It is a new day, and it is time for the Thunder to put the weekend's messiness to rest. Rarely will a team, even a favored one, run the tables like the Bulls in 1996 or the Lakers in 2001. The playoffs test every aspect of a team's resolve and unity, and tonight, both of those elements are directly in the cross-hairs.
As an aside, three out of the four home teams lost Game One in this second round.
What the Thunder did not do, and what they need to do, is figure out ways to disrupt the Grizzlies' consistency. It appeared as if the Grizzlies were able to run whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, which led to a high offensive efficiency. In turn, that forces the Thunder into a position of reacting instead of dictating.
I'm fully aware of the enigma that is Russell Westbrook, but comments like these tend to grate on me (emphasis mine):
I'm not close to that team, but it seems to define Pat Riley's famous Disease of Me. Westbrook is an All Star now, a member of the World Championship team. He plays like a guy who wants to be "the man,' the guy with his own team. He's looking like a latter day Stephon Marbury, and not just because of Sunday's loss. Westbrook plays often like a pouty Kobe was with Shaq...
I just think that if a writer doesn't follow the team, then he should be a bit more cautious in using one or two games to assess a player's value and performance level. For that matter, you know who else plays like a "pouty Kobe" when he was with Shaq? The 2011 version of Kobe. But that's the thing about winning - it changes everything.
There is always a risk of sluggishness when a team has an extended break, but usually it only lasts for about a half. From what I've seen though regarding the Thunder's loss, it seems as if the problem were more of lack of focus and attention than anything else. There are moments when a team must do what is necessary - run a strong play, give a hard foul, close out a quarter, etc., and OKC did not have that level of focus.
A great quote from Kevin Durant regarding Kendrick Perkins:
"I didn't like him [before the trade]...He had words for our team [in previous matchups], and as a young guy you just thought he was mad at the world. But [eventually] I just saw that he was all business. Once you come off the floor, he's cool. I noticed that [personality trait] with KG, being around him, and noticed those two guys are very close. He's easy to love. He's a guy whose personality is off the charts."
Mannix finds the right balance as well here. For as much guff as the public has directed toward Westbrook, it is necessary to remember that without him, there is no playoff-competing Thunder.
More links after the jump.
I have seen this type of article cropping up lately. I understand that the Grizzlies are new on most peoples' radars, but I find it interesting that they are frequently described as a young team similar to the Thunder. Zach Randolph and Shane Battier have been in the league 11 years, and Tony Allen is in his seventh. They are not a "young" team, nor are they inexperienced. In fact, they're a good mix of young players and seasoned vets, and that combination has come together well to play highly energized yet mistake-free basketball.
Case in point.
Peter Vescey really nails this one. I too have been frustrated by the annoying split-screens where one window has the game action and the other has the in-studio analysts chattering about something. Even more egregious, it is often the in-game action that receives the smaller window, which makes no sense at all. There isn't even any reason to have the TV guys on the screen; all they're doing is talking. If they have a truly salient point to make via the spoken word, then just have it be a voice-over. Most people are smart enough to realize that Dick Stockton didn't suddenly turn into a 6'10" black man with a deep baritone voice.
Carlson offers some pop-psychology for Westbrook. The problem with the extensive device for Westbrook though is that it is very difficult for a player to change his mode mid-stream. Either Westbrook's best is good enough to help the team advance, or it is not. But if you ask him to change, a passive badger is a useless badger. I think though that the easiest way to redirect the energy is for Scott Brooks to tell him to go out and be a defensive animal and not worry about the offense.
Here is a good story on how Zach Randolph has evolved as a player and a person. Truthfully, I can't think of a single player in NBA history quite like him.
Wilbon writes about Derrick Rose's Game One struggles. I'm not one to use the haters shtick because I want every player to play to his maximum capability, but Rose's bad game underscores reality - both he and Westbrook are young guys who are still learning to play the game, and the playoffs are still a relatively new experience.