Kevin Durant scored 30 points on 27 shots – and missed all eight of his three-pointers – and the Thunder lost in the Grindhouse in overtime, and fell behind 2-1 to Memphis in the 1st round of the playoffs. The panic is palpable for Oklahoma City, which got nothing from its bench again (outscored 34-9) and fell in love with the thee-pointer on a night they weren’t falling (5-for-28).
Finally fully healthy, Memphis looks like the team that went to the Western Conference finals a year ago. Nobody could have predicted that one night Courtney Lee would be a factor (16 points in Game 2), and then next game Beno Udrih (12 points) would confound the Thunder. But this much is clear: The Thunder have regressed in the last two years.
2012 – Reached the NBA Finals, won game one against the Heat, lost four in a row
2013 – After losing James Harden via trade, lost Russell Westbrook to injury, lost in the 2nd round to Memphis
2014 – 1st Round exit despite 2nd best record in the NBA?
Against Memphis, it looks like the Thunder are a team built for the regular season, not the playoffs. The Harden trade, which looked terrible last year, looks even worse this year because Jeremy Lamb is clearly not the player they thought they were getting (one minute played in the series). In the postseason, when every possession matters immensely, opponents turn up the defensive intensity and know that it’s going to be Durant or Westbrook. When their jumpers aren’t falling, the Thunder are in trouble.
If Oklahoma City doesn’t rally to win the series, one would have to assume coach Scott Brooks will be the fall guy. And whoever inherits the team will have to attempt to reign in Westbrook, who at times looks like a Top 10 player in the league – he sparked the 17-0 rally that forced overtime in Game 3 – and other times looks out-of-control and petulant. There’s very little wiggle room on the roster this offseason – maybe Sefolosha leaves – but then again, we’re talking about a team that won 59 games despite not having Westbrook for 36 games.
If there’s a coaching change in OKC, the next topic that will consume the NBA this summer is teams racing to get in position to make a run at Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016. Is he staying in OKC on a team that’s further from making a run at the title than they were in 2012? Durant’s from DC, so Washington – especially with Wall/Beal – will be attractive, as will the NBA’s premier franchises, like the Knicks and Lakers. I’d hate to see him in Celtics green.
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