NBA

Aldridge and Leonard Nearly Perfect in Game 1, Durant and Westbrook Far From it

(Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
Aldridge and Leonard Nearly Perfect in Game 1, Durant and Westbrook Far From it

Not often is an NBA game decided in the first half. Less often is it decided in the first quarter. I can safely say that before last night, I’d never seen a game decided in the first minute.

On the first possession of the game, Kevin Durant lost Kawhi Leonard on a simple screen from LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard started his gather near the free throw line while three blue defenders (Durant, Ibaka, and Adams) gave only a cursory effort at contesting the shot. When Leonard angrily jammed the ball through the rim, the Thunder’s chances at keeping this game close were also stuffed.

Speaking of plays that summed up the game: LaMarcus Aldridge absolutely broke the Thunder’s back in the third quarter. OKC was down by 32 at that point, so it was mostly a matter of pride at that point. Aldridge lost his balance on an attempted post up of Ibaka and simply had to throw the ball at the rim to avoid traveling. Upon first view, his movement is so smooth that it almost looks intentional. It seemed that no matter what he did, everything was falling for Aldridge.

The Spurs were absolutely lethal in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game. Alridge’s virtuosic mid-range shooting forced Thunder defenders to make tough decisions all night: if a Thunder big (usually Steven Adams or Serge Ibaka) hedged hard on the screen, Leonard and Tony Parker would take them to the rim, almost always successfully. If the defender sagged off, Aldridge would take the easy long two. It was a long game of ‘pick your poison.’

Leonard and Aldridge were almost perfect on the night. Combined, they shot 28 of 36 (2-3 from three-point range) for 63 points, adding 11 rebounds and six assists. It’s a playoff performance we’re used to seeing from Durant and Westbrook—who posted a paltry combined 32% shooting, 30 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists–and certainly one that they will have to try to match if the Thunder want to play more than four games in this series.

Based solely on the eye test, the Thunder’s defense was awful. They lagged behind in transition (against a team that ranked 24th in the league in pace of play), in some cases made no attempt to step out on open shooters, gambled (and lost) frequently for steals, and seemed to lack the toughness and grit it takes to win a playoff series. Donovan is going to have to have a frank discussion with this team to make sure this effort (or lack thereof) is rectified next game.

If there’s one positive, it’s that there are at least three more games in this series. A dejected Kevin Durant refused to reveal his feel his emotions when asked in his post-game interview, but it’s not a reach to assume it’s some combination of frustration with his teammates, anger at his own ineffectuality, and melancholy. A victory counts the same if it’s a one point margin or 32, and it would be massive for the Thunder to even up the series on the road. If OKC gets blown out again in game two, it’s pretty safe to assume this won’t be a very long series.

(H/T and special thanks to Reddit user Splash2ndCousin for the videos)

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