The Oklahoma City Thunder lost Sunday 114-106 to the Los Angeles Lakers in double overtime. They blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and their offensive execution down the stretch looked pretty shaky.
James Harden was not returning to the game after the elbow he received from Metta World Peace and the Thunder had to rely solely on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to create shots. The two struggled in the game with Durant going 11-for-34 and Westbrook 3-for-22.
The Thunder looked like the Thunder team from the 2011 Playoffs. Their sets were not complex and it resulted in a lot of tough shots and isolation plays.
This is who the Thunder are and it has led them to being second in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season.
Not having Harden at the end of the game hurt although the Thunder do not use Harden much at the end of games, it’s usually just a heavy dose of Durant and Westbrook like it was yesterday.
For all of the negativity surrounding the Thunder and their late-game offense, they did show me two sets in the second overtime that I loved. Both sets were sets that they have run before this season and worked against the Lakers yesterday. They just haven’t gone to these sets enough in my opinion.
The first play comes with 3:06 left in the second overtime with the Thunder trailing 102-99 after Steve Blake has just made a three-pointer. Westbrook brings the ball up on the left side of the floor and is going to receive a double-screen on the wing from Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka while Durant is in the left corner.
Westbrook comes of the screens but not aggressively and stations at the top of the key waiting for Durant who is now coming off a double from Perkins and Ibaka.
Durant comes off it pretty open and he has an opportunity to shoot immediately but is a little hesitant. He holds the ball for a second and Perkins and Devin Ebanks are still jostling for position so Durant decides to shoot and makes the three.
This play reminds me a lot of the double-staggered look Dallas showed Miami in the NBA Finals last year that worked so well. Westbrook has the option to come off the double and look to score and then the Thunder are setting another double for Durant to get a look. If Durant doesn’t have the jumper, he still has Perkins there to set him a ball screen and attack as well as Ibaka spotting up in the corner.
The Thunder would run this set again two possessions later but Durant did a bad job of setting up Ebanks to come off the screen and Westbrook was forced to abandon the pass to Durant and attack off of a Perkins screen. He threw up a wild shot at the rim over Pau Gasol and was not bailed out with a call.
Trailing 104-102 with 1:18 left on their next possession, Oklahoma City went to a different set that I have seen them run a few times in the past week, always with great success. It starts with Westbrook at the top of the key and Perkins and Durant at the elbows ready to come up and set a double for Westbrook.
Westbrook comes off the Perkins screen on the right and Jordan Hill hedges hard off Perkins deterring Westbrook back out beyond the three-point line on the right wing.
After Perkins sets the initial screen, he goes to find Durant’s man and set a downscreen for Durant who is going to pop out at the top of the key.
Durant gets the pass at the top of the key and is actually wide open and could have gone for the three. Instead he decides to drive the wide open lane as Hill is still in the area of Westbrook and hasn’t retreated back to the paint to help on Durant.
When Hill gets back to help, Durant easily gets by him to his strong hand and finishes a tough layup at the rim to tie the game.
When the Thunder have run this play lately they always have Durant standing wide open at the top of the key for a three. They haven’t run it much this year but I hope this is a set they have ready to use down the stretch of games in the playoffs.
The best part about these sets is that it didn’t result in isolation offense by the Thunder. They use Westbrook coming off screens which draws a ton of attention fro the defense and then find Durant for catch-and-shoot opportunities, which he is the best in the world at. Perkins is used to set multiple screens which is really his only strength on offense and Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha are able to space the floor as spot-up threats.
The Thunder aren’t all the way better with their late-game offense, that is for sure. But have they improved from last year? Definitely. Hopefully, it will be enough.