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Tag:2011 Nuggets-Thunder
Posted on: April 26, 2011 3:11 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 1:55 pm
 

So, what got into Russell Westbrook?

Posted by Royce Young



There were a lot of stories to come out of Monday night's 104-101 Denver win over Oklahoma City. The fact the Thunder didn't close the series. The fact the Nuggets snapped a five-game losing streak to OKC. The fact Denver finally found some of that scary scoring balance again.

But the angle that has a lot of people talking? Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder's All-Star point guard scored 30 points, had five assists and six rebounds against Denver Monday. If you changed his name to Derrick Rose, everyone would promptly freak out. The catch here is two-fold: Westbrook took 30 shots and he also has this dude named Kevin Durant on his team.

Two plays stick out to a lot of people from Monday's game. With 30 seconds left and OKC trailing 98-96, Westbrook wasn't able to get the ball to Durant on the wing so with the shot clock winding down, Westbrook fired a 3. It rimmed out. Then with the Thunder down 101-98 and needing a 3 to tie with 10 seconds left, Westbrook took the ball on his own and airballed a 3-pointer with six seconds left as Durant stood waiting by the arc.

Curious, indeed.

Westbrook was 12-30 from the field while Durant was 8-18. Russell Westbrook took 12 more shots than the two-time scoring champion.

Curious, indeed.

However, having watched Westbrook a lot of this season, I can't bag on him too much for it. That's the player he is. If you want the All-Star Good Russell Westbrook, sometimes you have to live with the do-it-myself Bad Russell Westbrook.

I think a big reason behind Westbrook's ball-hogging was he sensed what I was seeing. The Thunder didn’t look comfortable in their own offensive skin. They were throwing the ball away, taking dumb shots, forcing things and not moving off the ball. So he tried to take over a bit. A lot of the stagnant offense is probably the fault of the point guard, but Westbrook is the new hybrid point like Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. He looks for his own as much as he looks for others.

And it’s difficult for Westbrook to turn it on in spurts. That’s would be the ideal Westbrook. The guy that can sense that moment where his team needs his offensive spark and give it for a few minutes and then turn the game back over to the natural rhythm and flow. But he’s not there yet. He’s just 22 and he’s still figuring all that out.

Thing is, to get Good Russ, sometimes you live with Bad Russ. He’s not a perfect player. He’s still developing. This wasn’t his finest hour but he was trying to win the game. That’s what he had on his mind. Did Durant need a few more touches? Absolutely. Does Westbrook deserve a bit of guff for what went down in Game 4? Definitely. But this isn't something to really get too worked over about. Yeah he took some questionable shots but that's Westbrook. He desperately wants to be the guy taking those shots. He's hit a bunch of big ones for the Thunder this season and I can promise you, every Thunder fan thought his 3 with 30 seconds left was about to drop through the bottom of the net.

In the same ways you can say Westbrook lost Game 4 for the Thunder, he almost won it for them as well. That's life in the Russell Lane. There are things he definitely should've done different. If Scott Brooks could transfer five of those bad Westbrook shots to Durant, the Thunder probably win the game. Can't deny that.

Westbrook is the ultimate "No No No Yes Yes Yes!" player. He takes a bunch of shots that while in flight you're saying are horrible but then you're clapping as it swishes through. And in those big moments, he lives to take big shots. The problem with that is, he has Kevin Durant standing on the wing waiting for the ball as well.

With Westbrook, it's all about accepting what he is. It's like the scene in Band of Brothers when Speirs tells that one guy crying in the foxhole, "The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function." Westbrook isn't a "true" point guard. He never will be. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you'll be able to appreciate what he is. A darn good basketball player that still has some room to grow.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 2:44 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 3:00 am
 

Denver steps up and holds OKC off for a night

Posted by Royce Young



Closing, it's hard to do.

That's the lesson for the young Thunder. A lesson they get a day to think about while they get ready for Game 5 in Oklahoma City Wednesday.

Oklahoma City saved its most erratic, incomplete game for Monday night, which of course was the first opportunity to finish off the Nuggets and move on to the next challenge. That sounds like I'm taking something away from the Nuggets, which I don't intend to. But I think we've gotten to the point where it's understood that the Thunder are the better team. On Monday, Denver finally found a bit of a groove and the Thunder lost theirs.

The Nuggets got a bunch of big contributions from Danilo Gallinari, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Ty Lawson -- you know, that formula that worked so well after the Melo trade -- to take down OKC 104-101 and force a Game 5. They talked about not wanting to let OKC dance on their home court Monday night. And they played like it. 

The game was close throughout, and while the Thunder piled up stops, they never took advantage and stretched out to a lead of much more than four or five points. OKC played with fire the entire night, eventually letting the Nuggets turn on the propane with an 11-0 run to end the third and start the fourth quarter. Denver led through the fourth, with the difference swelling to as much as 10 with two minutes left. The Thunder wouldn’t die easily, though, with Kevin Durant dropping a couple 3s, Russell Westbrook scoring on a drive and Serge Ibaka hitting a late jumper. But the hole was too big for the Thunder to climb out of.

Westbrook had a chance to tie with 3.5 seconds left, but his desperation heave didn't fall. And finally, after five tries, the Nuggets beat the Thunder. Once again OKC's defense held Denver in check (the Nuggets shot just 38.6 percent) and the Nuggets struggled at the line. But between taking care of the ball and a couple big shots from Smith and Gallinari, Denver built up a lead in the fourth quarter for the first time in the series.

OKC almost looked like it was taking a win for granted early on. The intensity and razor sharp focus was missing in the first half, and the Thunder missed about 15 opportunities to stretch the game out to double-digits. They were getting the stops they needed, but just couldn't convert. Fifteen turnovers, bad shots and forced offense really ended up doing OKC in.

But again, this was new territory for them. That decisive closing game is the toughest to win because you're playing a desperate opponent. And OKC couldn't make enough plays to get it done. 

The Nuggets did just enough to hang on and get a little of their mojo back. Is it enough to bring the series back to the Rockies? Eh, probably not. But it's at least a start. You can't be the first team to ever come back from 3-0 if you don't win Game 4. That would be step one. And the Nuggets took it Monday.
Posted on: April 25, 2011 3:48 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 4:10 pm
 

Series Reset: A first chance to close for OKC

Posted by Royce Young



The Narrative: Most would agree, the series is over. Now it's just about how it will wrap up. Teams leading 3-0 in a playoff series are 57-37 all-time. Meaning that most end in sweeps, but a decent amount do go 5. After that, the percentages really dip.

So that's where this series stands. Most didn't see it being in this place when it started, or especially after a hotly-contested Game 1 in Oklahoma City. But the Thunder have displayed almost an air of dominance the last two games, completely stifling the Nuggets' high powered offensive attack. Game 3 was close by the end, but if Kendrick Perkins doesn't make a bonehead pass, OKC wins by a comfortable margin.

It's just obvious that this is a horrendous matchup for the Nuggets. Not only do they struggle guarding the Thunder, but offensively, they can't find an edge. Two of their best scorers in Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari have gone missing in action as OKC's defensive scheme has limited their open looks and chances to drive to the rim.

A series is never over until its over -- the Boston Red Sox taught us that -- but it's a long, long shot for the Nuggets. They're playing for pride tonight. But it's a big moment for the young Thunder. This is their first chance to close a series. That's always a tough game to win. And sometimes that pressure can affect things.

The Hook: Nobody likes to concede a series on their home floor. Nobody likes to get swept. If you don't think there's still a good amount of motivation there for the Nuggets, well, you're wrong. This team already came back with its back to the wall after the Carmelo Anthony deal and proved there's not any quit in them. They're going to come out and fight.

Again, it comes back to if the Thunder can seize the opportunity and close out an opponent in their first crack at it. Winning the decisive game is the toughest one. You're playing a desperate team that's going to pull out every stop to stay alive. And this Thunder group is young and hasn't ever presented itself with this opportunity. The Thunder took control of Game 3 which was the one that swung the series entirely in their favor which was a big step. Closing out is the next, and much more difficult one.

The Adjustment:
The Nuggets just have to figure out a way to score against the Thunder. Thus far, it's been a struggle. OKC has bottled up everything the Nuggets prefer to do offensively and held their head under water. There aren't any open jumpers. No open looks from 3. Nothing easy in the paint. Not a lot of opportunity to run.

Somehow Denver has to find chances for easy points. It's been well documented that the Nuggets don't have a closing, go-to scorer to rely upon. Well, they aren't getting one in the next 10 hours, so they've got to figure something out. It's time to get Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler involved in the offense. It's time to figure out a way to score in the second half. That's on George Karl more than anyone else.

The X-Factor: How about an easy, obvious one? Free throw shooting. You could make a case the Nuggets gave away Games 1 and 3 at the free throw line (15 misses in Game 3). There's really no reason to miss out on those opportunities. As difficult as it is to score on the Thunder, giving away open 15-foot looks with no one guarding you is really inexcusable.

The Sticking Point: I don't get the sense the Nuggets are ready to quit. There are a lot of prideful veterans on that team that are more than ready to put up a fight and make it hard on OKC. But at the same time, it just seems that Denver is entirely overmatched. Not only are the Thunder better, but almost every matchup leans their way. It's been proven over and over again the last five meetings between these teams stretching back into the regular season.

Denver can win this one but it'll happen for two reasons: Either the Nuggets play a perfect game and get big contributions from Gallinari, Chandler and J.R. Smith or the Thunder wilt a bit under the pressure of closing out a series. Otherwise, if everything holds form, the Thunder's walking out of Denver with the series.
Posted on: April 25, 2011 1:35 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 2:18 pm
 

OKC is suffocating the league's top offense

Posted by Royce Young


In just about every way you could measure it, the Nuggets had the league’s best offense this season. They led the league in points per game (107.5) and offensive efficiency (109.5). In terms of eFG% they were second at 52.56 percent. They topped the league also in free throw rate (36.7).

But in the three games versus the Thunder? That offense hasn’t been anything close to what it was.

In the three games thus far, the Nuggets are averaging just 95.3 points per game. Their overall field goal percentage is down almost six percent, their offensive efficiency is just 98.76 and while their free throw attempts have held firm, they’re making way less.

Stop and think about that. The top offense in the entire league is scoring more than 10 points fewer per 100 possessions. In a game where things are getting slowed down to around 90 possessions a game, that means the Nuggets offense is simply being suffocated.

The Thunder reestablished themselves as a good defensive team after the Kendrick Perkins trade but this is just ridiculous. The Nuggets were universally praised for their ball movement and team play after the Carmelo Anthony trade but against OKC in these three games, they just haven’t found any sort of rhythm. Really the best they looked was the opening minutes of Game 1 where they started 7-7 from the field. After that, they’re shooting close to under 40 percent.

What’s been the big deal? Why have the Thunder stifled Denver’s high-powered, balanced attack? I think it’s pretty simple. OKC has done two things: slowed the Nuggets down and let them run their offense.

What do I mean by the second one? I think it’s been a subtle plan by the Thunder to allow the Nuggets to try and run their usual stuff. The Nuggets love to work inside-out and run weakside screens to free up shooters, while also using penetration to score at the rim. The Thunder haven’t necessarily tried to shut that down. The reason being because Oklahoma City knows it can stop what the Nuggets are good at.

Look at the numbers. Denver has attempted 80 shots at the rim in these three games (26.6 per game). By comparison, OKC has taken only 56. Denver has taken 25 shots in the paint (OKC 26). Where Denver isn’t getting shots is in the mid-range where its only taken 64.

So OKC is letting Denver get shots inside, but here’s the interesting part: the Nuggets are shooting just 58 percent at the rim and only 28 percent inside the paint. Absolutely nothing is easy for them right now. Between Serge Ibaka’s giant paw swinging at everything tossed up inside and Kendrick Perkins’ pushing people down everywhere, scoring in the paint is not easy versus the Thunder.

Perkins' foul on Wilson Chandler to start Game 2 said it all. You won’t walk to the rim against us. During the regular season, Denver shot 60 percent at the rim and 38 percent inside the paint. In terms of mid-range, the Nuggets haven’t been that much off their normal numbers. The 3-point line though, is another story. During the series so far, the Nuggets are shooting just 30.9 percent from 3. From the non-corner spots, just 29 percent. And like I said, this is a team that loves its 3-point shot.

What’s been so impressive is how the Thunder have been able to plug the paint and contest everything inside, while also recovering on shooters. That’s the gift of Perk, really. He handles Nene one-on-one and everyone else stays home on their shooter. Look at Ty Lawson. He hit 10-11 from deep in a game the last week of the season. So far this series, he’s only taken four 3-pointers. Danilo Gallinari is just 3-9. Raymond Felton, 2-10. Even with his little streak to end Game 3, J.R. Smith is only 4-13.

Like I said, the Thunder have sort of embraced what the Nuggets do well and just stopped them from doing it well. Scott Brooks saw that the matchups favored his team and instead of trying to outsmart George Karl with some genius adjustment, he just put his guys out there to stop Denver from what it does.

The Thunder’s defense is the reason this series is 3-0. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook won Game 1. The defense took 2 and 3 pretty much entirely. I re-watched the fourth quarter from Game 3 and it’s just unbelievable how confused the Nuggets look in trying to run their offense. There is just no open man to be found anywhere. Everything is contested. Everything comes after three or four perimeter passes that lead no where.

OKC held Denver without a point for almost five minutes in Game 3. And quietly on the other end scored a basket here and made a free throw there. The lead suddenly was eight with four minutes to go. That’s what good defense does and that’s the reason people talk about it winning things. And right now, the Thunder’s playing the kind of defense that can win things.

Posted on: April 24, 2011 2:33 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 3:22 am
 

OKC survives late scare from Nuggets to go up 3-0

Posted by Royce Young



The Thunder’s up three games to none over Denver. They walked into an incredibly hostile place and pulled out an unbelievably gritty win to put themselves in an excellent position to finish this series and move on to the second round.

But, whoa boy, it did not come easy.

(Remember, the Thunder won the game. They’re up 3-0. Remember that.)

Oklahoma City did a pretty admirable job of withstanding a barrage of Denver free throws in the third quarter which left the Nuggets with a 73-71 lead heading into the fourth. The Nuggets had every drop of momentum at that point, and looked to be charging their way to a big, series-lengthening win.

The Thunder didn’t execute by any means, but behind four straight stops and holding Denver without a bucket for almost five minutes, OKC stretched out to a comfortable lead late in the game. Russell Westbrook dropped a big shot. The Thunder dominated the glass. It was a textbook close for a team on the road.

And then Kendrick Perkins decided he wanted to throw a pretty stupid pass.

With 40 seconds left and the Thunder ahead by eight, Perk attempted to find Serge Ibaka with a full-court heave that fell innocently out of bounds. The Nuggets had life. After a couple missed free throws and a couple J.R. Smith 3-pointers, the Thunder found themselves only ahead by three, 97-94, with 10.5 seconds left and the Nuggets in possession.

Whoa. Boy. It all happened in such a whirl that it was almost like it didn't happen. How did a game go from 10 to three just like that? Could the Thunder really erase all that hard work in just a few seconds?

The ball would find Smith once again, and he tried to get James Harden to bite on a pump before going up for the shot. I'm sure, depending on which way your colors fall, you saw the play a different way. Smith clearly wanted the foul. The 20,000 people in the Pepsi Center were looking for it. But ref Derrick Stafford was having none of it. (You be the judge on it .)

Point is, the Thunder tried to completely crap away an incredible playoff win. They didn’t though. They’re still up 3-0 and in position to close this out Monday night. And the reasons they're winning are stops and rebounding. They've executed those two things superbly.

Offensively, both Westbrook and Kevin Durant never got entirely on track; going a combined 13-37 for 49 points. Much like Game 2, though, the Thunder found life in one of the oft overlooked role players. This time it was Serge Ibaka stepping up with 22 huge points, 16 even huger rebounds and four bigger than huge blocks. 

The Nuggets shot just 37 percent, but OKC was actually worse, shooting 36 percent. The game came down to free throws, where Denver blew 15 of them. What reared its ugly head again for the Nuggets, though, was the lack of a go-to scorer late in the game. They went five minutes without a basket late in the fourth and looked entirely lost. A fair bit of that can be credited to the Thunder's ability to guard, though.

Sans the last 40 seconds, OKC’s defense in the fourth quarter was pretty much unreal. The Nuggets had no idea where to go with the ball and couldn’t find even an inch of open floor for a clean look. The Thunder weren’t scoring much either, but it was a point here, a basket there and before you knew it, OKC had taken a two point lead to eight. And, so we thought, locked up the game.

Obviously, OKC didn’t get the memo this morning that NBA games do, in fact, last 48 minutes and not 47. I think the Thunder mentally checked out with 45 seconds left and started the party a bit early.

All that doesn’t matter, though. In the end, all it changes is how people like me have to recap the game. Because the Thunder’s up three games to none. They could’ve won 2-0 on a Kendrick Perkins’ fadeaway jumper and all that matters is that they had more points than Denver. In the NBA Playoffs, it’s about surviving these situations, and the Thunder stepped up in a scary moment, at a scary place, and against a completely desperate team.

The Nuggets knew Saturday night was pretty much do or die. They were the wounded dog trying to fight for it's life. That’s a tough environment to win in, especially for a young group that had never done such a thing. But OKC rose to the challenge and put the Nuggets away, and maybe the series, with defense.

Posted on: April 24, 2011 1:33 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 1:37 am
 

Did James Harden foul J.R. Smith to end Game 3?

Posted by Royce Young

Oklahoma City ahead 97-94 with a couple seconds left. Ball finds J.R. Smith for 3, James Harden tightly defending him. You make the call -- did Harden foul Smith on the shot?



Posted on: April 23, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Series Reset: Backs to the mountain for Nuggets

Posted by Royce Young



The Narrative:
Not only have the Thunder taken an all important 2-0 lead, but they did it while sort of crushing the Nuggets' spirits as well. Oklahoma City completely dominated Game 2, leading by as much as 26 while never letting the lead get under 10 in the second half. Postgame, Denver did not appear to have much confidence as it prepared to go back home.

The Hook: This is it for the Nuggets. Not only has no team ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, but this team looks ready to lay down if things go bad tonight. I don't think they will because George Karl doesn't tend to let that happen and the way they rallied together after the Melo trade really speaks to their resiliancy.

But this is their first crack in front of their home fans. That type of thing makes a big, big difference. Not only is there a good jolt of energy from the arena, but the Nuggets have the added advantage of playing a mile above sea level. Kendrick Perkins admitted after Game 2 that you definitely feel the difference for at least a quarter. The Nuggets need to use that and jump out to a good start on the Thunder, energize their arena and build some confidence.

The Adjustment: At this point, just forget about adjusting on Kevin Durant. The Nuggets tried doubling in Game 2, but that just opened the floor for OKC's role players who lit Denver up.

The main adjustment I see the Nuggets making is figuring out a way to unstuff the paint. The Thunder did a terrific job completely plugging holes in Game 2, forcing Denver to take all contested jumpshots. The Nuggets really thrive on inside-out play between Nene and the guards as well as penetration and kickouts from Ty Lawson.

OKC's defensive strategy is to turn you into a jumpshooting team. The Nuggets can survive in that regard if they're hitting -- like they did in Game 1 -- but if they aren't, it turns into ugly offensive basketball like in Game 2. Denver has to figure out a way to get players like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari going (just 3-14 combined in Game 2) as well as Nene, J.R. Smith and the "little guys," as Karl calls Lawson and Ray Felton.

The X-Factor: I went with J.R. Smith for Game 2. He was a major disappointment, playing just a few minutes and none in the second half. He's the constant X-factor for Denver though. If he gets going, he can carry them offensively at any point in the game.

But one player I see the Nuggets really relying on tonight is Danilo Galliinari. He just hasn't made a big offensive impact yet in the series and is the kind of player the Nuggets need to get going. He can score in bunches and carry them offensively in stretches.

Here's the guy the Nuggets are counting on though: Arron Afflalo. He missed the first two games and is someone that the team the Denver fans seem to really be trusting to make a difference. And he certainly can. He's a good shooter and a long defender to try on Durant. Question is how healthy he is.

The Sticking Point: My initial pick for this series was the Thunder in five games and everything is on track for that. And this is the game I see OKC having trouble winning. The arena will be fired up and emotional and the Thunder could have trouble finding a win on the road. This Thunder group needs to figure out how to win away from home at some point, but I just get the sense the Nuggets are going to find a little confidence tonight.

This is OKC's series to lose still and one win for the Nuggets could inject them with a bit of life and potentially push them to steal another game. A loss for Denver and this thing is entirely over. This game could swing the series a bit. Either the Nuggets will get back in it, or it's pretty much all over.
Posted on: April 21, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 4:21 pm
 

Are the Nuggets fading and is Smith ready to go?

Posted by Royce Young



Maybe hearing the "94 percent of teams down 0-2 end up losing" stat last night shook the Nuggets a bit. Who knows. But they definitely have taken a pretty big blow to their confidence. A team that had bonded together and rode some serious us-against-everyone swagger post-Melo seems to be losing some steam.

Last night's whipping dealt to them by the Thunder certainly doesn't help, but postgame, there was a clear change in the way the team spoke and acted, starting at the top with George Karl. In his postgame comments, Karl was very quiet and let out a statement I found interesting.

"For me, it's Saturday night. We've got to worry about Saturday night. Win that game. Thinking about other stuff is goofy. Two days is good enough time to regroup and re-energize and get our confidence back in to a better place."

It's really just that last phrase that stuck out. Karl seemed to admit the team's confidence has been rattled. It's a little hard to blame them tough. In the past 20 days, his team has dropped four games to the Thunder by an average margin of 10.7 points. Plus one of them coming in their building.

Add to that J.R. Smith today via Ben Hochman of the Denver Post :

The Nuggets had a team meeting on Thursday and Smith said the team didn't have "a pulse" as they regrouped at Pepsi Center.

"Just frustration, just really didn't have any life in there," Smith said. "No one was really into it."

Smith though was either so downtrodden about the psyche of the team or the fact he didn't play in the second half last night (or both) that he made a bold statement that he wouldn't be coming back to the Nuggets next year.

"There's a strong possibility as of right now," Smith told the Denver Post. "It's not going the way I planned it to go. It's a tough situation. I want to be here, I love the fans and everything about the city. It's just maybe not my fit."

Now I realize you can't necessarily take things J.R. Smith says to heart, because he's J.R. Smith but his comments today really kind of followed up the feeling I got last night. Momentum and confidence are about two of the most important things there are when it comes to postseason basketball. A belief in yourself, your team, your gameplan and your ability to win in any circumstance is vital. It's the lifeblood to winning in the playoffs.

And a lot of that seemed to change when Kendrick Perkins was gifted two points in Game 1. Karl admitted he should've called a timeout because his team was rattled by the no call. Since that moment, the Nuggets haven't looked like themselves. There's probably being more made about this than is actually real, but the Nuggets have some of their players beat up and two of their best scorers dropped duds in Game 2 (Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari were a combined 3-14 for 11 points).

Perkins talked last night about taking it to an opponent when it's down. He was referring to the 26-point lead, but I think it applies just as much to OKC's 2-0 one.

"That's the time you're supposed to just start smelling blood and keep going. I think when you're up by that many points that's the time you're supposed to step on their throats and not give them a chance and go up 'bout 40 or 50. I ain't been there before and I know what team's are capable of doing. It just takes one 10-0 run or one 15-0 run and they're right back in the game."

Give the Nuggets a game and you're going to find a team that's re-discovered its confidence. You're going to find a team ready to fight again and one that has a pulse. The Nuggets that rattled off all those wins post-Melo was one that had swagger, confidence and belief in each other oozing out of their ears.

The Thunder has the enemy down right now. As Perk said, time to stomp on their face, or something. Give Denver a game and you're about to give them a series too.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com