If you poked around the interwebs you could find 20 stories today (even on SBNation) on how the Thunder may have lost, but they're actually winners and that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn't choke, they actually played great. All these stories are special and precious and complete, utter millennial nonsense.
They blew it, man. Let's be real and call a spade a spade. They had the Warriors on the ropes and blew it, and Durant, Westbrook and Billy Donovan were the main culprits.
Granted, I'm the same guy who labeled the Spurs season, in which a 67-win team was eliminated in six games by the Thunder, "an unqualified success," but San Antonio hasn't gagged up a 3-1 series lead since I was crawling around in diapers across a kitchen floor in Istanbul, and like me back then the Thunder have a lot of growing up to do and are thousands of miles from where they want to be.
They're still the same fundamentally broken organization they've been for years, with the same fatal flaw they've always had. Their stars control the team, hijack games, and aren't held accountable by their coaches or executives. Durant and Westbrook will keep losing big games, take the blame on their shoulders for losing them, but won't make any real adjustments in their play or mindset. They'll continue to be a textbook example of Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Seems as if Durant and especially Westbrook would rather lose playing how they play, than try to win playing as a team.
It's such a frustrating exercise watching that team. It'd be one thing if they simply lacked the ability or the wherewithal to make proper decisions, but that's not the case at all. Westbrook is one of the best passers in the league, without question. He has terrific vision, can make passes from any angle or body position, and has superb timing and touch on alley-oops and with the way he hits the dive man on the pick-and-roll. Durant is also a very good playmaker for his position. He's not quite Blake Griffin, but he knows how to find and hit the open guy on the move.
Defensively they know what they should be doing as well. They know their assignments, know the strengths and weaknesses and tendencies of the people they're guarding and have the physical ability to lock people down. Yet their attention and effort wanders and they continue to be haunted by poor habits. Durant gets sucked in and loses track of shooters, especially in transition. Westbrook just can't stop gambling for steals. They can't help themselves.
Of course scoring is the biggest element to both guys' games, but even in that they've certainly played long enough to know where their good and bad spots on the floor are. Durant and Westbrook are both smart guys. I simply refuse to believe they don't understand the math and the percentages when it comes to their shot charts. On some level Westbrook knows he shouldn't shoot threes, but his ego supersedes his logic center. Durant knows the difference between a good shot for him and a bad one, and there's nuance there, even for a guy who can rise up and shoot over anyone.
In Game 5, despite their 3-1 lead, OKC's stars refused to trust their teammates on the road. In the third quarter they took 12 of the 20 shots and the Thunder won the period 27-23. In the fourth quarter they let go of the rope, taking 18 of the 21 shots and all 12 of the free-throws, before sitting the final minute of garbage time.
In Game 6, they were up eight at home going into the final quarter, before Westbrook and Durant combined to shoot 3-of-14, with zero assists and six turnovers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they had 13 possessions in the final five minutes of the game and 12 ended with one pass or fewer.
The damage was done sooner in Monday's Game 7. Durant (with Andre Iguodala guarding him full-time after Steve Kerr sent Harrison Barnes to the bench) was playing a smart, patient game and the Thunder were exploiting their size advantage with Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter in the first half, just crushing the Warriors on the glass. But Klay Thompson started hitting threes in the second quarter, and suddenly Westbrook tried to answer shot for shot instead of just keep doing what was working. He took eight of the Thunder's final 11 shots in the second quarter (including two awful threes) missing five, and two of his three makes were set up in transition. One of the other three attempts for his teammates was an offensive board of his miss. The final six minutes of the second quarter effectively decided the game and the series.
It was apparent, just like we saw in Games 5 and 6, that Durant and Westbrook were fatigued, but Donovan turned back into a pumpkin at the worst time. He didn't rest either one --Durant sat for all of 28 seconds late in the third quarter and was screaming at Donovan the whole time-- and refused to trust in the one clear advantage he's had all season, the size and rebounding of Adams and Kanter, playing them a combined 11:40 in the second half. Instead he was seduced by the small-sample-size success of his small-ball lineup, showing more faith in Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters, the former a guy who's been rightfully left unguarded his whole career, and the latter reduced to a punchline by this point.
The Thunder had 10 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points in the first half and just four and six, respectively in the second-half. Tellingly, Durant and Westbrook, both very good rebounders normally, were too tired to come up with a single offensive board between them all game. Donovan was so spooked by the Warriors' shot-making from outside that he went away from what made his offense good, cutting off his nose to spite his face. It's not like playing small helped his defense any. When Curry wasn't getting open looks, Thompson was and vice versa. The Warriors, even with all their threes, scored just 96 for the game and 54 in the second half. The Thunder lost because they couldn't score, and they couldn't score because they didn't move the ball or use their bigs, especially Kanter, who was being paid a ludicrous amount of money to watch from the bench.
This is who the Thunder are and who they've always been. It doesn't matter if they're five deep, seven deep or 11 deep, it's all meaningless because Durant and Westbrook play all the minutes and take all the shots. They don't believe in the concept of diminishing returns, continuing to act as if a shot by Russ or KD, even exhausted, is a better percentage play than their teammates at their freshest, or most open. They'll never concede that yes, they were tired, or yes, that was a bad shot, even when it's plain. Donovan never calls them out publicly and defends them to a fault, his harshest criticism being "we got too stagnant on offense," without naming names.
Durant and Westbrook even do their interviews together so they can avoid ever being trapped into saying something negative about the other. The organization has a PR person hovering next to every player for every interview. It's an insular, communal cocoon, so protective of its stars, with general manager Sam Presti taking the lessons he learned from his time with the Spurs and extrapolating them to the nth degree.
There are inherent, systemic problems and they're just never going away. The Thunder got as deep as they did because the Spurs were too old and the Clippers were too broken. They took the Warriors to seven mostly because Curry wasn't fully healthy and still may not be. All it took was the "Splash Bros." to drop a few threes and they got completely discombobulated, losing their identity on both ends of the floor.
A divorce is probably what's needed here. Durant and Westbrook are both too good and too headstrong to ever co-exist sucessfully. One superstar on a team works because they learn to trust their teammates by necessity. Two superstars together run into problems because they just keep taking turns and don't think they have to depend on the rest. Even "The Heatles" didn't win until they established a clear pecking order, with LeBron James as their unquestioned main guy, Dwyane Wade as the second banana and then ample use of Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Ray Allen and so on. They trusted their role guys to take the biggest shots in the biggest games.
After this many years, I don't think Durant or Westbrook will ever buy in to that concept as long as they've got each other.