For Want Of A "Stick Man"
By Randy Renner
Thunder TV play-by-play man Brian Davis calls it a "stick man," you know that skinny little numeral representing the thinnest of margins.
It looks like this 1.
With one more 1 in Game 2 and one more 1 in Game 3 the Thunder would have won both games in regulation and been up 3-0 instead of down 1-2.
Just a "stick man" away, twice.
Because they've been so close the Thunder are saying they see, "a lot of positives," in fact that's exactly what head coach Scott Brooks said after last night's game.
"One of the positives is we've been here before," he said.
You could also say that positive is actually a negative. The last two times the Thunder have been down 2-1 in a series they didn't win another game. Losing 4-1 to these Grizzlies last season and losing 4-1 to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
For most of last night's game the Thunder looked like a team that would much rather be on the golf course than the basketball court. Then just when things looked their worst, down 17 in the fourth quarter, the Thunder showed some defensive grit and the guys started moving the ball around on offense and found some good shots and actually hit them.
A nifty 17-0 run later and the Thunder had climbed up out of the ditch they'd driven off into. But, just like the game before they couldn't find that one more skinny little stick man that would tuck them safely into the win column.
"We just have to be better next game," Kevin Durant said. "We can always be better."
The Thunder were at their best in Game 1 of this series and have not been very good since. The Grizzlies have gone the other way, tightening their defense while improving their offense and getting big numbers out of x-factor guys, especially Tony Allen and Beno Udrih.
The Thunder have countered the Grizzlies x-factors with non-factors.
The Thunder offense has bogged down into another bout of hero ball, except no one has been a hero yet. Durant and Russell Westbrook each had 30 points but they shot a combined 19-for-53 and handed out just five assists between them.
“We missed shots tonight. That’s how you get assists, if you make shots," Durant said. "I wouldn’t say we were just coming down shooting every time. We were aggressive. But we have to do a better job of getting guys easier shots. That falls on us two. Everything falls on us two. So we have to be better. We own up to it. We got to get guys involved.”
The Thunder have talked about getting off to good starts and playing with a sense of urgency but their first half shooting percentages have gone down every game. 56 percent in Game 1, then 43 percent in Game 2 and just 36 percent shooting in the first half last night.
The Thunder bench apparently got lost on the way on the way home from The Peake after Game 1 and hasn't been seen nor heard since.
OKC's entire bench scored 14 points in Game 2, exactly the same as Memphis third team point guard Beno Udrih had all by himself. Last night was even worse, nine points for the bench guys. The Grizzlies bench players scored 34.
Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler, each with solid Game 1s haven't done much since except raise eyebrows of people wondering what the heck is going on.
But as bad and as discombobulated as things have been these last two games the Thunder still almost, almost pulled both games out of the fire.
If they can manage to win Saturday's game they grab home court advantage back, the series tied 2-2 with two of the last three games of the seven game series in Oklahoma City.
“We’re down 2-1 and we don’t want to go into a bigger hole than that." Durant said. "So we got to come out and play with a little bit more of a sense of urgency.”
There's that urgency phrase again. And on Saturday night the situation will be urgent indeed. Lose that game, even by a skinny little stick man, a season that already appears to be circling the drain now will be flushed for sure.