Monday, November 10, 2008

Oklahoma City fails to finish again in Indiana

With about three minutes to go in the game, and the game tied at 95-95, Thunderstruck blared throughout Conseco Fieldhouse. At that moment, I thought, "First of all, you'd think they'd pull that one from the rotation tonight with you know, the Thunder coming in and secondly, what a great lead for a story if Oklahoma City goes on a 6-0 run to put the game away here."

But it was the exact opposite. In the last three minutes, Indiana (3-3) outscored OKC 12-4 to take over and win 107-99 Monday night in front of about 100 fans. It was another late fourth quarter meltdown that just leaves a bad taste in your mouth because the opportunity was there. I hate to do the "what if?" thing, but these last two games slipped away in the final minutes and if OKC (1-6) just would have closed, it would be sitting at 3-4 and folks would be talking about the incredible progress of the team. Shame.

Regardless of the unfavorable outcome, let's talk about the Delicious one. Kevin Durant was absolutely ridiculous. He took a career high 27 field goal attempts, but it was well worth it as he hit 13 shots en route to 37 points. The jumper was falling and he was aggressive to the bucket (he was 9-9 on free throws). But he also chipped in eight huge rebounds and had a few nice defensive plays, including a block of T.J. Ford where he appeared to either levitate for a second or extend his go-go gadget arms to stuff back in Ford's face. This is the KD everyone was dreaming about. He would rise at the top of the key for a jay and as soon as the ball left his hands, you just knew it was going through. (And for anyone that watched Brian Davis and Grant Long's postgame wrap-up, yes, they said some variation of "Kevin Durant asserted himself" a total of four times in under 15 seconds. That has to be a record.) But they are right - it was great to see Durant assert himself. Durant just needed to assert himself a little more I guess. I just hope he asserts himself again in the next game.

But for some reason, he didn't really get much help from anyone else. Jeff Green started hot but cooled. He did finish with 14 points and nine boards but he had nine points at the end of the first quarter. Earl Watson had nine assists (seven at halftime) but had a terrible shooting night (2-11) scoring four. Same with Russell Westbrook as he had six on 1-10 shooting.

And for this installment of "Second Guessing the Peej," we look at leaving Earl Watson in the game to defend T.J. Ford with a 1:30 left and the Thunder in need of a big stop. Why did we draft Russell Westbrook again? For his defensive skills or something, right? First, Watson just straight up left Ford alone for an open range three that Ford of course hit for a dagger. Ford gave one of those half fakes because he was so shocked he was that open. On the ensuing possession, Ford drove right around the Earl and hit a little floater.

Then, why did Robert Swift only get 13 minutes? You know what he did just a little over a quarter? Nine points, seven boards. That's four points, one board more than Nick Collison is averaging on the season. I understand breaking in Big Robert slowly and getting him accustomed to the flow of the game again, but if this is the real deal, he needs to play. He has incredibly soft hands and great instincts. Hopefully, he's past the incredibly unlucky injury phase of his career and can move on and become a dominant big man. Just think about where he would be right now if he had played three full seasons in the paint. Probably not with the Thunder because he likely would have signed a mega-deal with some other team.

Westbrook had more time tonight, playing 26 minutes, which is good. I can't argue that he should have played more because he wasn't that productive while in. Earl had four turns, but if there was a stat for near turnovers (maybe, "Should Have A Turnover, or SHAT), Earl Watson would be the champion. I swear, there's four to five times a night where he is out of control and makes a terrible pass but it's deflected out of bounds or fortuitously tipped to a teammate. He does a decent job running the offense but sometimes it looks like he's trying to do too much. He's a solid player, but it's obvious he's just not made to be the featured point man. Westbrook has his fair share of SHATs, and really the entire team does in general, but Watson just seems to have one about every four possessions. He did have nine assists but a lot of that was because KD was knocking down a shot every time Watson passed to him.

This was a semi-bad loss tonight. Had this game not been on the road, it would have been a terrible one. Two words why: Josh McRoberts. The Duke Doughboy played 10 minutes and they weren't in mop-up time. That's how deep the Pacers had to go. Troy Murphy got sick. Rasho Nesterovic and Mike Dunleavy Jr. were already out with injuries. Danny Granger was in foul trouble. If McRoberts had gone down, I guess either Larry Legend was going to have to throw on a jersey or someone was going to have to call Rik Smits. This was a missed opportunity. Durant was as good as it gets, but just didn't get much help.

Like I said last night, I think it's clear the team is turning the page. This was the best first half of the season (51 points) and OKC had built a 15 point lead in the second quarter before letting Indiana rip off 13. But that happens in the NBA. It's a game of runs. But regardless, it's encouraging to see OKC not dig itself in a whole only to have to fight out of it in the second half.

Just like we talked about last night, winning is a process. Tonight, it was failing to get the big stop and then going cold on the offensive end. You can visibly see the team tense up during those big possessions down the stretch. There's a lot of forcing the action, a lot of double-pumps and a lot of second guessing. OKC plays best when its loose and a little wild. When they tighten up and try to force it, typically its a bad outcome. But like I said, it's just part of it. When they learn how to finish, stay loose in crunch-time and run solid half-court sets, these types of games are wins.

OKC gets tomorrow off before hosting the Orlando Magic (4-3) Wednesday night at the Ford Center.


Joe said...

I second your sentiment about the lack of big men in the game at crunch time Royce.

Steve H said...

I actually came away from this one pretty up-beat. Our team defense is steadily improving. Swift is going to be pretty damn good if he can stay healthy. KD is going to be an absolute badass once he packs on some muscle. Green is looking good and showing suprising range. Westbrook is going to be a perrenial on the "all defense" team while knocking down 15 to 20 a night. We have a "freakishly athletic" 18 year old center named Ibaka stashed away in Spain, and we have some quality reserves in Collison, Sene and Mason that should be around for awhile. On top of that core we'll have the cap room to land an all-star caliber free agent this summer, PLUS what I hope will be a top 3 draft pick next year. If you think the "Sonic Troll Nation" is bitter now- just wait till next year.

Royce said...

Oh I am encouraged too. But think how encouraged you'd be if we had finished off those two games and were 3-4.

In two to three years, we'll be there. I have been most encouraged by the play of Jeff Green. His jumper has improved and he was actually leading the league in three-point percentage coming into tonight. As evidenced this evening, we need a second scorer. Hopefully Green begins his evolution into that.

Steve H said...

I like Green's game as well- but I think he will ultimately get most of his playing time off the bench when KD moves to small forward. I don't see a consistant second scoring threat emerging this year- and it is just as well. If we can't go to the post season, I'd rather finish 30th than 14th. Most bad teams languish for many years because one or two good players with big contracts keep them from buying their way up the ladder- and they can't improve fast enough through the draft alone. Presti is really on track to make an amazing turn around with the volume of first round picks he has able to amass and dead weight contracts he was able to shed (Szerbiac, Ridnour).The stars are aligning for a Celtic sized turn around- only or squad will be considerably younger.

Anonymous said...

That first rounder from San Antonio in the 2009 draft is looking surprisingly good.

Joe said...

I thought we had Phoenix's first this year and SA's next year??

Joe said...

It's top 15 protected this year. With Ginobli and Parker out, we may get a bottom fifteen. Hope that they get above 15 because then it is top 10 protected the following year, followed by top 5.

TooBigNdaPaint said...

As a Pacer fan, I saw the game last night and I was astounded that ole PJ Carlismo did NOT play Robert Swift after it became obvious that our BIGs could NOT handle this guy. Everytime he came into the game, the Thunder came back from a deficit (in the second half) or extended their lead (in the first half). This guy has a FEEL for the game that Petro or your other BIGs do NOT have. He owned ALL of our BIGs by himself and we couldn't get to the rim nor block out this beast the entire time he was in the game. I couldn't believe the one play that he outjumped 7'2" Hibbert and took the ball out of his hands on a offensive rebound and put-back that was unbelievably athletic. I was shocked at this guy and freakin relieved when PJ never played him again AFTER the Thunder retook the lead in the second half. I never do understand some coaches who don't play their best players or players who have a feel for the game. Swift used to beat up on Georgetown when he was in the same conference as Hibbert while in college. Thank you Carlismo

Fishers, IN

Royce said...

You said it all Nate. Totally nailed it. We were all scratching our heads last night. And that's not the first time Peej has left us doing that.

Anonymous said...

"Swift used to beat up on Georgetown when he was in the same conference as Hibbert while in college."

That's definitely not true.

Anonymous said...

Yeah the comment about Georgetown is completely false because the Big Robert didn't even GO to college.

From what I hear, the Big Robert was solid last night, but this Nate guy had so much over-the-top praise for him, does anyone else think he may be Robert Swift himself under the creative alias "Nate"?

-The Bear