I don’t write about my favorite teams often. Reason being, sifting through my emotions when trying to process what’s happening to the players and teams that I really care about can be quite difficult, therefore I usually refrain from doing such things. However, what transpired in Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena as the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets squared off in Game 5 of the first round in the Western Conference playoffs was nothing short of despicable.
Fearing that I might ramble on and begin cussing without warning, I’m going to use bullet points to make this easier for all of us. Cool? Cool.
Hack-an-Asik: Let’s get right to this bullshit that transpired in the fourth quarter of the game. After watching the Rockets put up a 37-point third quarter on OKC, the brainchild that is Scott Brooks decided to roll out the “Hack-an-Asik.” (Am I even doing that right? is the “an” in the middle even necessary? Whatever.) Asik, a career 52.7% free-throw shooter, was chosen by Brooks as the mark that couldn’t cut it from the free-throw line. While Asik initially clanked a few from the charity stripe and the Thunder got the lead back down to 6, maybe there was some hope from the Thunder faithful. Of course, Brooks could’ve called off the Hack-an-Asik at that point and proceeded to gut it out. But nooooooooooooo. Brooks kept fouling Asik, and then Asik messed around and got in a rhythm. All of a sudden Asik looked like Mark Price from the stripe, OKC forgot to give the ball to #35 and the game was soon out of hand in a few short minutes.
Scott Brooks’ Last Stand: My bigger problem with Brooks going to the “Hack-an-Asik” in the game was that it just felt like a cheap move, a move that reeked of desperation and lacked overall creativity. As Houston kept railroading OKC with phenomenal screen-and-rolls to Asik, long bombs from three and playing OKC with physicality (staying in Durant’s kitchen, running OKC shooters off the three-point line) and craftiness (that Harden three with the ball rolling past halfcourt was epic), it became evident that the Thunder had no answer. Then Hack-an-Asik happened, and to me … it just felt like Brooks had no cards left to play. Which is absurd. There has to be SOMETHING else you can do besides going to a hacking strategy; throw a zone out there, find a better lineup to play or something … but that? As a Thunder fan, that was embarrassing to watch.
Kevin Durant’s Big Zero: Watching Kevin Durant’s performance during Game 5 through three quarters was nothing short of amazing. The man turned himself into a point guard at a moment’s notice, distributing the rock, bringing up the ball and being the facilitator of the offense. He was defending. He was rebounding. He was out there doing whatever it takes. Oh, and he scored 36 points too. Then the fourth quarter happened, and Kevin Durant turned into a ghost. This wasn’t all on KD, but Durant became despondent when he didn’t get the ball (petulant would be a better word) and every single thing he did offensively in the fourth felt extremely forced. It was an ugly scene to watch, and you realize what that guy who wears #0 means to the entire team.
Zero Appreciation: I’m not going to say I’m the biggest Russell Westbrook fan there is in the world, but I’m willing to say that I am one of the biggest apologists for Russell Westbrook. He is the biggest story here, not Durant, not Brooks and especially not Harden. (You know, because he’s not on the team anymore.) Everybody’s role on the team has now been changed, and nobody looks comfortable. It’s not that this is unexpected, but we’d truly never ever seen the Oklahoma City Thunder ever in life without the services of #0. If the Thunder fans and basketball fans were ever going to begin appreciating Russell Westbrook, they’re beginning to do it now.
When Westbrook went out with the torn meniscus, my desire to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play basketball dropped drastically. It caught me off guard actually, and I thought maybe my fandom of OKC might’ve been too closely rooted to my appreciation of Westbrook. Then I watched Game 3 and knew why I didn’t want to watch THAT team play basketball, as even in victory, things were harder to come by for OKC and nothing seemed to “feel” right.
I didn’t even watch Game 4. Not a single minute. I knew how it was gonna end.
Watching Game 5, I figured adjustments would be made, the home court would push us through, the Rockets would cool off, and the Thunder would find a way to make it to round 2. Instead, I watched an Oklahoma City team regress (which is an indictment on Brooks and Durant) and a Houston team that has no fear whatsoever going into Game 6.
Whether Oklahoma City wins the series or not is irrelevant. This team isn’t good enough to win the NBA championship. What matters now is that the leaders in the locker room must self-reflect, ponder who they are as individuals and find a way to become better players moving forward. Otherwise, even when Russell Westbrook returns next season, we’ll need to question if this current unit has the right leadership and pieces to move forward towards their ultimate journey.