The Oklahoma City Thunder watched their season go down like a sinking ship this week, as the hungry and tenacious Memphis Grizzlies put an end to it all by winning the decisive Game 5 on the Thunder's home court. This ending was not what...
The Oklahoma City Thunder watched their season go down like a sinking ship this week, as the hungry and tenacious Memphis Grizzlies put an end to it all by winning the decisive Game 5 on the Thunder's home court. This ending was not what we Thunder fans had in mind after watching Kevin Durant walk off the Miami court last year and fall into the arms of his parents, weeping unashamed. Even if that teary ending was not what we hoped for, at least it made sense.
These playoffs though, they did not make sense. Instead of peace, we're only left with frustration and a longing for what could have been but never shall be.
To break it all down, we return to Eleanor Roosevelt one final time to set up the framework.
"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people." - Eleanor Roosevelt
We at WTLC shall endeavor to conquer all three and in the process hope to be made hole again as we hope the team will be in time.
I. THE PEOPLE
Kevin Durant: Durant, more than any other player, was profoundly effected by the loss of Russell Westbrook. It was upon him now to not only score the bulk of points, but to run the offense, set up his teammates, play 45 minutes a game, and defend the likes of Tayshaun Prince Marc Gasol. In other words, Durant was expected to play the LeBron James role on both ends of the court for the first time in his career. To Durant's benefit, his downside risk was limited, but the upside opportunity to carve out a legacy was profound.
Reggie Jackson: Jackson was charged with filling the Westbrook role full time heading into Memphis. Precariously, we all wondered how he would stand up to the intense Grizzlies defensive pressure. They are the best at forcing the other team into high turnover games, and for a player who was used to playing only 18 minutes a game against the 2nd unit of other teams, he was about to experience something entirely new. They don't play defense like this at Virginia Tech.
Scott Brooks: Brooks suffered a very shaky opening round as the Thunder took a few games to adjust to the lack of Westbrook. Actually, check that. They once again did not know how to deal with a smallball line-up. Brooks' match-ups were plagued by two Rockets bench guys and a 2nd round draft pick that seems to morph into Scottie Pippen every time the Thunder play the Rockets. While the Grizz are a little bit more of a classic match-up of bigs and guards, Brooks still needed to do a better job at recognizing and exploiting places in the game during a series where offense would be at a premium.
Russell Westbrook: This series was also a referendum on a guy who would not even be playing. If the Thunder won, questions about Westbrook's value to the team would loom large. If they lost, his value would be recognized, but only at the expense of his tight-knit team. In any event, the only sign we'd see of the HAM Badger would be sitting in a box seat with his leg in a cast.
Zach Randolph: Every time I watch Z-Bo, I think about a bare-knuckled brawler from the 1920's. If you watch him play in the post, whether he's backing a guy down or facing him up by sticking his melon inside some poor bloke's chest, he's exercising a game of subtle variations. It is only pretty if you consider a boxer's body blows or an MMA fighter's inside holds pretty. How would the Thunder deal with him?
Marc Gasol: Gasol, the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, is a guy whose art is also in his subtlety. Unlike Randolph, his sense is in how to act as the conductor. To be sure his own offensive and defensive talents are considerable, but as guys like Zach Lowe has written ad nauseum, Gasol possesses a certain Bill Walton-like sense for the flow of the game. He could play with just about anyone, and make anyone play better.
Mike Conley: The biggest reason why I'm a Conley fan is because when he came into the league (#4 pick a year before Westbrook) he was about as limited as Reggie Jackson.