Are the Thunder Rumbling in OKC?
After losing Game 2 to the Spurs 112-77, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in a deep hole. Not only do they trail the Western Conference Finals series 0-2, the Spurs have beat them convincingly and easily despite the Thunder sweeping the Spurs during the regular season. But can the Thunder come back? Or will the Spurs finish them in OKC?
Let’s find out:
Not So Dynamic Duo
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were a combined 13-40 from the field while scoring just 15 points apiece. They were 4-14 in the third quarter when the Spurs finished off a 43-14 run that started midway in the second quarter. Durant led the league in scoring during the regular season and was named MVP. But in the first two games of this series, Russell Westbrook has taken more shots per game than Durant:
|Kevin Durant||Russell Westbrook|
During the regular season, Westbrook was taking 17.2 shots per game. That has increased to 21.3 in the post season. During the last five years, the OKC Thunder are 15-19 in playoff games where Westbrook has at least 20 field goal attempts. They are 19-7 when he shoots sub-20 attempts per game. OKC should be Durant’s team because he is the league’s best scorer. He should be getting the shots for the Thunder and not Westbrook. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the first two games. The pressure to win has been in the head of these two stars. But the injury to Serge Ibaka has taken a huge toll on the team too.
Owning the Lane
Without Serge Ibaka, that lane is wide open for the Spurs. During their regular season series, the Thunder allowed the Spurs to score 41.5 points in the paint per game while they scored an average of 42.5 points in the paint. The battle in the paint was always close, take a looks at this:
2014 regular season Points in the Paint: Spurs vs Thunder
In Game 1, the Spurs outscored the Thunder by a huge 66-32 difference in the paint. The Spurs already had 40 points in the paint in the first half alone. In Game 2, the difference wasn’t as huge, but the Spurs still won it by double digits at 54-42. During the regular season, the Oklahoma City Thunder just allowed 39.5 points in the paint per game. They’ve given up 60 points per game during their first two games against the Spurs.
Serge Ibaka is one of the best shot blockers in the NBA. He was a close second to Anthony Davis during the regular season with his 2.70 blocks per game. He was the NBA’s top shot blocker in the previous two years, averaging more than 3 blocks per game. Ibaka also averaged 8.8 rebounds during the regular season and played 32.9 minutes per game. OKC’s defense begins and ends with Serge Ibaka. Without him on the floor, the OKC Thunder are just a good offensive team that tries to outgun their opponents. That will not work against San Antonio
Against the Spurs during the 2014 regular season, Ibaka was dominant in defense and offense. He averaged 14 points per game, 11.5 rebounds per game and an astronomical 5 blocks per game. So Ibaka hasn’t been just the anchor of that OKC defense, he has been the X factor against the Spurs this season.
Ibaka was upgraded from being out for the season to being day to day after the swelling of his calf “reduced rapidly” according to Thunder GM Sam Presti. Presti added that while they are not saying that Ibaka’s playing, the Thunder “won’t rule him out.” That is just short of saying that Ibaka will play through the tolerable pain because OKC is down 0-2 in the series.
Banking on History
But Scott Brooks and the Thunder can take solace in the fact that if there’s a team that can come back from an 0-2 deficit, it’s the Thunder. And that’s because they did it in 2012 when they played against, hold your breath, the Spurs. The circumstances were the same: San Antonio had home court edge and went up 2-0. OKC racked up four straight wins to go to the Finals. The Thunder lost the first two games by an average of 26 points and if there’s something they can hold on to right now, it’s this piece of history.
But they can’t bank too much on history though. In the history of the NBA, only four teams out of 81 who lost the first two games of a seven game series by double digits came back to win the playoff series.
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