Game 5 was an infuriating game. I'm normally very laid back, but game 5 had my blood pressure up. From the beginning, everything seemed to be going wrong, and yet the Thunder kept it close enough for me to believe. Unfortunately, the same problems we've seen all season kept cropping up, and we have to risk our players lives (at the mercy of Draymond's feet) at least one more time.
*Note: The NBA.com video boxscore wasn't working right for me, so there will be less gifs for some of this article. I apologize, but I did what I could with what was available.
1st Quarter Fouls
The game became much more complicated very early on. Two incredibly quick fouls on Adams forced him to the bench, and with his presence gone, Bogut wasn't put in a position to commit fouls himself, allowing him to play more minutes. Additionally, the officials decided to handicap the game for Golden State by not whistling them for a foul in the first 11 minutes.
If you want to know why that was especially confounding, look at the shot charts below.
You'll notice two things: the first shot chart has a higher quantity of shots, and the also has many more shots in the paint. That first chart is the Thunder in the first quarter, while the second is for the Warriors. So the Thunder took twice as many shots in the paint, 1.5 times as many shots total, and yet only was fouled 1 time, while Golden State was fouled 7. Seems legit.
Now, I'm normally one to say that fouls balance out over a game. A bad call in quarter 1 is offset by a favorable in quarter 2 and such like. And while the game was called fairly evenly the rest of the way (it didn't ever balance out), the one-sidedness of the first quarter had several major effects.
- Kanter was forced to play more minutes. Kanter was useful against the last two teams, but Golden State is too athletic for him to be playable. The defense falls apart with him out there (DRtg of 113.9) while the offense is also less efficient (ORtg of 95.6). And while his rebounding numbers are still pretty good, he isn't scoring efficiently. Golden State can recover fast enough to disrupt his putbacks that he normally feeds on. So more minutes for him is not good for the Thunder.
- Smallball minutes were limited. In general, the lineup that has been killing the Warriors (Russ-Robes-Dion-KD-Serge) was limited to first half minutes. OKC actually went to this lineup early with Adams sitting from foul trouble, and it was effective defensively, but at that point, no one could make a shot (and refs weren't calling fouls). The lineup was outscored, but it was because of the offensive end. Eventually, those shots were going to start dropping. However, Waiters was also in foul trouble, which meant that the normal combinations weren't as available.
- Defense couldn't be as aggressive. When players start picking up fouls, it changes the way the defend, especially in the paint. Credit Roberson for staying aggressive the entire game (which is why he fouled out) rather than relaxing, but I'm not sure the same could be said for everyone. And it's natural to be cautious to avoid being forced to sit. But this definitely had an effect on the defensive effort.
Anyways, enough complaining. I know what you really want is to see just how egregious that officiating was. So here you go.
This is Adams' first foul. First of all, Bogut does well to sell the slight grab that Adams gives him. Technically, this is probably a valid call. But if this is a foul, the NBA needs to expand the roster size limits, because every player is going to foul out of every game. You cannot call this in the playoffs unless you are going to call every grab.
This is a horrible case of the official reacting without seeing. Adams is just standing in place, and Barnes flops in a way that even Iguodala would be ashamed of (and he has had some pretty embarrassing/epic flops this postseason). This is Adams' second foul in the first 2:30 of the game, and it forces him to sit the rest of the quarter. I'm sure this was intentional by Golden State, but the refs should be ashamed for falling for it.
This isn't a foul, but it is a terribly obvious travel. Bogut takes 3 steps prior to dribbling, and because the defense reacted as if the rules were going to be enforced, he is able to catch KD in midair using a hesitation for the uncontested hook.
Remember, Golden State wasn't called for a foul in the first 11 minutes. The TNT announcers kept talking about OKC shot selection, but when this kind of interior defense is allowed, it's no wonder the Thunder stopped driving the ball. This is game 2 of the finals series vs Miami level of officiating. In fact, the location of the play is almost identical.
Maybe this is an out of control moment by Russ, but Draymond also doesn't go vertical here. Klay and Bogut play this well, but Draymond slides under Russ, knocking him down. I would be okay if this wasn't called, except that much less contact on the other end was being called.
This is fantastic defense, but the result is a symptom of an epidemic in the NBA right now. Dion contests, but does not jump into Klay here. He lands cleanly, and Klay jumps forward, initiating 100% of the contact. To quote the NBA's competition committee:
"If the offensive player with the ball can draw his defender into the air towards him (for example, on a pump fake), and he creates contact with the defender during his shooting motion, it is a shooting foul. However, if the defender is vertical (jumping straight up and down) or going to completely miss the offensive player (e.g., jumping to his side), and the offensive player seeks out contact with the airborne defender, it is an offensive foul if the contact is more than marginal (that is, minimal contact will not be called)."
(You can read that excerpt and more in an interview here.) (Emphasis mine)
If you wonder if Dion played legal defense here, watch his feet. He lands before contact is made.This falls under the clause of "completely missing the offensive player". Therefore, this contact should either be called marginal (the correct choice) or an offensive foul.
This is Waiters' second foul. Again, let's look at the previous quote. "If the defender is vertical" seems to apply here. While Dion is moving, it is lateral to Klay. This shouldn't be a shooting foul, because Waiters doesn't move toward the shooter. This limited the ability for OKC to play small ball lineups, as Dion had to be kept out of fouling situations.
Anyways, I thought it was worth pointing out just how bad the officiating was, as it had a major impact on the flow of the game. But obviously, OKC has to play past that. So let's get to the actual basketball part.
Hacking with core players
This is a strategy thing that I wanted to make a quick note of. When OKC decided to hack Bogut for a possession, they used Roberson to do it. I've always been an opponent of intentionally fouling with one of the key players, as it risks putting them in foul trouble. Sure enough, Roberson fouled out of this game. It's okay to intentionally foul in the paint (i.e., when Ezeli was about to dunk), but to take fouls with key guys isn't strategically smart.
What would be better there would be to sub in Morrow for Roberson. Having Morrow foul Bogut would not only prevent Roberson from fouling out, it would also add another offensive threat. Think about it: if you foul every possession, then weak defensive players can't be exploited anyways. You may as well send out your best shooters to maximize the potential gains.
No Ball Movement
I wanted this to be the focus of the article, but I was struggling with getting the video to work, so I was unable to get many clips. However, this Thunder offense looked completely different than what we saw in games 3 and 4. Not only were Durant and Westbrook shooting too often, but the other players on the floor stopped moving off ball.
This had several effects on OKC:
- No motion meant no easy looks. OKC simply wasn't getting shots at the rim like they were in games 3 and 4. That flow of players off the ball makes things easier for everyone, including Russ and KD.
- Boxing out was easier. One of the best ways to get offensive rebounds is to either get a guard-big switch, or to be moving prior to the shot going up. It's much harder to box out a player who is constantly moving than one who you always can see.
- GS players had more energy for offense. Having 3 Thunder players standing around means that 3 GS defenders can also stand around. Moving on offense is a great way to help out your defense.
This is the back-half of a play that saw Westbrook dribble out a possession before taking a contested fadeaway. Notice that KD is open behind him, and that the entire right side of the floor is empty. Roberson does well to disrupt the rebound, but this was a possession all too common in game 5.
This play seems as if there was not game plan on offense. I highly doubt that was the case. Rather, I would bet that the stars went rogue and abandoned the plan. Why do I think that? Look at Roberson and Serge. When Serge kicks the ball back to Russ, he runs the baseline. Roberson sees this and sets a screen to get him open in the corner. Usually, this means that KD is going to come screen for Russ to drive, drawing in the help defense and giving him an angle for the kickout. Instead, it's an ISO look for a long 2.
Look how easy this is to defend. KD would first have to get past Iguodala just to get a decent look. Once past him, he would be met by Bogut, with every passing lane filled by a defender. His only real choice here is the fadeaway, contested 2. Because Adams is stationary, Green and Bogut can easily box him out, and because no one else is moving, they have no hope of grabbing a rebound.
This is to end the first half. OKC had so many options to generate a better look than this, but didn't bother using them. Ideally, Adams comes and sets a screen, forcing Bogut to switch over. KD could use his lateral quickness to gain an advantage. Even if he shot a 3 pointer, at least it would be open and from closer in.
This play had me reacting like Roberson. This was a guaranteed 2 points, but Russ had to feed his buddy KD in the post 25 feet from the rim and with a shadow double. Roberson doesn't have a defender within 15 feet and is literally jumping up and down waving at Westbrook. The end look here is decent, but an uncontested layup/dunk is always better than a 3 point shot. The only thing I could think of when I saw this was "ball movement? More like bowel movement." (Yeah, it's bad. But it seriously kept going through my head, so I figured I'd use it.)
There were many, many more examples of the total lack of motion in this game, but I think you get the picture.
The embarassment that is Draymond Green
The league should be embarrassed. Draymond's antics are a blight to the game. Even worse, though, is the obvious protection he is getting from the NBA. I fully expect to see this go uncalled in the next game:
He should have finished the game with about 5 technical fouls and two flagrants, but instead got 1 tech and 4 common fouls. For more on Draymond, take a look at R.K.'s article here.
In soccer, you will get carded for this, and soccer is a game designed to use kicking motions! There is absolutely no justification for this kick. He has already flopped (flailed is a euphemism) with his upper body. There is no need to take a swing for KD's head.
Here, Green taunts Westbrook after a block. Directly taunting an opposing player is supposed to be an automatic tech. But of course, that would put Draymond that much closer to suspension, and we can't have that!
Roberson boxes out, so Green decides to take a couple of swings at him. As the saying goes, "no broken necks, no foul" (or something like that). Though at this point, Green could bring out a machete and decapitate someone, and I doubt it'd be more than a flagrant 1.
Draymond manages to actually score via an open fast break dunk and decides it's spectacular enough for him to flex his muscles. Again, directly taunting a player is supposed to be an automatic tech.
Finally, a technical foul. Wait, you mean kicking, swinging, and taunting players isn't, but reacting to the ref is? So the referee's ego matters more than player safety. I understand now.
At this point, Draymond knows that the rules don't apply to him. He kicks Roberson in the face here with no consequence. Roberson can't box out or contest because he's just taken a toe to the chin, which means Bogut gets the easy putback. And worst of all is that A REF IS 5 FEET AWAY, LOOKING DIRECTLY AT THE KICK! Excuses are over. Either the NBA is blatantly sheltering a dirty player for the sake of $$$$$, or they are entirely incompetent at enforcing rules designed to protect the players.
Hopefully, OKC can close out Golden State in game 6, not only so we can move on, but so our player safety isn't in doubt every other day and we can watch that scrub get sent home with nothing to show for it except a well-deserved reputation for being a punk.