single shot he takes. In fact, he's actually a pretty terrible three point shooter. I know, three of the nine threes he shot came in desperation crunch time, but he was still 1 of 6 aside from that, and he still would have had a terrible game. Durant works very well in specific situations, like drives to the basket, isolation plays, and mid-range jumpers off of picks. He doesn't create offense for other players, and, being 6'9", he's really prone to turnovers. So if you give him the ball and just expect him to produce, you're going to get some points, but you're also going to get a lot of turnovers or a lot of missed shots. Tonight, we saw the latter.
Below: Blaming Durant (Just a Bit!), Blaming Perkins, Rectifying Perk on Offense, Harden's Role, Why I'm Offering Offensive Solutions in a Defensive Series, Awards!
But you've also got to put some of the blame on Durant himself. When I saw him take three after three, I kept scratching my head and saying, "Seriously? The best play we can come up with is a Durant deep three off of a failed pick?" He should know when he's off, and look for other ways to score or other players to pass it to, not just keep firing up shot after shot. Fortunately, Lil' Jon didn't write the song to Durant's life. Otherwise, we would be screwed come Game 7.
Looking at other players, you've also got to put some blame on Kendrick Perkins. I know there's an article below trashing the guy, but there's no denying that he's a huge offensive liability. He almost never rolls off of a pick to get and easy bucket or takes a jumpshot. Mostly, he just gets the ball in the paint. And about 90% of the time that happens, he either turns it over (via an offensive foul or getting the ball stolen) or he gets fouled. The foul is usually pointless, because it's almost never in the act of shooting, and if it does happen to be in the bonus, Perk is a bad free throw shooter anyway. The only points that really ever happen are tips, and Mohammed, Collison, and Ibaka are all better at that.
So if we want to keep Perkins on the floor, how do we rectify his offensive terribleness? Play him like a center on offense. When he was on the Celtics, most of his points came off of assists, and not just assists from Rondo. Garnett and Pierce were excellent at looking for him in the lane as well. Have Westbrook or Durant look for him once in a while. I understand that he's playing at 65%, but that shouldn't affect his ability to get free layups in the paint. Right now, no one ever looks for Perkins, except when he's got his back to the other center. Unfortunately, that's the area of his play that's most affected by his knee injuries, because he can't maneuver around as well. Thus, he almost never gets the ball. It's almost as if the Thunder threw out all of Krstic's plays, and never bothered to draw up any for Perk.
You also have to take a look at James Harden and his role. Why did he only take three shots in the fourth quarter, two of them being bad threes? If you're going to put him in the game in place of Thabo Sefolosha, you've got to use what you have. Harden's best skill is his excellent court vision. He's no point guard, but he knows exactly where every other player is on the floor, and he knows exactly who to pass it to for easy points. If the Thunder set up a few more drive plays for him, it would be the perfect opportunity to get Perk or even Mohammed involved in the offense, while giving Harden more legitimate opportunities to score.
"If the problem is defense, why are you offering offensive solutions?" Because the best defense IS a good offense. I know that sounds cliche, especially coming from a Warriors fan, but our defense is fine. The Grizzlies got a triumphant, sound victory while only scoring 95 points. That means that we played solid defense, but there's something tragically wrong with our offense. If we could make just a few adjustments that resulted in 10-15 more points for the Thunder, then it's a completely different ball game, and our excellence on defense comes into play.
I know I've almost ignored talking about the Grizzlies completely, but we've seen this song and dance from them before. They've been doing the same things and using the same players in the same way since Game One. Our strategy and results have wavered in a much more dramatic way. Thus, with that said....
Expect a hell of a Game 7. And it's the Thunder's to lose.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 27 Points, 3 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals.
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 14 Points, 6 Rebounds, 5 Assists
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Durant, in the hardest election to call since Reagan-Mondale.
Thunder Plunderer: Zach Randolph, 22 Points, 13 Rebounds, 2 Blocks.
Next Game: Game 7 Versus the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, May 15th, 2:30 PM Central Daylight Time.