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Sherman’s Short Shots: The Thunder and the enigma of five seconds

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“Time is the longest distance between two places.” - The Glass Menagerie

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A decade ago, back when pro football was a compelling product, they knew how to really sell big playoff moments. One commercial featuring actor Don Cheadle has always resonated with me because of its forceful insistence that scarcely any window is too small for something important to happen (which incidentally also means that I have to watch all of my sports by myself).

Five seconds was further reinforced into me during an earlier stage of my professional career when I studied and reported on economic indicators in real-time, which the bond trading market relied heavily upon to execute million dollar transactions. Reporting in that climate meant that often I had only minutes, and sometimes seconds, to read and react to what was going on and then report. A slip-up — getting a number wrong, movement in the wrong direction, or reporting it late — meant I would soon have at least two parties — my managing editor and the traders themselves — breathing fire down my neck. But over time, those seconds became more than enough to read, assess, reprogram, and execute my reporting on what was going on. Time slows down in a sense, and you realize that by living in the moment, mere seconds are sufficient to do what needs to be done.

Back to the Thunder. Let’s be honest — OKC has never been what you might call a well-oiled team when it comes to living within the synapses of the game (copyright Ralph Wiley, RIP). Russell Westbrook, as well as his former running buddy #35, for nearly a decade have shown that they don’t understand what Cheadle is talking about; five seconds means five seconds. How many times have we seen both of those guys abandon plays because they rush the final seconds of the game? More than I’d care to recount.

A year ago, we were offered a reprieve during the Year of Russ. That year stands alone because of the circumstances, the context, and that through it all Westbrook put on a season for the ages and somehow morphed into Stephen Curry in the last five minutes of games. We knew it wouldn’t end well, but we didn’t care. This year, however, the stakes have changed, and this type of shot... Don Cheadle would like to point out to you the time on the clock.

Aside from the fact that it’s a terrible shot, it is also obvious that this was the play as designed. In a one point game where even an aggressive drive could have potentially yielded a chance to at the very least tie it at the free throw line, Westbrook received the pass in bad position (against their best defender Avery Bradley) and was going to elevate as soon as he saw a window. He doesn’t even use half of the available time (about 1.8 seconds). In a league where the Spurs, Warriors, and now Rockets have masters of short shot clock execution, this simply won’t fly. OKC (and Russ) has to do better.

But can they?

Check this out, and once again Cheadle wants to point something out to you.

Look at that! By my own eye, we have:

  • Westbrook inbounding the ball instead of trying to disengage from Jimmy Butler and receiving the ball somewhere near RK Anthony’s front porch, which;
  • Allows for Mr. Thunder Nick Collison to get in on the action and make three crucial reads:
  • 1) Nick sees Westbrook wasn’t taken out of the play by Butler, which allows for an easy handoff; 2) Nick was able to slide right into a PnR action with Russ, making himself just wide enough that Butler jumped himself out of the play completely; and 3) after receiving the sweet bounce pass from Russ, Collison knew he still had time on the clock and instead of challenging a leaping Jeff Teague, he knew he could;
  • Calmly feed Andre Roberson(!), Teague’s completely ignored man, for a baseline dunk with less than a second to go.

To recount, in the same amount of time as Westbrook’s sad 3-point miss that cost them the game vs the Pistons, here we have: three passes, one PnR set, and a feed from a guy who plays at most a couple minutes of night to another guy who defenses scoff at having to guard, which culminates in an uncontested dunk.

Five seconds.

“Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.” - Lao Tzu