3 min read

Those old Thunder crunchtime issues

Those old Thunder crunchtime issues
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

There’s a simple principle to any last second shot: It’s always a good shot when it goes in. Well, sort of. It can be a very bad shot — like KD’s game-winner last night against Dallas — but also be a great shot. Because look at what happened:

1) The Thunder got the ball to their best player with 1.4 seconds left

2) Durant got a pretty free, clean look at the basket

3) He made it

Considering the circumstances, I’d say Scott Brooks and his staff drew up a sufficient shot. Again, mainly because it went in. Had it not, the Thunder would be 3-1 and there would be a lot of griping about Brooks’ ability to dial up a good last second look.

Here is the main complaint: OKC was down one and for some reason drew up a play for a 27-foot 3-pointer. But here is the reality: The further out you go, the cleaner your look will get. With only 1.4 seconds left, the Thunder aren’t going to be able to get anything other than a catch and shoot.

But it really shouldn’t have ever come to that. If the Thunder had executed, KD wouldn’t have had to save everyone.

The possession before with the Thunder up two and about 20 seconds left, Durant isolated with Shawn Marion on him, trying to take a shot at the death of the shot clock. He settled for a contested jumper right inside the 3-point line. He clanged it, Serge Ibaka got a rebound but then missed two free throws after being foul. John Hollinger noticed it too:

In the big picture, late-game plays are a bit of a dilemma for the Thunder, because they have a great scorer who has trouble getting open. Isolating him 40 feet from the basket at least guarantees that Durant gets the ball and is the one taking the shot. It’s just rarely a good shot, even for him.

It really is a big question: Do you get the ball into Durant’s hands for that shot, which is what everyone begged for last season, or do you give it to Russell Westbrook with the expectation he’ll create something for either himself or someone else? (Or if you’re me, do you give it to James Harden and let him run screen-and-roll with KD or someone else? Yeah, that’s what I do.)

Brooks and company clearly tried to come up with an answer to these situations by the crunchtime play I broke down Thursday. It’s a simple design that gets Durant the ball in a much more work-able area. Instead of trying to take someone off the dribble or isolating 30 feet from the basket, KD has it 15 feet out with lots of options. The Thunder ran it once against Dallas in the last two minutes and Durant dropped a nice 12-foot jumper.

I asked both Brooks and KD about that play last night before the game and they both said they’ve been running it for a while, but did use it specifically against Memphis because it seemed to be working.

“It’s just a matter of me catching it at the right spot,” Durant said. “I’ve been watching film on how teams play me or how I need to get open. I’m just trying to be stronger to the ball and make a good move.”

Is it going to become the go-to play though? One that KD prefers to get when OKC needs a basket?

“Yeah I do, but teams are going to start play that play better though,” he said.

Brooks: “We want Kevin to catch the ball closer to that area. It’s not always easy because guys like to push and hold and shove you out … We’ve done it in the past, but we’re just getting better.”

You want to run it almost until it doesn’t work, but like KD said, teams adjust. They have advanced scouts. They’re aware of it. In the situation Hollinger is describing, OKC wanted to get a shot up at the end of the 24 to drain all the time possible. The pin-down play that OKC used so well against Memphis might not have done that.

If you recall though, the crunchtime play Hollinger wrote on has worked in the past. Durant hit a big jumper over Shane Battier against Memphis using it and one against Denver. The play is basically putting the ball in the hands of a guy that can make stupid shots.

Which is the same idea Brooks has in drawing up last night’s game-winner. Get the ball to KD and expect great things to happen.