Tahlequah Daily Press

April 30, 2013

Thunder wrap-up

By KOLBY PAXTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Full disclosure: I no-showed in this spot on Saturday night and if you follow me on Twitter than you know that it wasn't an accident. There was no technical difficulty, no faulty internet connection, no power outage. I just couldn't do it. Blowing a 26-point lead made me really thirsty.

When Durant's now infamous three-point bucket caromed a fourth time, died, and rolled gently into the cylinder, I had nothing left to offer; nothing printable, anyway.

I'll never be any good at writing from the sterile, unemotional (see: dispassionate?) perspective routinely embraced by my peers. It just doesn't suit me and, frankly, I have no interest in being disingenuous for the sake of professionalism or objectivity. I write to entertain, not to gain the approval of self-appointed hall monitors, and listening to the same person complain about the same things every few days is not entertaining – it's redundant and annoying.

I care about Oklahoma City basketball more than most, and the way the Thunder has played in these playoffs leaves me without much positivity. I'm tired of watching Sefalosha and Martin stand next to each other on the wing. I'm tired of watching Reggie Jackson and/or DeAndre Liggins sit on the bench. I'm tired of wondering if Serge Ibaka still plays for the Thunder, while James Harden continually reminds us that he is a Rocket.

1.) Most of all, I'm tired of the runs.

Not those runs, these runs: In Game 2, OKC led by 15 in the fourth quarter before allowing the Rockets to outscore them 21-2 down the stretch. In Game 3, the Thunder led by 26 (26!) only to allow Houston to rally and take the lead late. In Game 4, the Thunder once again led by double digits just before halftime,  and promptly handed the Rockets a 15-0 run to eliminate the advantage.

In every case, the only thing resembling a tourniquet was the shooting of Kevin Durant.

I'm really trying to talk myself off of the "Scott Brooks is killing us" ledge, but the evidence is damning. With Westbrook out and his rotation blown, Brooks is getting out-foxed by Kevin McHale on a nightly basis. If/when the Thunder advance, the same will likely be said for Lionel Hollins/Vinny Del Negro, and that trio won't be getting their respective domes chiseled into the Mount Rushmore of coaching any time soon.

Not only is Brooks seemingly defenseless against an annual redemptive barrage from the likes of Carlos Delfino and Patrick Beverley, but he's actually inciting the Houston rally cry to some degree.

Take last night for example.

Kendrick Perkins starts, doesn't fit, and the Rockets begin the game on a 13-4 run. Brooks does something uncharacteristically brilliant and brings in DeAndre Liggins in place of Perk. Oklahoma City dominates the remainder of the first half with Liggins on the floor – including a 36-24 advantage in the second quarter – to grab seven-point halftime lead.

The second half begins with Perkins back on the court and Liggins back on the bench, and to the surprise of perhaps no one but Brooks, Houston outscores Oklahoma City by 14 in the period to flip the differential. Brooks sticks with Perkins for the first seven minutes of the third quarter, and Liggins doesn't see action again until the :54 second mark – with the Rockets in front by 13 – at which point the Thunder close the quarter with a 7-1 spurt.

Liggins and Nick Collison combined to post a plus/minus of (+20) despite just 14 minutes of action a piece. Meanwhile, Perkins and Thabo Sefalosha collaborated for a plus/minus of (-36) while combining for nearly 40 minutes of burn.

Brooks has never been one to overreact (react at all) to in-game/in-series developments, but it's starting to get ridiculous. His reluctance to adapt got the Thunder beat a year ago, and it will get a lesser team blown out of the conference semi-finals this time around.

2.) Why is Durant playing point forward?

He turns it over in the back court at least twice a game, not to mention every time he attempts to split defenders in the front court. Not because he isn't a good ball handler – he has great handles – but because physics intervenes when you're eight feet tall. There's a lot of distance for the basketball to travel. When Durant does clear the timeline the offense is stagnant.

I'm all for KD getting a lion's share of shots up, but I want him to do that through the flow of the offense, not in some forced ball stopping role. Free him up for catch and shoot opportunities (when he's at his best) and get him iso'd when he's not being doubled (when he's at his second best). Reggie Jackson is good enough to run the offense as the point guard. Derek Fisher is capable enough to spell him. There's no reason to change the entire complexion of the offense to focus on Durant. He's naturally the focal point.

3.) Breaking up is the hardest part

I pulled for James Harden all season, remained a fan of his in spite of the fact that he signed his own ticket out of town last fall. I watched the Rockets every chance I got and truly enjoyed the fact that Harden was free to play the role of alpha dog without being forced to defer.

And then this series started. And then Beverley took out Westbrook. And then Harden called Durant's Game 3 clincher "a lucky shot."

It's funny the flaws you find in a person post-break-up. Last year, I routinely gushed about Harden, hoped to buy his jersey, lamented the trade that sent him packing. Now? I find him obnoxiously arrogant. I think his beard looks ridiculous. I loathe his tendency to flop all over the floor and cry on the exceedingly rare occasion that he does not get a call.

I've untagged our photos together on Facebook, tossed his leftover belongings in the trash, deleted his number from my phone.

Even without Westbrook, and even with all of the shortcomings being displayed by Durant's supporting cast, this series isn't going back to Houston. The Rockets are walking into a hornet's nest on Wednesday, a nest of 18,000 mad Okies intent on imposing their collective will.

There is no longer love lost over Harden and his new team needs to be reminded of their place.

It was over when... Serge Ibaka appropriately short-armed a put-back attempt on the end of a Jackson miss as time expired.

Quote of the Night: "I hate it. I hate the way they're playing. Kevin Durant is not a point forward." - Charles Barkley