By KOLBY PAXTON
They say hindsight is 20/20, and while I would simply reinforce the notion by arguing that it's more like 20/8, Monday morning quarterbacking is tough to resist. Par for the proverbial course, I spent the majority of this particular Monday reflecting on a Thunder-Rockets series that transcended the intensity typical of a top-seed/eighth-seed match-up, as well as Oklahoma City's prospects moving forward in light of its Sunday afternoon victory over Memphis.
Before we get to the retrospective woulda, couldas, however, let's first focus on what we learned from the Houston series:
Patrick Beverley ended Russell Westbrook's season. He's a terrible person. Kevin Martin couldn't hit the broad-side of a Carnival cruise ship. He, alone does not equal James Harden, let alone Harden–plus–Westbrook. The Rockets, along with about 28 other teams, were a "bad match-up" for Kendrick Perkins. Serge Ibaka needs Reggie Jackson to create his shots. Reggie Jackson has been weighed, measured, and found wanting. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant had never looked so lonesome, despite the constant swarm of red tank-tops that surrounded him without ceasing.
That about sum it up?
And, yet, 48 hours later, Martin, who stopped just short of curling up into the fetal position during the previous series, was burying shot after shot as Durant's wingman — every single one of which was necessary — while Jackson has some folks suggesting that he may be worthy of a starring role alongside Westbrook in the coming years.
Suddenly, optimism, once lost altogether, has made a triumphant return. The Thunder is good enough to win this series, too, we say, though it may take seven games. And, so what if it does? Golden State is red hot. Perhaps they knock off San Antonio? Couldn't they <em>really</em>? And if they did, couldn't OKC get through the Warriors without Westbrook? Seems plausible. And, <em>then</em>, could Westbrook return for the Finals?
Those of us so bold to return to a Finals-esque process of thought are almost completely reliant upon the latter. The Finals will begin approximately six weeks post-injury, a less than ambitious recovery time for civilians, let alone an elite athlete with the intensity of Westbrook.
So, just to recap: The sky was falling a few days ago. Today? OKC will weather the storm sans Westbrook, only to get him back for a Finals rematch with Miami. See how a little hindsight changes our perception of things?
Before ye of little faith run off and pen your apology letters to Sam Presti, though, allow me — chief among the detractors of late — to douse a little cold water on the sunny forecast.
Though performing somewhat admirably on the defensive end, Oklahoma City's two most disappointing players during the early stages of these playoffs have been Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka — two players that Presti chose to obtain/keep at the expense of two others: Jeff Green and James Harden.
Mightn't it be a touch easier to keep the Russ-less ship afloat were the Thunder trotting out a starting five of Durant (Playoff statistics: 32.9 ppg, 9 rpg, 6 apg), Ibaka (11.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3 BPG) and Jackson (13.7 ppg, 3.4 apg), along with Harden (26.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Green (20.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg)?
Yes. Yes it would.