By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The season and maybe an era is in the balance tonight.
If the Thunder can’t pull out a win against the Spurs then all the men in black have to do is win in San Antonio Tuesday night (something they’ve done in 43 of their 45 games there this season) and this series and the Thunder season will be over.
Then all the attention can fully shift to whether the Kevin Durant era in OKC is also over.
So yeah, it’s kind of a big game.
Durant told reporters after yesterday’s practice, “whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll do.”
If that means playing say, 45 minutes, KD says he’s all for it.
Russell Westbrook admitted after Saturday night’s loss he shot the ball too much.
“Too many shots. I’ve got to get other guys involved especially to beat this team.”
Durant just took 18 shots Saturday night but he says he wasn’t because he wasn’t getting the ball.
“It’s that they’re doing a great job of making me come off of it. I don’t wanna have to shoot over two or three guys and I trust my teammates,” he said.
Obviously if the Spurs are double and sometimes tripling up on Durant that means someone, if not two someones, are wide open.
“The one thing I know every scorer needs is space,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “And you can try to create as much space as you want for a player, but the defense dictates the space. And I thought Kevin did a great job of recognizing when to shoot and when to pass. We had some guys who had really good looks that they didn’t knock down.”
At other times the Thunder have just misread some of those opportunities, others have been fumbled away in turnovers and then turned into Spurs points by a lack of transition defense.
All of that has to change tonight.
“We really got hurt in transition (Saturday night), that was a major problem. I think almost a quarter of their points came in transition and we have to do a better job there.”
Veteran forward Nick Collison agreed when he was asked about transition defense after OKC's Sunday shootaround.
"It has to be a priority for us to get back on defense," he said.
The Spurs were 5-for-8 shooting off a fast break for 17 points, but the official stat sheet doesn’t include points at the free throw line and that’s where the rest of them came.
As for the problems with the transition defense, Donovan says it’s not just Westbrook, who’s been noticed a few times jogging and even walking once or twice to the other end of the floor.
“He at times got caught underneath the basket or on the ground and we were having to run back 4-on-5. I don’t think think it was his lack of effort I think if anything it was him attacking the paint that kinda put us at a disadvantage,” Donovan said.
Westbrook got to the rim 17 times Saturday but missed 10 of those shot attempts. Some were blocked, some missed because of contact and some were short-armed and bounced off the front. More often than not Westbrook finished those types of plays sprawled just off the court amid fans and photographers.
“He’s goin’ to the rim and it’s a high percentage shot and we missed several opportunities to convert,” Donovan added.
And when those opportunities are missed it’s crucial the Thunder not stand around watching, which was another problem Saturday night.
“There was several times in the game we’ve got guys standing in the dead corner and the floor is spaced and someone takes a shot and we’re watching the ball hit the rim, we’re watching San Antonio rebound it and now we start running. And when you’re in the dead corner like that the minute the ball leaves the guy’s hand they should be sprinting back towards half-court.”
Considering the Thunder were the best rebounding team in the NBA this season, it’s a bit shocking something as fundamental as what Donovan was talking about wasn’t happening.
So there are a lot of things that have to be different tonight but the Thunder have a long history of being excellent in bounce back games.
The problem with bounce back games is that by definition they come right after a loss and the Thunder really can’t afford any more of those against the Spurs.