Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - While the Indiana Pacers have taken almost all of the heat in the postseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder have reverted to bad habits and are in serious jeopardy of not getting out of the first round.
While down 2-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder have already lost the home-court advantage in their first-round series. The Grizzlies aren't your average No. 7 seed, winning 50 regular-season games and losing in last season's Western Conference Finals.
But the Thunder are supposed to be an elite team. They finished with the second-best record in the league and have the presumptive MVP, Kevin Durant.
They also have another superstar in the form of Russell Westbrook. He was absent last season in the Western Conference semifinals with a knee injury. The Thunder fell to the Grizzlies in that series, but everyone is healthy now and OKC is still in peril.
The casual fan, or even the wise pundit, has often cited the notion that Westbrook's shoot-first mentality would doom the Thunder eventually. Whether you agree with the notion, Westbrook and Durant put up a lot of shots in both Game 2 and 3 losses.
They've scored their share of points. In the two setbacks, Durant and Westbrook have combined for 125 points. Durant is averaging 37.5 points per game and Westbrook is at 29.5. That's incredible production, but consider it took them 109 shots for those kind of numbers.
Durant and Westbrook are a combined 42-for-109 for 38.5 percent and 10-for-40 from long range. That's a crazy number of shots, especially from 3-point distance, but if they are the two main scoring outlets, is it acceptable? In a sense yes, so long as the shots are good ones.
In Game 3, especially late, they were not all good shots. Not even close. The two took every shot for the Thunder halfway through the fourth quarter until the waning seconds of overtime. (Ben Golliver of SI.com wrote that fact and I checked the NBATV tape, which was cut for time in spots. He was correct from what I saw.)
That's unacceptable. There's no possible way another Thunder player wasn't more open than Durant and Westbrook jacking away.
"A lot of them we took, we needed them. I took some bad ones. We've got to do a better job of attacking," Westbrook said after the game.
The Thunder have to live by the sword. It digs deep when the two aren't efficient from the field. Yes, those two put the Thunder on their collective back and erased a 17-point deficit, but the other Oklahoma City players are non-factors.
"We all can be better," Durant said. "I wouldn't say we were coming down and shooting every time. Everything falls on us two. We've got to get guys involved. We'll take that on our shoulders."
Durant is right in almost every aspect of that quote. Everything does come down to him and Westbrook. They handed five assists between them on Thursday. There has to be another way considering how ineffective they've been from the floor.
Offense has been scarce in the Thunder lineup. Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha start for their defense. To call them average offensively would be disrespectful to mean numbers.
The bench is really killing OKC.
At the beginning of the season, I wondered how they'd replace Kevin Martin, who never truly replaced James Harden, who the Thunder gave away in what now appears to be some bizarre "help a fellow team outreach program."
Reggie Jackson is going to finish in the top five of NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting, if he doesn't win the thing outright. He averaged 13.1 ppg during the regular season and has scored 15 through three games of this series on 3- for-19 field-goal shooting.
The bench as a whole has been pathetic. They finished 10th in the NBA in scoring, but have been obliterated by the Memphis bench, 92-48, through three games.
"I believe in our guys," OKC head coach Scott Brooks said of his bench. "They're going to play much better. They're going to get opportunities Saturday night. They missed some shots."
Derek Fisher, Nick Collison and Caron Butler are proud veterans. Jackson has transitioned into a legitimate threat off the bench. This unit has to improve or tee times will be made for Wednesday morning.
And Brooks can't make too many personnel changes late in the game. Perkins has to be on the floor to defend either Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph.
But it all ultimately falls on Durant and Westbrook, or more specifically, how much can they can do while not forcing shots. Brooks and the whole team should be proud of the fight they showed just making it to overtime in Game 3, but the ugly shot selection hurts.
No one will confuse the Thunder supporting cast as scorers, but tuning them completely out of the game will leave them lost if they're lucky enough to get the ball. Their collective effort can subconsciously sag when they're not involved in the offense at all.
As Mr. Miyagi once brilliantly opined, "Balance is key." Oklahoma City can still find it and can still win this series.
"We've been down 0-2 before, been down 1-2. I think that experience is going to help us out," Durant said. "We just have to be better. Hopefully, our shots go down."
Hopefully, they go down in fewer attempts.
- As stated after each series went through two games, the only series I think is over already is the Miami Heat-Charlotte Bobcats. Al Jefferson is a tough man to play on one foot, but the Bobcats can't beat Miami without him at full strength.
- The notion that coaches like Frank Vogel of the Pacers, Kevin McHale of the Houston Rockets or Mark Jackson of the Warriors are coaching for their lives in the postseason is something. Jackson's case appears to be different. He seems to be in jeopardy because of conflicts with ownership, but Vogel, who was given a Twitter vote of confidence by general manager Kevin Pritchard, and McHale would seemingly be out because the teams didn't meet expectations. Owners have the right to do what they want, but this is a tough business. The only satisfactory goal, unless you're the Philadelphia 76ers, is a title. Expectations were high in Indianapolis and Houston.
- Someone needs to be blamed for what's happening with the Pacers. Vogel will probably be that guy, but this group turned into marshmallows roasting in the fire. They are smores. Where's the toughness? Where's the pride? This collapse is as bad as seen in recent memory, so maybe Vogel deserves to go. It's hard not blaming the leader for something like this, even though, the players take the brunt of this in my eyes. They appear to be unable to handle the pressure of success.
- I do not understand firing McHale, if the Rockets do that with a first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. They'd give him one season to make it work with James Harden and Dwight Howard? That's completely unfair.
- I can not believe the Grizzlies still start Tayshaun Prince. His extraordinarily lengthy body looks more shot than Sonny Corleone at the tollbooth.
- Movie moment - I wish the rest of the country would join me in giving up on Cameron Diaz movies.
- TV moment - The season finale of "Parks and Recreation" was amazing. The ending was bizarre (no spoilers), but makes next season interesting.