Look, the first regular season column I did on the Oklahoma City Thunder was headlined with the phrase "The Sky Is Falling." It was an attempt to be facetious, you know, its game one of the season. Losing to a team like the San Antonio Spurs, one of the best teams in the NBA is no big deal. Stuff happens.
Yet, as I saw the Thunder fall to 1-2 on the season with a tough 104-95 to the Atlanta Hawks, without Josh Smith, admittedly it was a tough loss to take.
We don't lose to a team like that. Plus, Kevin Durant got dunked on by Jeff Teague in a disrespectful fashion.
It was at that moment, when Durant got dunked on, that thought popped into my head. That I questioned whether I had become a spoiled fan. Or, had my expectations reached so high that losses to teams that I perceive to be mediocre just shouldn't happen? Was I becoming "that" type of fan?
Or worse, was this Oklahoma City team succumbing to the same big-headedness that I now have?
Let us pray.
Okay, put away the dramatics. We lost. We're 1-2. Still 79 games left in the season.
A couple of thoughts that the good folks over at Daily Thunder and Welcome to Loud City put together that I felt like sharing. First, Royce Young talks about Kevin Durant's performance through three games. Three games of statistical brilliance, but not quite what the Thunder are truly looking for.
Speaking of learning, while KD's evolving playmaking is excellent, it's also a bit curious. He flirted with a triple-double tonight - 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists - but that's now all three games under 25 points for Durant this season. Durant being a guy that once scored more than 25 in something like 30 straight games. KD's averaging just 16 shots per game, about four fewer a game than last season. He's passing and creating more, but forgetting himself.
Durant possesses that incredible ability to flip a switch and take over, but at the same time, you can't feed your family but forget to feed yourself. Because if your breadwinner starves, the whole group does eventually. Durant's evolution as a playmaker and creator is a very excellent development to his game. It's much needed, now more than ever without Harden. But he's a natural born scorer and the high percentage play is often Durant taking a shot. Because even if it's a bad shot, the ball has a better chance of going in the basket than if he's firing a pass through Serge Ibaka's legs.
Then, the great J.A. Sherman highlighted the reasons why the Thunder dropped the ball on Sunday night. You might notice a recurring theme that when the Thunder lose games, not having James Harden stings just a little more. However, facilitating scoring opportunities for Kevin Durant is clearly vital.
The big reason why was because the Thunder forgot about everything they did right in the 2nd quarter, and this is the area where James Harden often helped smooth things out. It was not because he knew how to raise his game to meet the challenge per se, but because he was comfortable enough running the offense and setting up Durant so that Durant could get his offense going. Martin is proving to be an exceptional scorer and is a much better off-the-ball player and catch-and-shoot scorer than Harden, but he does not possess the strength or ball handling of Harden and so that responsibility stays with Durant and Westbrook. If Westbrook is struggling as he was tonight, then there is nobody else to help set up Durant in scoring opportunities.
The Thunder could not keep their offensive continuity, and as the turnovers mounted, the Hawks began to exert themselves. Atlanta played a bit of a rope-a-dope game, doing a great job protecting the ball and waiting for OKC to make mistakes. When the Thunder obliged, Atlanta was able to take advantage just often enough to put the game out of reach.
Turnovers killed Oklahoma City tonight, as anytime 20 turnovers happen then its going to be a problem for the Thunder. Most of the time when the number is that high, the blame goes immediately to Russell Westbrook. Yet, Russ had 9 assists to 3 turnovers tonight, although he doesn't escape some scrutiny as well. The need for facilitation is ultimately going to land on Russell's shoulders now more than ever. Head coach Scott Brooks knows it, Durant knows it, the role players know it, but most importantly we hope that Westbrook, now crowned an elite player, knows it too.
Westbrook didn't turn the ball over much on Sunday, but there were too many dead possessions without a positive output. Like Sherman said above, Atlanta was almost able to just sit back and wait for OKC to make another gaffe. Be it an ill-advised shot or turnover. Durant had 22 points, but there's no reason that he couldn't have had 32. Kevin Martin had 28, but hardly shot the ball and could've put up another 4-5 shots easy if someone set him up. Part of this is on Westbrook, but eventually Brooks' strategy will have to adapt to the new pieces.
79 games to go, and we're still the defending Western Conference champions. Now its just time to start playing like it.