Happy Autumn, Thunder fans. Although it’s officially been fall for a while now, those who live in the Oklahoma City area can attest to the fact that it finally feels that way outside. That is, until the next balmy 80 degree day — likely due the week before Christmas, just to stick it to us a bit.
Anyway — let’s get down to brass tacks.
GUARDS AND CENTERS CONTINUE TO SCORCH THUNDER
In one game against the Thunder, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford combined for 45 points, 10 assists, 13 rebounds, and back-breaking shot after back-breaking shot.
The next, Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic collaborated on a 61 point, 16 dime, and 13 boards performance. They absolutely barbecued Westbrook and company in pick n’ rolls. So what gives?
Unfortunately, it seems to be a theme with Billy Donovan. I’m reminded of last year’s playoffs, where James Harden and a combination and Clint Capela and Nene routinely burned the Thunder with one of the oldest, least flashy, and most effective basketball sets.
While Billy Donovan’s results in his short NBA career speak to his preparation and ability to motivate, his in-game adjustments have been lacking, in my opinion — especially in PNR situations.
There’s no easy answer, but the silver lining here is that the Thunder have the talent and tools to defend it. But be warned: the tape is already out on how to gash the Thunder. In today’s NBA, most teams have more-than-competent guards and center. Part of it is scheme, part of it is communication, but most of all, defending the pick ‘n roll is about consistent and constant effort.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK’S FREE THROW STRUGGLES
Russell Westbrook, called for a foul beyond the three-point line, approached the free throw line. In any other season, I would have bet my unborn first that he would sink all three.
Westbrook clanked free throw after free throw after free throw, and the Thunder walked away empty-handed.
Westbrook, a career 80% foul shooter, is 30-51 this year from the line — just a hair under 59% for the year.
Meanwhile, Andre Drummond, a career 39% shooter, has nearly doubled his percentage to 75%. The NBA can often seem like bizarro world.
The likely culprit seems to be a new NBA rule, which doesn’t allow shooters to walk out beyond the three-point line as part of their routine. Earlier in the season, Westbrook noted this change, explaining that walking out to the three-point line had been part of his routine since high school.
Free throws, like putting in golf, overwhelmingly mental as opposed to physical. Routine plays large in that.
Regardless, the rule is not likely to change, so Russ will need to figure something out sooner rather than later.
MELO’S SUSPECT EJECTION
It’s safe to say that, before last night, I had never seen a flagrant foul called on a shooter. Not to mention I had never seen a flagrant two, which results in an automatic ejection.
Carmelo Anthony managed to do such a thing, although the call was dubious at best.
Melo was fairly restrained about it after the game, which the Thunder lost to the Blazers by four points. Russell Westbrook, as he’s wont to do, didn’t mince words, referring to the foul as “bulls—.” Westbrook went on to lambast the referees for calling the game in an inconsistent manner.
The foul will likely be rescinded upon review by the league, but that won’t erase the Thunder’s road loss to Portland. And it won’t make anybody feel better about it.
It remains a lesson: once you think you know the NBA, it proves you wrong. Anthony didn’t deserve to get bounced.