Free Throws Cost Thunder In Critical Game 4

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

The Thunder have struggled shooting free throws all season and Sunday afternoon in a critical Game 4 they could hit just barely more than half those unguarded 15-footers.

A lot of grade school teams do better than that.

But what is elementary to some is like college calculus some games for the Thunder and it cost them a contest in which they led by 14 in the 3rd quarter.

The Thunder were 18-for-32 at the line and the Rockets were 28-for-33. Almost the exact same number of attempts but Houston picked up 10 more points in what ended up a 113-109 loss.

It was so bad Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni started having his players intentionally foul Andre Roberson. Roberson has been fantastic at both ends of the floor in this series and he was particularly great going up against James Harden, forcing him into a 5-for-16 shooting day overall and 0-for-7 from deep, he also had five blocks and again scored in double digits.

Roberson has been fantastic on both offense and defense.

But with the game on the line late in the 4th quarter D’Antoni, who said afterwards he’s not a fan of strategy but since it’s in the rules what the heck, started putting Roberson on the line where he missed two, then hit two, then missed four more and Billy Donovan put Jerami Grant in.

Roberson finished the day 2-for-12 at the line, for the series he is 2-for-17. The team is now 74-for-106 (69.8 percent) at the free throw line.

That’ll getcha beat.

It’s especially distressing when you consider the Thunder held the Rockets to 43.5 percent shooting overall and 31.4 percent on threes. Harden had just 16 points. OKC forced Houston into a whopping 24 turnovers.

But once again the Thunder had no answer at all for Nene, the Rockets journeyman center whose played like a Hall of Famer against Oklahoma City.

Sunday he was Sunday he had a career playoff -high 28 points coming off the bench on a ridiculous 12-for-12 shooting. For the series Nene is now a mind boggling 23-for-25. Heck even a lot of Hall of Famers can’t do that.

And the other thing that has plagued the Thunder this series, and really much of the season, is when Russell Westbrook takes a break the Thunder can’t seem to find their way.

It’s not a shock that the efficiency would drop but there have been times when it’s just dropped of a cliff. Westbrook had his third straight triple-double Sunday with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists.

During the regular season with Westbrook on the floor the Thunder’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 107.9 during the playoffs that number has actually gone up to 108.2. But in the regular season with Westbrook off the floor the points dropped to 97.4 and in the playoffs they’re down even more to 94.1.

Westbrook was not in the mood to talk about why that might be accusing The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel of trying to split up the team when Tramel asked Steven Adams what was going wrong when Westbrook sits on the bench.

Seemed like a perfectly logical question but with both players at the podium Westbrook bowed up and refused to let Adams answer, calling instead for the next question. For a while Berry held his ground but finally gave in. The Thunder might have cut his mic off if he’d kept going anyway.

The exchange wasn’t pleasant and in the future perhaps the NBA should look at not having two players at the interview table at the same time, especially those from a losing team. Westbrook was trying to protect his teammates but there was certainly nothing wrong with the question.

Tough questions need to be asked and if the player you’re asking doesn’t want to answer that’s fine, but another player shouldn’t step in.

Things happen when you lose a game you should have won.

It’s elementary...just like shooting free throws.