Last nights game, I'm sure, was the talk of Oklahoma City. While Game 2's loss seemed to be a strategic error, Game 3's loss was chalked up to things like Durant's fouls and missed free throws. But last night, you couldn't chalk the loss up to anything but a lack of confidence.
But, I'm not going the route that many other people are taking and blaming Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had an excellent night, and scored more than anybody else on the floor. I don't care that he didn't get the few extra assists that he got the nights before. There are two other ballhandlers on the court in Durant and Harden who don't need to be set up by a guy like Westbrook, and the other two dudes on the floor in the fourth (Collison or Ibaka, Fisher or Sefolosha), did nothing to prove that they could have scored consistently. In fact, Sefolosha was trusted with a late game tying jumper, and didn't even have the presence of mind to fake out a charging Wade.
In my opinion, the blame for this loss comes down to two guys: James Harden, and Scott Brooks.
Honestly, the NBA Finals is a lot of pressure to put on a young guy like Harden, so I'm not going to sit here and rail on him for not being up to snuff mentally. But when you look at what caused this loss, there's simply nowhere else to turn. Harden was missing open shots. All of the threes he took had him basically shooting in an open gym. But they kept mysteriously rimming out. The only time he ever attacked the paint was in transition, and even then, his layups weren't even going down. He wasn't distributing the ball well, having four turnovers where he failed to notice the Heat defense collapsing on him. Defensively, he was destroyed by LeBron James. We've come to count on this guy as the third scorer of our team, but when his presence just isn't there offensively or defensively, there's no way for this team to win.
Scott Brooks used some terrible, terrible rotations tonight. Aside from bad out of bounds plays, that seems to be the theme of the playoffs for him. Why was Derek Fisher in the game when he was contributing next to zero? He wasn't playing the wily defense that we saw of him earlier in this series, and he took one shot, which was a hilariously blocked transition layup. Same goes for James Harden. He was a mere shell of himself by the fourth quarter, and I honestly think we would have been better off playing someone like Daequan Cook, or someone who could have at least defended a little bit better (Sefolosha).
Below: Other Errors, Getting to the Heart of the Problem, Awards!
There were other, smaller errors to consider as well. Kevin Durant should never, ever be assigned to guard Norris Cole or Mario Chalmers. One of the biggest mistakes of P.J. Carlesimo's era as Sonics/Thunder coach was his insistence of putting Durant at shooting guard. Why? Because he can't move laterally very well, and would get burned by quicker players. So why in the name of Sam Hill would you put Durant on a tiny point guard? The PG will find a way to burn him every single time, whether it be by running past him into the paint or getting to his spot on the three point line too quickly. Honestly, we'd be better served by the defensive turnstile known as Derek Fisher guarding the Heat's PG in that situation.
You can't ignore the open threes. A problem that was seemingly fixed in Game 3 has resurfaced in a big way, like a submarine on the open seas. The thing about this submarine is that it's some pre-atomic clunker, easily destroyed by our fleet of sleek new submarines with lazers (Lazars?). But we're so busy dealing with the Heat's sleeker submarines that we always miss this one, and it ends up constantly torpedoing our soft spot. I mean, when we're playing a small lineup and the Thunder can't defend the three point line, I find it totally inexcusable. And then, when the Thunder played a normal lineup, the Heat would constantly find ways into the paint. Aye aye aye.
And who could ignore the rebounding? The Thunder lost the rebounding battle in the third quarter by a 12-6 margin. The Thunder were scoring relatively easily in the quarter, but the Heat soundly trounced our number because they were able to get more opportunities. The culprit? Perhaps Durant, who finished with only two boards.
Where were the Thunder bigs? In Game 3, it seemed that at least Perkins had regained his confidence and ability to score. Tonight, they were kinda there the first half, but did a total disappearing act in the second half. One missed Nick Collison tip, and one made Ibaka jumper. Again, it's not that huge of a deal when Westbrook was scoring like he did.
But before I end this recap, I'd just like to say that the answer going into Game 5, if we are to stay in this series and go back to OKC, is defense. We're scoring consistently near the level we needs to be at, but our defense is utterly failing against a team that was scoring fairly lowly earlier in the playoffs. If the Thunder can find a way to eliminate the easy threes, eliminate the mismatches, and continue to keep James and Wade off the break and out of the paint, this series could very well be ours again. But if the Thunder continue to commit the same basic mistakes, we'll all be moping two days from now, wondering what could have been.