Overtime Blues

By Randy Renner

The Oklahoma City Thunder have overdosed on overtime games. The Thunder and the Grizzlies are the only teams in NBA history to have played four straight games that have stretched into overtime. Memphis has won three of those four games.

Not only are games like this physically demanding, especially when the opponent is Memphis, but they're mentally draining as well.

Every single point your team gets and your team allows becomes huge. Every mistake is magnified, every possession is critical.

It is exhausting.

"Well it is," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks admitted after Wednesday's practice, "but that's playoff basketball," he added with a shrug of his shoulders.

"It comes down to one or two plays during the game, particularly in this series with four overtime games, so every point is important and we obviously have to do a better job of that going into the next game."

Because that next game could also be the very last game. The Thunder find themselves down 3-2 in the series and now they will have to win that next game on the road and if they can do that win Game 7 at home to survive and move on.

Wednesday's practice wasn't about getting in a lot of work on the floor. It mostly consisted of watching game film and talking about what it will take to extend the season.

"Just guys talking about the game, talking about ourselves and what we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win a game," said veteran guard Derek Fisher.

Fish figured he'd seen it all in the 244 playoff games he'd been in before last night and then in his NBA record-setting 245th playoff game he saw one more thing. A fourth overtime game in the same playoff series. It had never happened before in the NBA playoffs.

"There's not a script to playing in post-season and winning in the playoffs," he said, "you just figure it out and you take 'em how they come."

The Thunder it seems have had an awfully tough time 'figuring it out' during this series. The only thing that's been consistent is how inconsistent things have been.

The defense has been great and terrible for long stretches in the same games. The offense has mostly struggled but it too has shown flashes only to burn out.

Brooks prefers the optimistic approach.

"We have a great opportunity," he began when he started speaking with the media. "A great opportunity to go in there and play with a lot of confidence and composure and give ourselves a chance to win."

They've given themselves a chance to win every game. The opportunities have been there but they haven't always been taken advantage of.

And confidence? You have to wonder just how much this team has right now, especially its two superstars who are struggling together as never before.

Kevin Durant, who will almost certainly be named the NBA's Most Valuable Player later in these playoffs is shooting 40 percent overall against Memphis and just 28.6 percent on 3-pointers. Russell Westbrook is even worse at 34.4 percent overall and a miniscule 18.4 percent from deep.

Westbrook's shooting has been atrocious in the all important overtimes. He hasn't hit a single shot, 0-for-14. According to BasketballReference.com he's missed 10 jumpers, two layups and even a couple of tip-ins.

And not only has he not made a shot, he hasn't helped anyone else make one either, zero assists in the four overtimes combined.

The Thunder coaches and players have preached ball movement and shot selection but during the most critical times of games the ball movement gets sticky and the shot selection gets less selective.

"It's us not doing what we've talked about doing since I've been here," Fisher said. "Our coaching staff has continued to reinforce the same messages, we work on and drill the same things in practice. We work on tons of drills where if there's two people on the ball you move it to the next guy, but it's just part of the breakthrough of a team."

Most fans and members of the media figured this version of the Thunder had already made that breakthrough. Everyone already knew what needed to be done, everyone already had playoff experience.

And Fish agreed with all that but noted there's a big difference in knowing what to do and actually doing it.

"It is very hard in the most pressure packed and most emotional times to actually go out there and do that and that's the challenge for us. Our organization is built around unselfish guys, our players are like that and our coaches are like that."

Fisher stressed everyone has been coached up on all the situations, by now many of the players have lived through those situations.

"Coaching only gets you so far, once the game starts there's nothing that's happening out there that we haven't been prepared to handle," he said.

"So at the end of the day the five guys out there have all the knowledge, all the intelligence to figure out what needs to be done. We just have to go out there and do it."

All season long after disappointing losses players and coach Brooks have said 'we'll learn from this and move on,' but the same mistakes have been made, the lessons haven't been learned.

It has now come down to Thursday night. One more game, one more chance to figure it out and get it right and extend the season for another game.

And if the lessons haven't been learned this time, it will be too late for more homework because school will be out for the summer.

Randy RennerComment