Here’s how good the Thunder are: Their offense went through the late-game yips again in their Game 5 victory against the Spurs on Monday, with Russell Westbrook authoring perhaps the worst possession of the playoffs by double-dribbling as Kevin Durant stood in the corner with about 3:30 to go — and yet, they still ended up scoring at a points-per-possession rate that nearly would have led the NBA.
That has been the story of this team’s offense for two years now: It looks stagnant and uncreative, often at the worst times, but when you look at the numbers, there is Oklahoma City in the top five (last season) and top two (this season) in the league’s rankings of points per possession.
The occasional crunch-time micro-level collapses, born of bad shot selection and coach Scott Brooks’ love for difficult three-pointers regardless of the score, represented a serious problem that cost the Thunder dearly in the Western Conference finals against Dallas last season. It led to endless nitpicking about Westbrook’s tendency to blindly gun, Brooks’ alleged lack of coaching chops and the team’s dismal assist rate.
The nitpicking was justified in a way; it is what we do to greatness aspiring to something higher, especially when old problems continue to pop up. Westbrook still kills possessions by breaking plays early in the shot clock, leaving his teammates shaking their heads and scrambling to get out of his way as he drives into a painted area packed with players setting up for the play they thought Westbrook would execute. This happened early in the third quarter on Monday, during San Antonio’s furious rally, when the Thunder prepared to run Durant off a Thabo Sefolosha screen under the hoop, only Westbrook decided to drive past Tony Parker and into a wall of bodies for a wild miss.