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Don't blame the bench for Thunder loss to Warriors

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There's a share of the blame to go around to everybody, including Westbrook and KD.

Donovan played a lot of chess with lineups tonight, but it might have been too much.
Donovan played a lot of chess with lineups tonight, but it might have been too much.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Everyone's blaming the poor bench play for last night's loss to the Warriors. But I'm not so sure.

The Thunder played without Westbrook or Durant for a total of two minutes and 34 seconds last night. The Warriors won that span of play 3-2. Hardly a significant impact on the game.

So if it wasn't the bench, than what was it? The Warriors weren't able to generate more than a 5 point run against any specific Thunder lineup. Thus, in order to understand the game, we must split Donovan's lineups into types.

Here's how the Thunder's normal lineup did, along with the positive and negative lineups that Donovan ran.

"Normal" lineup: Kanter or Adams at center. Ibaka at power forward. Durant or Singler at small forward. Waiters or Morrow at shooting guard. Westbrook or Payne at point guard. Occurred from 12:00 in the 1st to 3:21 in the 1st. Also from 6:43 in the 2nd to 0:00 in the 2nd. Also from 12:00 in the 3rd to 3:30 in the 3rd. Also from 6:58 in the 4th to 0:00 in the 4th. All told, the lineup was a wash at 82-82.

Positive lineups

  • "Spacer" lineup: Durant at power forward. Occurred from 1:25 in the 3rd to 9:15 in the 4th. Won 7-4.
  • "Swingman + Spacer" lineup: Waiters at small forward, Durant at power forward. Occurred from 3:30 in the third to 1:25 in the third. Won 3-2.
  • "Dual PG + Swingman" lineup: Payne at shooting guard, Waiters at small forward. Occurred from 8:42 to 6:58 in 4th. Won 5-4.

Negative Lineups

  • "Twin Towers" lineup: Adams and Kanter are both in the game. Occurred from 2:09 in the 1st to 9:26 in the 2nd, outscored 4-9.
  • "Big Perimeter" lineup: Singler is playing shooting guard. Occurred from 3:21-2:21 in 1st, outscored 0-4.
  • "Swingman" lineup: Waiters at small forward. Occurred from 8:41-6:43 in the 2nd, outscored 6-8.
  • "Center and wings" lineup: Singler at power forward, Waiters at small forward. Occurred from 9:26-8:41 in 1st, and 9:15-8:42 in 4th. Outscored 2-4.

The conclusion here should be obvious. The Thunder suffered when they went big, and were passable when they went small or traditional. A big lineup just didn't give the Thunder the versatility they needed on defense to defend the Warriors.

Here's five examples on defense that illustrate what I'm talking about. All are taken from the Twin Towers or Big Perimeter lineups.

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Green is able to run past Adams in transition, forcing KD to help at the rim. This opens up Barbosa for the open 3.

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Kanter and Adams are both behind their matchups, allowing the Warriors to score easily on the break. This is off of a rebound, and OKC was in a position to trade the 2 for 1.

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Iguodala keeps Adams out on the perimeter, allowing Barbosa to get to the rim around Payne. Kanter is way out as well.

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Here, Iguodala uses his superior quickness to cross Adams over and rise for the mid-range shot.

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Singler, playing shooting guard, is too slow to trap Curry here. The Warriors make two passes and find barbosa open under the basket.

The Warriors are a matchup nightmare, and the Thunder can't give them any opportunity to exploit that. Thus, the Thunder must make every precaution to be defensively versatile moving forward.

But enough of blaming the lineups. Let's move to the real heart of the matter: end of game strategy. You see, there was a critical stretch late in the fourth quarter. From 3:25-1:39, OKC let a 1 point deficit turn into a 6 point deficit. At the end of the run, it would have been really tough for the Thunder to pull out a victory under any circumstance, much less against the Warriors.

This critical 5-0 Warrior run consisted of three failed Thunder possessions, as well as three successful Warriors possessions. Let's glance at them, shall we?

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Westbrook is crowded by two defenders, and takes a difficult stepback. KD says hi from the perimeter. Grand total of 2 passes.

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Thompson gets basically wide open three on Kanter. Only one pass. This shot was missed, but look at how easy it is!

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KD pulls up for a long three. 0 passes.

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Kanter is too slow to help on Curry's drive, so Curry scores at the rim. 4 Passes, including lots of off-ball movement from Curry.

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KD refuses a Kanter screen, and decides to just pull up for three again. OKC's offense basically did nothing else in the 21 seconds prior to this screencap. 2 passes.

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Klay gets an open three, because Kanter is too slow to trap Curry around a screen. Excellent pass by Curry to find Klay on the far side, but still. 4 passes on this one.

Final Thoughts

I'm not going to lambaste KD and Westbrook from their performances. By all stretches of the imagination, the duo did their utmost to push the Warriors to the brink. And if a few balls had bounced KD and Westbrook's way, they might have succeeded. But the Thunder must try to get better shots in these situations. KD is good at the pull up three, but it's still low percentage if his defender is ready for it both times. Also, the zone between mid-range and the basket is probably where Westbrook is at his worst.

Furthermore, I've got to call out the team for not going to Kanter on any of these three possessions. Going into this sequence, Kanter had 10 fourth quarter points. Kanter's most recent basket was a miraculous turnaround shot thattied the game for the first time since the first quarter. And to cap it all off, Kanter was being guarded by the 6'7" Draymond Green. If nothing else, Kanter earned the opportunity. But if you don't want to go to Kanter, then you have to have Adams on the floor for defensive purposes.

The good news is that both of these problems are fixable. OKC's lineup defense issues will be easily solved by the impending return of Andre Roberson. And in late games, we know Russ and KD can handle their business. Russ and KD have just got to continue to trust their team, and find easy shots for themselves.

By the way....Waiters and Ibaka had 0 shot attempts in the final 18 minutes of the game. Easy shots for KD and Russ will come if either of those guys is at least slightly involved!

What did you think was the reason for the loss? Drop a comment and let us know!