Lack of Experience Costs Thunder Game 3
When it comes to Game 3 of the 2012 NBA Finals, we’re going to read a lot of articles blaming Scott Brooks for not only removing Kevin Durant for most of the third quarter because of foul trouble, but also for removing Russell Westbrook because he needed “to kind of calm him down.” But it’s not Brooks’ fault the Thunder lost that game. We have to remember that the Oklahoma City Thunder are a young team, and young teams sometime make mistakes when pressure starts to mount.
“Russell had a bad stretch of about three or four bad possessions. I took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game,” Brooks said. “He was about to come out with about another two minutes to go, but it was nothing other than that. We had a bad stretch there, but we actually overcame that. We got back up 10 and we had two corner threes right in front our bench. Then they had six free throws and they made all six.”
It was those two fouls that turned the tide in the game, and Brooks knows it.
“We fouled too many times. They got to the free throw line 35 times; we got to the free throw line 24 times. We’ve got to do a better job defending them without fouling. Kevin had five fouls on him, only four free throws. He has to be able to get to the free throw line. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Durant himself understands the very simple solution to having a better Game 4:
“Not foul,” he said after the game. “I’m just trying to play aggressive on both ends, and unfortunately I’m getting some fouls called on me. But I’ve got to play through it. Two games in a row, man, so I’ve just got to play smarter next game.”
Beyond Durant’s fouls, though, the Thunder had six turnovers in the fourth quarter and shot only 2-for-15 from three when you take Derek Fisher out of the equation. The team is turning the ball over too much and settling for jumpshots rather than attacking the basket or even moving the ball effectively. Westbrook, for example, has always gotten love for being so aggressive, but he sat for half of the third quarter in Game 3 because he wasn’t getting his teammates involved.
Despite everything, the Thunder were in the game to the very end, meaning they lost because they couldn’t knock down shots, didn’t draw enough fouls, and turned the ball over too many times. Those are the marks of inexperienced teams, so no matter how talented Oklahoma City may be, they’ve still got to learn how to calm down late in games. Especially now that they’re down 2-1 in the series.
“That’s NBA basketball. You’ve got to deal with it, you’ve got to move on from it, you’ve got to learn from it, you’ve got to get better from it,” Brooks said. “I thought we did a lot of good things tonight. We’ve got another game Tuesday night. If we play with the same effort we did tonight—I have no complaints the way we played tonight.”
It’s never a question of effort, but experience matters. It’s something Miami has, and Oklahoma City does not. That may prove to be the difference in this series.