5 min read

Tuesday Bolts: 4.23.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s do-or-die Game 5 in Portland: “For sure the Thunder has missed more than its share of open three-pointers, making just 30.8 percent of its looks from beyond the arc, but it also could be manufacturing better shots as well. In Game 4, the Thunder took 18 non-paint two-point jumpers, including many with no passes before the shot and have shot just 25.9 percent on above the break three-pointers compared to 40.8 percent on corner threes. “I didn’t think that maybe our ball movement was as good at times during the game,” Donovan noted about Game 4. “When those guys (Lillard and McCollum), they’re making some of the shots that they made, what happens is we’re not making those shots that would be somewhat similar… When we’re missing those shots, it certainly looks that we maybe could’ve generated better shots.” Despite the shooting differential, the Thunder still has life, but it must win the next three games in the series to become just the 12th team in NBA Playoff history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a series. That can only be done one game at a time, so the Thunder must have the poise, stamina and mental toughness to win on the road in Game 5 to give itself a chance to go back to Oklahoma City for a Game 6.”

Miles Custis (Blazer’s Edge) previews Game 5 from the other side: “It can be tempting to get complacent with a 3-1 lead. The Blazers need to avoid doing so and play with the same energy and effort that has gotten them to this point. So far in the series, Portland has more rebounds, more steals, and more blocks than the Thunder. The effort of Portland’s defense has been a contributing factor to Oklahoma City’s poor shooting percentage in the series. Keeping that effort up for another 48 minutes will be key.”

Brett Dawson (Athletic) on if Russell Westbrook can lead OKC from a 3-1 series deficit: “This is Westbrook’s third season as the face of the franchise following Kevin Durant’s 2016 jump to the Warriors via free agency. The Thunder haven’t won a playoff series since, nor a postseason road game. They’re 4-11 in playoff games since 2017, and Westbrook is shooting 38.7 percent in the postseason. Oklahoma City’s postseason struggles come down to far more than just Westbrook. In two playoffs with the Thunder, George is shooting 39.3 percent. On Sunday, swingman Andre Roberson was on the bench in street clothes, missing his second-straight playoffs with a ruptured patellar tendon after a strong series against Houston in 2017. And guard Alex Abrines — who left the team in February — watched from the stands. That neither was suited up was illustrative of the Thunder’s lacking wing depth, some of it beyond the team’s control. There will be time for dissecting the Thunder’s larger issues when the season ends. But Westbrook is the team’s signature star, and if Oklahoma City is eliminated this week, his playoff résumé figures to catch the most heat.”

Kendrick Perkins thinks the Thunder are dysfunctional:

Chris Herring (FiveThirtyEight) says it’s time to talk about Russell Westbrook: “Westbrook’s gunslinging mentality — and insistence on trying unsuccessful jumper after unsuccessful jumper — often kills any sort of offensive rhythm the Thunder manage to muster. And in continuing to take those jumpers, he makes life far easier on opponents. Since his MVP season in 2016-17, in which he shot slightly worse than league average from behind the arc, Westbrook has not only shot worse than 30 percent from deep in consecutive seasons, but he has also done so while taking almost five attempts per game. That’s largely the problem here. Teams are often unable to stop Westbrook once he gets to the rim, where he shot a career-best 65 percent this season. So why is he so hellbent on settling for wide-open jumpers, on which he was the least-efficient player in basketball all season?”

Sebastian Pycior (Nylon Calculus) piles on and asks — is Russ struggling because he already peaked?: “The good news for Russell Westbrook is that he’s still pretty alright at this basketball thing. He played well in Game 3 by making 4-of-6 3-point attempts to help the Thunder win. His plus-minus was at a respectable +15 all the while his superstar comrade in Playoff Paul went 3-of-16 from the floor (Playoff Paul fared a bit better last night). But my gosh, what a show Game 4 was last night. With Westbrook at the helm, it was difficult for the Thunder to prevent the onslaught of the Portland starting five. Russell Westbrook has recorded just one steal in this first-round series. I know Westbrook hasn’t been regarded as a defensive wunderkind in his career, but he’s certainly been better than this.  His career per game average in steals in the regular season and the playoffs is just under two per game. How could he “fix” this issue? As the saying goes, “Father Time don’t wait for no one, man.”

Joshua Price (New Zealand Herald) on Steven Adams deserving some blame for the Thunder’s playoff struggles: “The scene was set for Adams to be a star in the series. Portland had lost their best centre Jusef Nurkic to a nasty injury just weeks before the post-season began. It meant Adams would be going head-to-head against his former OKC backup and fellow ‘Stache Brother’ Enes Kanter for dominance around the rim. The match-up was meant to work in favour of Adams. Both are great rebounders, but Adams is a far superior defender and was expected to shut Kanter down while dominating the Turkish player at the other end. It wasn’t inconceivable that Adams would be used a lot more frequently at the offensive end taking away some of the responsibility of All Stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook. And OKC tried. In game one, the ball was often thrown to Adams in the post – he responded by scoring 17 points and collecting nine rebounds. But he was outplayed by Kanter who had 20 points and 18 rebounds in the 104-99 win for Portland. OKC trailed by 13 points across the game with Adams on the floor.”

Brett Dawson (Athletic) went searching for Thunder fans in Seattle: “Though he lives in Seattle now, Phillips grew up in San Diego, where most everyone rooted for the Lakers or the Clippers. But Phillips always wanted a team of his own, and when he met Sonics forwards Shawn Kemp and Michael Cage at a Southern California basketball camp, his loyalty was sealed. He couldn’t have imagined then the headaches his Sonics allegiance would cause him later in life when he settled in Seattle. The team had relocated years before he moved here, but — with no connection to the city — he hadn’t skipped a beat, shifting his rooting interest to the Thunder. When he first came to Seattle, there was a Thunder sticker on his car. There isn’t anymore. “Someone broke my car window because of the decal,” Phillips says. “They left a note that said ‘Go back to Oklahoma City.’ But I had Arizona plates.”