Hopefully, we've gotten that out of our system. But man oh man, was last night's game painful. It wasn't enough for the game to be stunted, scoreless, and frustrating. Not at all. The TNT crew had to constantly harp on how Harden would be missed because of X, or because of Y. And any loss, no matter the reason, would just prove their point. By the end of the night, it seemed that the different analysts had listed James Harden better in every possible category, to the point where I was questioning whether they had seen him play at all, or were just envisioning some sort of basketball god.
Anyway, the Thunder definitely deserved the loss tonight. But I'm not down on it, and I definitely don't think it's because they're missing James Harden. The Spurs are a very legitimate basketball team, and the Thunder are going to drop a few.
You could get into an array of reasons as to why the Thunder lost this game, and I'm having a difficult time pinpointing one particular reason. I really wanted to point to the wonky point at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, where Durant and Westbrook sat out some time for turning the ball over. But even then, Eric Maynor hit a miracle shot from three-quarters court.
I'd like to point to turnovers, but it's hard for me to pin the blame on any one specific guy. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were a bit reckless in how they operated offensively, and they'd lose the ball while making a lazy pass on the perimeter or while trying to squeeze between two defenders. But the reality is, the entire team was suffering from the Spurs' incessant trapping, and those guys will probably just get blamed because the ball was in their hands the most. Honestly, at the root of the problem is the excessive amount of high pick and rolls that Scott Brooks calls, making the offense a bit too predictable.
However, to the team's credit, the ball seemed to move around a lot more than it has in the past, especially on the bench. While James Harden had good court vision and was an excellent passer, his repertoire of plays definitely wasn't as deep as Eric Maynor's, and he had less chance of finding an open man. The man who replaced Harden at shooting guard, Kevin Martin, certainly couldn't bring the ball up like Harden could. Heck, his passes certainly weren't as stylish or noticeable. But even when he threw up clanks, you knew this guy was just making smart offensive basketball plays. He knew where his teammates were, and he knew what a bad shot was. He probably only threw up one bad take during the entire game.
Now, I know what you're thinking. But we need a scorer, and Harden was a guy who forced offense! Martin is too passive! Honestly, I don't mind his passiveness. He's not restricted to certain offensive plays like Thabo Sefolosha, and he can create his own shots when he needs to. But on a night when everyone was getting rejected in the lane, I honestly think that Harden would have just gotten blocked like the rest of them. Martin's willingness to get the team involved really helped them out through some rough patches.
On the other end of the floor, I really have to compliment the play of Tim Duncan, who made Perk, and indeed, the entire Thunder squad, just look silly. Offensively, he got as close to the basket as he wanted and dropped in some easy baby hooks. Defensively, whoever played him was a total non-threat, and he slid over to provide the help against attacking guards perfectly. His early game block on the long-armed Durant just looked wrong, like seeing Wilt Chamberlain block Kareem's sky hook.
And of course, I'd be remiss to ignore Tony Parker, who basically sealed the deal for San Antonio late. Parker seemed to have his way with Westbrook early and always played well, but it didn't look like he'd be the guy to step up late in the game. But with the Spurs down by three, Parker knocked down a shot outside the arc after Boris Diaw narrowly managed to save a horrible pass. After the Thunder turned the ball over on the other end, Parker got a solid (and sneaky) screen, leaving him wide open for the game-winning shot. All of Oklahoma City sighed, and we were vaguely reminded of the other time Westbrook left a shooter wide open. Luckily, that time, the results were much better.
Last night was Thabeet's first appearance, and he basically did what you would expect. He didn't exactly provide a defensive force down low, as he's too skinny to really stop a physical guy like Timmy D or Tiago Splitter. But he had some man-sized rebounds, and used his lengthy arms to grab a couple of steals. He took no shots in 12 minutes, but he didn't really hurt the team. For all of the bad spoken about this guy, I was mildly surprised at his performance.
We could talk all day about the merits and misfortunes of the James Harden trade, but at the end of the day, if the Thunder are to beat solid teams like the Spurs, they're going to need to handle the ball. The Spurs shot just as badly as the Thunder did, but you have to feel that if the Thunder had a few more opportunities, or even handled the late game situation properly, they would have won this game. You can blame Kevin Martin, but equal blame goes onto Westbrook, Sefolosha, and Ibaka. This is a basketball team, and everybody needs to perform. Not just the stars. And if there's any team that will tell you that, it's the San Antonio Spurs.
Oh yeah, and where the hell was Perry Jones III?
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, for the points and the boards
Thunder Down Under: Eric Maynor, for miracle shot followed up by a floater in the fourth.
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, for shooting poorly and grabbing too many fouls
Thunder Plunderer: Tim Duncan, who dominated defensively and cruised offensively
Next Game: Versus the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, November 2nd, 7 PM Central Daylight Time.