Give Scott Brooks credit for having the guts to ride four bench players plus Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City’s 106-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals. However, while the focus of the game has been on Brook’s decision to bench Russell Westbrook down the stretch, it’s impact has been largely overblown.
For sure, Westbrook’s immature game—and more importantly, his immature response to Scott Brooks chastising him for breaking off plays—had frequently prevented the Thunder offense from getting into its second and third options, something that wasn’t the case with backup Eric Maynor on the floor.
However, Westbrook had also been more willing to run the offense in Game Two, was much more under control with his decisions, made terrific passes, and was exceptional in screen/rolls, knocking down four of his eight long jumpers.
Plus, while Maynor was able to run the offense smoothly in the fourth, and sank several nifty floaters, he also had a near disastrous endgame, failing to get the Thunder into several sets, getting trapped at halfcourt and wasting a timeout, and coughing the ball up late.
However, Westbrook still is undisciplined in his play calling and gives up on sets way too early. He’s also reluctant to make trigger passes that would trigger second options, and overhandled or forced shots a half dozen times in Game Two. Plus he has an alarming habit of making unnecessary no-look passes—two of which became turnovers in Game Two. It’s understandable that Westbrook’s point guard skills still aren’t up to snuff—he wasn’t a point guard in college and has always been a score-first option in the offense. How well he comes back from his Game Two benching will have a lot to say in who wins the series—because the Thunder aren’t advancing without him playing well.
No, the real story of Game Two was how thoroughly James Harden destroyed Jason Terry in their head-to-head matchup in the second half.
The raw numbers reflect this quite clearly…
Harden—5-6 FG, 3-4 3FG, 1-2 FT, 3 REB, 1 AST, 0 TO, 14 PTS.
Terry—0-4 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1 TO, 0 PTS.
…though the details are even worse.
- With the third quarter winding down, and Jason Kidd denying an entry pass to Kevin Durant at the top of the circle, Harden isolated Terry way above the wing. Terry kept giving ground on Harden’s advancing dribble, before Harden pulled up and sank a three. Terry’s closeout was flawed, hitting Harden on the elbow, giving him a four-point play.
- Harden did a decent job of chasing Terry around a double curl to begin the fourth, resulting in Terry fading away and missing the jumper.
- Terry gave way too much space to Harden when playing a zone, concerning himself too much with Durant at the elbow. Dirk Nowitzki was at the bottom of the zone, he should have been the one concerned with Durant, with the back of the zone flooding over. With Harden all alone, he sank a three.
- A wing screen/roll gave Terry an opening at the free throw line, but he bricked the jumper.
- After a missed Dirk Nowitzki jumper, Terry ball-watched in the corner, not even jogging back to balance the court. Harden grabbed a long rebound, and with Dirk the only man back in transition, blew by him for a layup.
- Terry played a Harden curl badly, jumping out at him 28 feet from the basket and fouling him.
- Harden sank a catch-and-shoot three over J.J. Barea.
- A good entry pass by Harden to a crowded Durant led to Durant sinking a jumper.
- Since Terry wasn’t getting any open looks, he decided to launch the next semi-open shot he saw. This resulted in a missed one-on-three transition triple.
- With Terry playing good defense, Harden was able to use some fancy dribbling to create an inch of separation and sink a spectacular jumper. Though Terry was in Harden’s space, he didn’t get a hand up on the shot attempt.
- Terry mistakenly cut despite being open in the corner leading to Jason Kidd throwing the ball away.
- Harden was able to provide the second scoring threat behind Durant that allowed the Thunder offense to proliferate. He also provided strong defense.
- Terry couldn’t get untracked, causing the Mavs offense to struggle when Nowitzki was played well.
With Dirk and Durant more than capable of providing consistent scoring, whoever wins the second option battle between Harden and Terry will mostly likely win the series. Lost in. Lost in Game One’s Nowitzki onslaught is that Terry played a strong game, something he didn’t duplicate in Game Two.
Why else did the Thunder win?
- Kevin Durant’s effortless mid-range shooting is par for the course, but he also made several crafty passes leading to open shots for teammates.
- The Thunder were better able to crowd Nowitzki instead of giving him free reign to shoot his awkward step back jumpers. Oklahoma City also somewhat successfully was able to front Dirk and provide baseline help, keeping him from blowing up.
- Nick Collison had a strong defensive game, able to execute the gameplan on Dirk, provide strong help defense, and secure defensive rebounds. On offense, he even managed to hit a spinning half-hook in the lane.
- The Thunder downsized in the fourth quarter resulting in several possessions where Dirk was guarding a three-point shooter. The Thunder executed a very crafty staggered curl, with Durant coming off a staggered screen, followed by Daequan Cook coming off the same screen, with Maynor and Durant making the right trigger passes leading to the Cook sinking the three.
- Dallas’ took too many threes and didn‘t make enough of them—9-27.
- Shawn Marion missed seven shots in the paint, and four layups.
- Barea’s defense was attacked for profit by the Thunder. Similarly, Peja Stojakovic’ defense was atrocious, and Brendan Haywod was late on several rotations.
- The Thunder offense proved too explosive for the Mavs to handle.
While it will be interesting to see how Westbrook plays in Game Three, pay close attention to James Harden vs. Jason Terry. If Harden dominates the matchup as he did in Game Two, the Mavs will be hard-pressed to win. Only if Terry can spread his jet wings and soar will the Mavs ascend through the clouds and reach the NBA Finals.