The Lakers big men were pounding the glass. Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed were getting beaten on by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. LA up by 4. Then it happens. The trigger is pulled and OKC starts to get crazy, the sort of youthful controlled crazy that says “I’m coming to take you out old man”. Kobe Bryant, unfortunately, is meeting the Playoff Thunder.
The playoff Thunder are much like the regular Thunder, except they have a trick up their sleeve. It’s called the (much awaited) 2nd line. Harden at the point. Derek Fisher at the 2. Thabo at the 3 while Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka take the 4 and 5. It’s controlled chaos.
When Fisher takes the ball up the court with Harden flying in and out of the paint, Ibaka running up to set a screen and Collison setting himself up in the low block. Even Scott Brooks admitted “There’s a point when we put Russell and Kevin on the bench, and we just let James run the show”.
Get Harden a top hat and a velvet jacket, because this guy can break ankles and give sartorial advice while simultaneously dunking it over your head. This, (after what may have been the greatest thing that could happen to the Thunder in a Dallas playoff rematch), is the end result of the 10,000 hour rule.
How did it start? It started with Kevin Durant prodding the zone of the Mavericks, with Russell Westbrook getting his jump shot going in games 1 and 2 of round 1 while everyone waited for the 3x scoring champion to start feeling it. It started with overcoming the ghosts of last year (a 4-1 series loss to the Mavericks), something that can make or break (Grizzlies) a young (average age of Thunder starting 5: 24) team trying to make its mark in the NBA playoffs.
The Thunder have the physical gifts to beat just about every NBA team in a one game series, but it needed the extra preparation of the playoffs to understand the value of every possession. More often than not, it was the breakaway speed of the Thunder that allowed them to be last in turnovers (16 per game) while somehow running away with the second best record in the NBA. They knew they could get it back, and when the opponent got tired, they used legs and length to get to the basket at will while opposing Centers stood around and watched.
Last night? 4 turnovers. I am almost certain that is some sort of record for a playoff game. Last night? 32 point lead halfway through the 4th quarter. Last night? Shooting 54% from the field. Last night? 25 from Durant. 29 from Westbrook.
I’m not going to go ahead and crown the Thunder champions of the West. I predicted the first round series to go 7 (Thunder swept in 4), and I predict this one to go 6 if for nothing else than the most obvious size advantage that the Lakers will figure out to use against the duo of Collison and Mohammed. Perkins (who is questionable with a hip) and Ibaka are a different story.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that the Lakers are going to work harder on defense against the pick and roll, which is going to lead to some serious eyeball work from the refs. The Thunder aren’t going to shoot 54% again, but I can see high 40’s as an average. What is going to determine this series is speed vs. size, and big men don’t run marathons.