It was not a great night for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Victor Oladipo was jittery, the pick-n-roll defense was shabby, and the overall effort was just bad (-y?). But why focus on all of that? I remember Game 1 of the Spurs series last year, don’t you?
The only thing that was really confirmed with absolutely certainty on Sunday night was that Patrick Beverley is the Thunder’s super-villain. Not Kevin Durant, the man who cut out our collective hearts, or even Draymond Green, the man who bruised our collective…uh..
It’s Beverley. It’s always been Beverley.
(Trigger Warning: The following could cause involuntary laptop-throwing against a wall or window)
Beverley is an irritant. In fairness, it’s maybe the most effective way to defend Westbrook, buzzing around like a gnat and seeing how much physicality you can get away with without going full Lance Stephenson. You never go full Lance Stephenson.
But just as everyone predicted, this game was only Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden on the stat sheet. On the court, this series will be decided by the micro-battles of Westbrook vs. Beverley, and Harden vs. Andre Roberson.
Roberson’s effort was above reproach, playing defense as effectively as anyone can against Harden while also doing more than his fair share on the offensive end with 18 points. But it was really Beverley who catalyzed the second half Rockets run.
So how are we supposed to deal with this guy?
We know how we want to deal with him. Steven Adams finally did the thing that all of us were secretly (or not so secretly) hoping for when he laid a royal smacketh downeth on Beverley in the third quarter.
Unfortunately Beverley transformed into Rocky Balboa from Rocky 3 with a “Hit me harder! Hit me harder! It ain’t so bad!” attitude that, honestly, I would respect if I didn’t sports hate him so deeply. So let me change that comparison to…say Britney Spears “Hit me baby one more time“? That feels better. He hit a pair of three’s in the quarter and had 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists post-collision.
As badly as we want to rough him up, it doesn’t seem like the right strategy.
They can’t afford to just ignore him either, which would be conventional wisdom for a guy who gets riled up. With him being Westbrook’s primary defender, he’s going to continue being a factor in every game.
Sadly, the answer is nothing. As hard as it may be to show restraint, the worst thing the team can do is to alter their game plan in any way for a player like Beverley. That’s how the irritant wins, by drawing attention from what will be crucial to win.
It’s important to remember that he only played 26 minutes, and that the offensive production he brought clearly isn’t sustainable. As quick as he is, he definitely can’t stay in front of Westbrook in one-on-one situations. His success last night came as a result of Houston’s defense all collapsing into the lane.
Of the Thunder’s nine made three-pointers, four came from Roberson, three from Westbrook, one came from Doug McDermott in garbage time, and one was a Semaj Christon prayer that banked in from the top of the key (*sigh*). We know Roberson wasn’t drawing any defenders out no matter how many he made, and the other two were outliers, meaning that the Thunder’s “floor-spacers” weren’t able to space the floor for Westbrook to drive.
If that outcome turns into a trend in this series, the Rockets will continue to clog the lane. Which, in addition to hurting the Thunder’s chances at winning, gives super-villain Patrick Beverley a safety net for when he get dusted by the Brodie. That will lead to more confidence, more smirking, more jawing and more of any number of other villainous activities. Luckily, the best way to stop a villain is with a superhero, and we have one on our team.
And I swear to you, if I have to see another close-up of Beverley doing this, I’m going to lose my mind.
Thankfully for us fans, there are no such implications. If I can be certain of anything I am certain of this: When the series returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena for Game 3, the Thunder faithful are going to unleash the boos.
Patrick Beverley will be treated exactly how he should be — and that’s Public Enemy No. 1.