Tag: Dallas Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five

Thunder need to be patient, let Westbrook grow into PG they need


People’s impatience is amazing.

The Oklahoma City Thunder just went to the Western Conference Finals with a team that had none of its core players over age 22. They are athletic, they played with passion, and while they struggled under the weight of the moment and Mavericks, that is how teams learn to win. Does anybody remember the three straight years the Detroit Pistons whipped Michael Jordan’s Bulls? Young teams can grow from these experiences.

But people are amazing — across the Web and even on ESPN there were people suggesting it was time to consider moving Russell Westbrook for a “real” point guard. Because freakish athletes who are Second Team All NBA grow on trees, I guess. Because trading part of a team’s emotional core is a good idea (right Celtics?).

Russell Westbrook is a 22-year-old who didn’t play point guard until his last year at UCLA, a guy who gave you 21.9 points per game and had a better than 2/1 assist to turnover ration during the season, a guy with room to grow, and you’re going to send him out because his flaws were exposed in the NBA’s final four?

That kind of knee jerk reaction is how you end up with an Isiah Thomas Knicks roster.

Relax. Westbrook is smart, passionate and wants to win. He learned hard lessons these playoffs, but he learned. And it games like Game 7 against Memphis he showed what his future looks like (putting up a triple double).

You just have to let him get there.

Do you want to judge Westbrook after two trips to the playoffs? In Kobe Bryant’s second trip to the playoffs he shot 40.8 percent overall, 21.4 percent from three and had a PER of 12.8 (Westbrook’s was 19.6). Michael Jordan was knocked out in the first round his first two playoff trips.

Different situations and eras, to be sure. But you don’t judge just how good someone can be yet.

Shawn Marion, who has been around a while, understands that while Westbrook made some poor decisions he was forced into other ones, as he told CBSSports Eye On Basketball.

“He didn’t have any choice but to shoot some of those shots, because we were denying everybody else the ball,” he said. “When you deny everybody else from catching the ball, he ain’t got no choice but to go one-on-one.

“Don’t talk bad about that man, because he’s competing out there and he’s playing hard on both ends of the floor. When you deny people from catching the ball, he’s got no choice but to shoot it. Don’t kill him. I don’t like that. He is out there playing hard and competing.”

Look at the Thunder’s off-the-ball movement this series. Everyone — Kevin Durant included — needs to work on getting open, working off screens. A lot of execution issues. Westbrook deserves some heat for his play, he can get some heat for not reacting well after the loss. He and the team need to mature.

But he’s 22. Give him a chance. He’s already shown great improvement every year, why assume that has stopped?

Look what one smart NBA executive told Sekou Smith at NBA.com.

“These people talking about trading this kid and him not being a winner are out of their minds,” an Eastern Conference executive told me before Game 5 of the conference finals. “You don’t ignore the strides he’s made and the things he’s done at this stage of his career and assume he won’t improve and work to make his game better. They should know better, writing off a young guy like this so soon. It’s the hardest position in the league to play, the hardest to learn and the most difficult to manage and maintain. These same people who talk about getting rid of him must have forgotten about guys like Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups, who faced similar criticisms early in their careers and you see how that worked out. But you can’t compare and contrast him with Jason Kidd, who is one of the best to ever play the position. That’s just not fair the kid.”

NBA Playoffs: Fittingly Mavericks’ execution sends them to finals

Mavericks' players celebrate against the Thunder during Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Final basketball playoff in Dallas

It was fitting. Maybe it was the only way it could be, with Dallas coming from behind again. Game 5 was a microcosm of the four before it in the Western Conference finals.

Oklahoma City came out and played with energy and passion. Their amazing athleticism caused problems for Dallas, but the Mavericks countered with savvy, good execution of sets and seemingly a different guy every night (Wednesday it was Shawn Marion’s turn). Dirk Nowitzki seemingly never missed (26 points on 15 shots), but still it was Oklahoma City with a healthy lead in the fourth.

Then, when the pressure really stepped up in the end, Dallas executed their plays while Oklahoma City made the mistakes of youth (like seven fourth-quarter turnovers). The result was a 100-96 win for the Mavericks that gives them a 4-1 series win and sends them to the franchise’s second NBA finals (the last was a loss to the Heat five years ago).

After a devastating loss in Game 4, many may have expected the Thunder to roll over and get this over with (like the Lakers did last series in the closeout game). But if you thought that, you don’t know this Thunder team.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, they all are old-school basketball warriors. They respect themselves and the game too much to fold like that.

And coach Scott Brooks had one wrinkle left — he went small. For long stretches the Thunder went with some smaller groupings, such as a lineup of Eric Maynor with Westbrook as the guards, Harden and Durant as the forwards and Nick Collison as center. That lineup played the entire fourth quarter.

“I knew that to win this game we had to keep moving (the Mavericks’) feet, and we put as much quickness on the floor as we could,” Brooks said afterward.

Westbrook seemed to thrive in it and he finished with 31 points and eight rebounds, some of them key ones at the end. It seemed to throw Dallas off-balance on defense, and the Thunder were getting some of the transition points they needed.

It all was a key reason the Thunder had an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But going small had a couple of drawbacks, and the Mavericks eventually adjusted and made them pay for it. Like they had been doing all series.

One drawback is that Durant is not a particularly good pick-and-roll defender and he kept getting drawn into that play. It was just part of the reason J.J. Barea had 14 points and five assists on another huge night.

The other thing is going small makes it hard to rebound. Especially because Dallas coach Rick Carlisle refused to play along with Oklahoma City — he kept in a big lineup.

Dallas took the lead when Westbrook lost the ball going for a defensive rebound, it came out and Dallas ended up with the offensive board, four guys touched it in quick succession then Nowitzki drained a 3-pointer.

Then, with the Thunder down two and less than 24 seconds on the clock, Oklahoma City needed one more stop and a basket to send it to overtime. The Thunder forced Nowitzki to miss, but Marion was able to out-jump every Thunder player on the floor and tip it out to Jason Kidd, who passed to Nowitzki and then it was all over but for the fouls and the free throws.

That was just part of a monster game for Marion, who had 26 points on 17 shots, plus eight rebounds.

In the end, Dallas executed while the Thunder made crucial mistakes down the stretch. The Thunder had just six turnovers in the first three quarters but seven in the fourth quarter alone. Like all series, the Thunder looked like a team where all its key players are younger than 22 when it got late in games.

“Their time will come, but it’s not now,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in his postgame interview broadcast on NBA TV.

It’s not, right now is the Mavericks time.

The Mavericks have the best player in the playoffs. They have a deep team where somebody different is stepping up every game. They have good defense. They have fantastic end-of-game execution.

They will have a chance to prove just how good they are one more time against the Miami Heat in the finals.

NBA Playoffs: Thunder have fight in them, is that enough?

Mavericks' Nowitzki celebrates near Thunder's Westbrook during NBA Western Conference Final playoff in Oklahoma City

Do not question the toughness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Don’t question their heart.

No doubt the collapse at the end of Game 4 Monday was ugly, but it was not about toughness. You don’t reach the Western Conference Finals with all your key players 22 or younger without being tough. Without heart.

You can reach that stage without learning how to execute under real pressure. You can reach that stage without having the right balance of scorers and defenders around your young stars.

So as we head into what could be a decisive Game 5 Wednesday night, with Dallas up 3-1 over Oklahoma City and looking to close out the series, you should expect the Thunder to come out and play with real passion. To show some toughness. If Dallas thinks it can coast to a win, they will find themselves in trouble.

But that’s not Dallas’ style. They are the better team and they are executing what they want to do at the highest of levels. They have the best player in the playoffs in Dirk Nowitzki. This should be their game.

Dallas certainly will want to jump on the Thunder early and kill their spirit. The Thunder were understandably crushed after giving up a 15-point lead in the final five minutes of Game 4 Monday, the Mavs want to get into their heads. If Dallas does get up early this could be a runaway. But look for the Thunder to make the Mavericks work for it.

The Thunder’s problem is execution — Dallas is doing it better than anyone right now while the Thunder get sloppy under pressure. Kevin Durant has to find a way to get enough space from Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion to get the ball where he wants it. Early in Game 4 he was getting the ball in the post and doing damage, but when the game was on the line he was pushed out by half court. Russell Westbrook has to create better for others and create at all under pressure. James Harden has to stay in the game, they need him as a third scoring option.

Dallas? Look for a lot of Dirk hitting shots nobody can defend. Look for Jason Terry to have a big game. Look for their role players to step up, feeling comfortable at home. Basically, Dallas is going to do what they have done all playoffs — Dirk is going to get his and somebody else is going to step up. They are going to defend and make it hard. They will play like veterans.

Expect the Thunder to put up a fight, but the Thunder are still learning hard lessons. Still growing. Still evolving. Dallas has done all that work already. Dallas will almost certainly win and close this series out. But don’t think the Thunder are not tough.