Late in the season and throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs Scott Brooks was resting Kevin Durant just two or three minutes the whole game. Now, in the Western Conference Finals, that rest period has stretched out to half the second quarter. Have the minutes finally caught up to Durant?
Yesterday I wrote about the unfortunate aspects of Spurs blowouts and how they cause neutral fans or even incredibly biased impassioned bloggers to lose interest at times due to the massive margins they're routinely winning by. I know it sounds like such a spoiled, entitled thing to whine about, "Oh, we're winning by too many points, this is lame," but believe me, I'm just speaking from the viewpoint of a writer looking for drama.
As a Spurs fan I very much want complete and utter annihilation and scorched earth, the kind of stuff you learn about in history class in junior high. However, I don't think TV viewers and national media were the only ones whose minds wandered midway through Game 2.
I saw Durant quit on this game late in the second quarter.
If I could read his mind, I think it went something along the lines of, "Is coach really gonna play Perry Jones this entire quarter?"
It speaks to the miserable job the Thunder have done in developing their young guys that Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and Hasheem Thabeet, former first-round picks all, are thought of as decidedly less savory options by Scott Brooks and his coaching staff than Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. GM Sam Presti has gotten deserved plaudits for nailing lottery picks with Durant, Westbrook and James Harden while also finding guys later in the first round in Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams (the latter two were probably their best players in Game 2, such as it was), but nobody bats a thousand and it certainly appears like he blew it with Jones, Lamb and Roberson.
Their developmental coaches haven't improved these guys to the point where they can function in competitive games and Brooks excised them from the rotation midway through the year, giving up on them entirely and going all-in with the veterans. Once Caron Butler was signed, he immediately took Lamb's spot in the rotation, and Sefolosha regained his starting spot after returning from his knee injury even though he was having an awful season.
I mean, Jones quite obviously didn't even know the plays out there. It's May 21 and he didn't know where to line up on offense during the second quarter of a Western Conference Finals. That's just embarrassing for the whole organization. And I was advocating for him to play after Game 1!
I think right around the time that Durant noticed that Brooks was playing him as a shooting guard (a position he last played as a rookie for P.J. Carlesimo back in SEATTLE) with a frontcourt of Adams, Jones and Collison, he thought to himself, "Screw this." There's just no way that lineup played a second together all year, right?
Soon after, Durant found himself with the ball 35 feet from the rim -- of course -- and with Parker on him. No trap, no double, just Parker. He could've risen up and launched a shot any time if he wanted to. Adams came over to set a pick in case Durant wanted to drive. Instead, the league's MVP just held on to the ball for a couple of seconds and then passed it off casually to the side. He wanted no part of it. His heart just wasn't in it anymore. On the other end he lost Green for a pair of corner threes, let Ginobili get an offensive rebound on him and gave up a three to the Argentine moments later. Westbrook rightly let him have it on the time out for not being into the game.
Brooks, of course, didn't say a word to his meal ticket. Durant took three shots in the third quarter, content to mostly stand off in the corner until he was mercifully taken out of the game. Before he was pulled, there was an embarrassing defensive play midway through the third quarter where the Thunder were playing small and Durant, paired with Jackson on the strong side of the floor, had the choice of checking Green on the wing or Duncan in the paint. He clearly didn't like the thought of being man-handled down low and chose to cover Green, leaving Duncan for Reggie Jackson, the 6'3" point guard, to cover.
You can imagine how that went.
David Robinson has taken so much crap in the media, most notably from Bill Simmons, for the 1995 Western Conference Finals. All I know is, at least The Admiral never quit.
The most amusing aspect of Wednesday's game was that even a novice analyst like me had no difficulty predicting all of Brooks' adjustments. My crystal ball predicted the desperation move of giving Jones rotation minutes, and it was obvious that the Thunder were going to play bigger, to try and clog the paint and to live and die with the Spurs shooting threes. Except for a brief stretch to end the first quarter, they stayed big until the game started to get away from them in the third. There was even a comical few minutes in the second period where they went with four bigs, and Durant played shooting guard. Different combinations of bigs we didn't see in Game 1 were used, with Adams playing with Collison or Perkins.
Nothing they tried worked. Parker sliced through their bigs like they weren't even there. The only brief momentum the Thunder ever got defensively was in those five minutes overlapping the first and second quarters in which Parker sat and his understudy, Patty Mills, couldn't buy a shot. Once Parker checked back in the Spurs kept scoring at will until all their big guns sat for good late in the third quarter. San Antonio put up 56 points in those 19 minutes overlapping the second and third quarters. The Thunder scored 28 points.
Through two games Green has outscored Sefolosha 37-0 and played great defense on his man -- usually Westbrook or Durant. Splitter meanwhile had 10 boards, nine points, three blocks and four assists in 23 minutes in Game 2. Am I the only one who feels that Verde is the player the Thunder think Sefolosha is and that Splitter is the player that they think Kendrick Perkins is?
The Spurs were even more committed to staying big than the Thunder were and it appears that they'll only break out the small lineup in spots where the Thunder are also small and clearly winded. They had no problem staying big against OKC's small lineup in the third quarter, with Splitter more than capable of keeping up with the plodding Caron Butler out on the perimeter. (As you'll recall, Butler burned Blake Griffin repeatedly in the Thunder's previous series.) If the Thunder want to throw their three point guard lineup with Westbrook, Fisher and Jackson out there with Durant and a big, then maybe the Spurs will answer in kind, but they definitely seem to view Butler as too slow to worry about
The big difference between 2012 Green and the current version is that he no longer gets spooked when guys run out at him, even freaky-limbed defenders like Durant whose arms go on forever. Green's release is both high and lightning quick, meaning if somebody is gonna block him they better be very close. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're straddling the paint while Green is at the three point line, you have no chance to bother him.
Ginobili had that incredible hook pass to Green and that rainbow three over Durant in the second quarter, but his defense was far more impressive. Thanks to foul trouble by Leonard, Gino spent more time on Durant than anybody and didn't give up anything. When he wasn't on Durant, he was on Westbrook and again nothing. It doesn't show up in the box score but he actually forced three turnovers in addition to his steal.
Ed Malloy, Ken Mauer and Ron Garretson took a different and completely awesome tack with Westbrook that I wish more refs would use when superstars abuse the officials: They refused to give him the technical he was so blatantly begging for, no matter how many magic words he said to them.
What they did, instead, as a form of punishment, was to simply refuse to call a foul in his favor no matter how many times the Spurs whacked him in the melon and he wound up on his can. Westbrook didn't have a single free throw attempt in the game. He launched himself into crowds at least a dozen times, crashed down onto the hardwood with a thump repeatedly and never once got a call.
Now that was beautiful.