Though I've been quiet lately, I've kept up with the current goings-on of the NBA. In the conference finals, we've seen the Grizzlies go down to the Spurs rather quietly, while the Heat and the Pacers are gunning it out in a competitive series. The Thunder are nothing but a distant memory in our minds.
Despite that, I think that there's a few things the Thunder can learn from watching these teams play. I know that this season will go down in history as the one where Westbrook's injury hamstrung the team but I'll forever remember it as a season of missed potential. I still think that the Thunder had a significant chance of going to the conference finals and giving the Spurs a run for their money.
Anyway, enough reminiscing. Here are five thoughts on what other teams are doing in the Conference Finals, and how the Thunder could have gone farther if they had done things a bit differently.
1. If you shut down Zach Randolph, you shut down the Grizzlies. Randolph is a key cog to Memphis' offense, and he was a complete non-factor against the Spurs. That was because the Spurs continuously double-teamed him, and very rarely let him go near the basket. The Thunder, on the other hand, threw Collison and Ibaka at him, but they consistently refused to double-team him and watched Collison get into foul trouble every game. As a result, Memphis was able to compete offensively every night.
2. The Grizzlies can't shoot from the perimeter. The Grizzlies are a terrible three point shooting team across the board, and the closest thing they have to a sharpshooter is Quincy Pondexter. Gregg Popovich knew this, and consistently left their shooters wide open. As a result, the Grizzlies shot better and more frequently from the arc than they did against the Thunder. But the difference was marginal, and it was a lot tougher for the Grizz to score inside, especially when their shooters weren't hitting.
3. Defensive holes matter in the playoffs, and the Thunder had too many of them. Kendrick Perkins. Kevin Martin. Derek Fisher. These are all players that played downright deplorable defense for the Thunder in this year's playoffs. I don't want to tear into these guys any more than that, but I will say that I'm seeing certain players get exploited defensively on the Heat, and it's really turning the tide in the Pacers' favor. Lance Stephenson was able to force Ray Allen into the post area, where he was able to get high-percentage looks. Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert was able to get consistent positioning on Chris Andersen and score easily. Neither Allen nor Andersen were huge defensive holes, but they kept the Pacers in the game when the pace dropped. With the Thunder playing three players with such faults, it's easy to see why they bowed out so early.
4. LeBron continues to tear it up, despite being given a similar workload to KD. Note that I said, "similar". Like Durant, LeBron has been asked to play a whopping amount of minutes, and hasn't been getting his usual rest during the second half. He's also been recently asked to defend David West, much like Durant had to spend time with Gasol in the post. Heck, LeBron has seen a fourth quarter collapse of his own, with his two late turnovers killing the Heat in Game 2. However, his late game has remained strong, and that's because he's simply not given the offensive responsibility that Durant was given. He doesn't have to force plays to happen, and he'll often collect assists simply by standing on the perimeter. This allows him to save his energy for when it matters, while Durant huffed and puffed his way to the finish line. You could also pin LeBron's success on his style of offense, which tends to occur closer to the rim, taking less energy from his legs.
5. Boy, those Spurs are flexible. If you took away the Spurs top three scorers, they'd still be able to compete with any team in the league. If you took away the Thunder's top three scorers, they would have a hard time beating the Bobcats. There are lots of reasons for this, but one I'd like to highlight is the Spurs thick playbook. They have top talent, but I'm pretty sure every active player on that roster has a play drawn up for them, and has the potential to become an X-Factor. The Thunder, meanwhile, simply don't rely on a lot of their peripheral players to score. Guys like Collison, Sefolosha, and Perkins will go into games with 0 offensive expectations, and 0 plays drawn for them. If they were given more opportunities, it might open up the floor for the Thunder's best scorers.
What do you think the Thunder could learn from this year's Conference finals? Drop a comment and let us know!