The Thunder seemed like an untouchable team for much of last year's playoffs, especially about the time I was riding a boat with Royce Young on an Oklahoma City canal. Then they were shattered by four straight losses. This season they looked untouchable much of the year, then things didn't just go a little south with the loss of Russell Westbrook. They got up 1-0 in this series but to my eyes, looked nervous all along. Their swagger broke, and you have to wonder about history repeating itself. Now it's 1-1. A couple of times, late in the close loss of Game 2, Kevin Durant quit on plays. Once he was not really fouled by Tony Allen, and fell to the floor in a bitter heap, complaining to the refs, as crunch time took off without him. In the closing seconds, the win still theoretically possible, he wanted an inbound pass but didn't get it. Thabo Sefolosha rightly raced the floor with the ball in his hand and time of the essence. When Sefolosha was ready to pass to a shooter ... Durant was barely over half-court and out of position. I feel like I can see the "not this again" movie playing in Durant's head. He needs a Joakim Noah gator-blood transfusion to get his head right to bang out these next three wins. If Durant doesn't believe that's possible ... it's not.
If you were Scott Brooks, which five players would you put on the floor to close games? He has a lot of good choices, but the Grizzlies make everything tough. In Game 2, the Thunder closed the game making one of their last six shots -- and that one was Derek Fisher's unguarded, meaningless final buzzer 3 to make a nine-point loss into a six-point loss. OKC's only real points in the final three minutes, at all, as a team, came when Durant missed badly and the rebound fell to Kendrick Perkins, who was fouled on the putback and made two free throws. In other words, the Thunder didn't score any buckets, or even really points, against the Grizzlies' real crunch-time defense.
I've been talking about the need for Durant to pass more. In general, it works. But not every time. The worst thing that can happen: That awful airball, where a doubled Durant dished to Fisher, who drove into a double-team and launched one of the decade's least likely attempts with 2:12 left.
Tony Allen launched a 3 with 38 seconds left in a four-point game. Wow. Mike Conley's biggest mistake of the game was giving it to him. (What was Lionel Hollins doing even letting Allen stand there?) He's 3-of-24 from 3-point land this season. Pretending that never happened got a lot easier for the Grizzlies when they snagged the offensive rebound.
Respect Fisher's crunch-time playoff steal game. In recent years, according to NBA.com/Stats, he gets a steal roughly every 30 minutes he plays. In these playoffs, in the final three minutes of close games, he has a steal every three minutes (and just missed on at least two more.) His secret? He's bold in leaving his man. His other secret? He's physical as hell, knowing that in that part of the game, referees tend not to call that.
No games in the whole league on Thursday. I'm told it's in fact not because of the "American Idol" final, but because several first-round series ended early, moving the start of some second-round series into last weekend. Now they need to stretch out the second round a tad to reduce the risk of a long layoff before the start of the conference finals, which has a fixed start.