The Oklahoma City Thunder appear hopeless. The San Antonio Spurs haven’t just won the first two games of the NBA Western Conference Finals, they’ve methodically annihilated the Thunder. The easiest reason to attribute the Thunder’s struggles to is the absence of Serge Ibaka, but it goes a little deeper than that in some aspects.
Defense has been a problem for OKC as they’ve allowed the Spurs to shoot 50 percent or better from the field in each of the first two games in the series. Moreover, the Thunder have needed more help from their role players in both games. However, it was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that came up small in game two.
Posting an abysmal 7-24 shooting effort, Westbrook finished with only 15 points, five assists, five rebounds and three turnovers on the evening. The league’s MVP wasn’t much better, posting only 15 points of his own to go along with just three rebounds, two assists and two turnovers on 6-16 shooting and 0-4 three-point shooting.
There was obvious tension within the Thunder in this game, the culmination seemingly with Westbrook yelling “wake up!” at Durant while walking to a sideline huddle. There’s not much to read into when it comes to the relationship between the two fiery teammates, but Westbrook’s message to KD rings quite true; he needs to wake up or awaken something inside of him.
Durant is up against it right now, facing a ton of pressure without his third star and trying to get over the hurdle. Though the narrative might be a bit different, game three for Durant needs to be a moment like the one we saw in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals from LeBron James.
It’s often monotonous to compare Durant and James, but it seems apt at this moment. In that 2012 series against the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat fell down 2-1 in the series and the story seemed to be that LeBron was once again going to choke and fall short of a title, even as a part of the Big Three. That’s when the story changed for LeBron.
In game four of the series (on the road no less), James came out and delivered a masterful performance. He finished the night with 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, and two blocks while shooting 14-27 from the floor and 12-16 from the foul line on the way to a Heat victory. He continued his dominance for the rest of the series and has continued it since. Oddly enough, that turnaround in game four came while Chris Bosh was sidelined.
No one is calling Durant a choker at this point and this Oklahoma City team is facing a much more treacherous foe in the Spurs. However, he needs that same type of game. He needs that game where he comes out and leaves no doubt for anyone that he’s the MVP of this league and that he can carry them to victory when their backs are against the wall. He needs that game for himself and his team to get over the hurdle. He needs that game because, if it doesn’t come, the Thunder are going to fall short yet again.