By Randy Renner
The Oklahoma City Thunder insist they have time to turn things around in their first round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Russell Westbrook says “we’re in a good place, it’d be different if we’d gotten blown out or felt we didn’t have a chance to win.”
Kendrick Perkins agreed, “if we win this game then it’s back in our favor. We got two more games at home. So if we win this game the series is tied up and the whole series change. So at the end of the day, it aint too late.”
And obviously Perk is right. A win tonight could very well flip things. And so is Westbrook, the Thunder haven’t been blown out. As I wrote yesterday just one more “stick man” as Brian Davis likes to say in each Thunder loss and those games turn into wins.
But the losses, even by those skinny margins, have called into question the way the Thunder operates, or at least has been operating in this series.
The hero ball between two superstars, the lack of ball movement, questionable shot selection, defensive lapses and a Harry Houdini disappearing act by the Thunder bench.
All of that is probably going to have to change for the Thunder to win tonight and win tonight they must or a season that is circling the drain right now would be flushed for sure.
“Obviously there’s some things we got to clean up,” Perkins said.
“The way we fought back (17-0 run Thursday night) shows that we can play a certain way we need to play,” Westbrook added.
The problem was that the Thunder needed a Herculean 17-0 run to get back in the game in the first place.
Going into the series everyone was focused in on the Memphis bigs, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and the Thunder have contained them. Gasol has scored 48 points in the series on 46 shots. He’s shooting 41.6 percent. Randolph has scored 62 points on 61 shots and is shooting just 36 percent.
The injury has come from Grizzlies point guard, Mike Conley, backup Beno Udrih and defensive specialist Tony Allen who has also come up with some timely offense.
The Thunder have been talking about how they have to play better perimeter defense and prevent drives to the basket by those guards. They’ve talked about they just haven’t been able to do it.
Hero ball has come up before and when you have two superstars like Durant and Westbrook it’s not always a sin to rely on them to win games for you with big shots. But those superstars also have to make good decisions and it seems like those have been lacking, taking a good shot instead of looking for a great shot.
By now most of you have seen the replays and the internet screen shots taken late in the game Thursday when Westbrook hoisted an early three that had it gone in would have tied the game. What everyone also saw on that play was a WIDE open Serge Ibaka in the lane. The Memphis bigs had come out to help on Westbrook and Ibaka was left by his lonesome. Westbrook either didn’t see or didn’t look for what would have been a great shot, instead settling for a good look at a three.
The fact that Durant and Westbrook have fallen into shooting slumps at the same time while they keep firing away has increased the volume of questions from critics.
In Game 3 the Thunder duo shot a combined 19-for-53. They took 36 of the Thunder’s 49 shots in the second half.
Despite that evidence Durant told reporters after practice yesterday, “we’re not playing a two-man show.” But he also added, “we got to be aggressive, we’re the guys.”
Ibaka has become the forgotten guy on offense and everyone else is playing the part of the invisible man.
Perkins doesn’t seem to mind.
“That’s who led us all year long, we’re going to live with them, we’re going to die with them, we’re going to roll with them until the wheels fall off.”
The wheels haven’t come off yet but the tires certainly seem to have lost some air.