Lightning-fast Thunder should apply the brakes
BY MARK POTASH Twitter: @MarkPotash June 21, 2012 12:52PM
The Oklahoma City Thunder make no bones about being a fast-paced, up-and-down team that doesn’t back off its aggressive nature whether it is red-hot or ice-cold, but sometimes it might be wise to follow the old boxing adage, “Don’t hook with a hooker.”
Going full-tilt works against a veteran [or old] team like the Spurs, but it played right into the hands of the Heat, which arguably cost the Thunder a chance to control the game. Instead of pulling back the reins a bit and forcing the Heat to expend energy on both ends of the floor to get back into the game, the Thunder ignited the Heat comeback by continuing to fire up long-range shots and committing turnovers. They squandered 16 points of their 17-point lead in 3:33.
The Thunder is particularly expert at run-and-gun basketball. It is in the NBA Finals despite committing more turnovers than any team in the league and also ranked 30th and last in the NBA in assists. In fact, it is only the fifth team in NBA history to have assists on fewer than 50 percent of its field goals in the regular season (49.7). And only second to make the playoffs. (The only other playoff team with that distinction was the 2007 Dallas Mavericks, who lost to the Heat in the Finals. The Mavs didn’t win it all until Rick Carlisle became their coach and they became one of the best passing/assist teams in the NBA -- upsetting the Heat in last year’s Finals.)
But when they played their best basketball of the game and the series in the first quarter of Game 4, they looked more like a traditional basketball team -- the Thunder had seven assists on its 15 field goals. In the desperate fourth-quarter comeback, it had no assists on its nine field goals.
Russell Westbrook dominated that quarter like Michael Jordan did for the Bulls, scoring 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting. But Jordan did it in first-round playoff series when his team was overmatched by the Larry Bird-led Celtics. Westbrook is doing it in an NBA Finals in which his team came in favored to win it all.
Asked about his team’s lack of assists -- 14, 11 and 13 in three consecutive losses after having 24 in its Game 1 victory, Thunder coach Scott Brooks professed to be a big believer in ball movement, though the numbers belie that.
‘’Ball movement is important for basketball teams,’’ Brooks said, ‘’and we’re at our best when we’re moving the ball, flying off screens and making multiple passes and multiple plays for each other. Passing is very intimidating for either team, and when you pass the ball, when you’re chasing the basketball, it’s hard to guard and we want to be a team that always passes the ball. We have to get better [in] that area.’’