Welp. That Western Conference Final was difficult to characterize. To use a well-worn boxing analogy, it was a contest between knockout specialists, and an incredibly entertaining one. Both landed shots and took them. Both wobbled. Both recovered. I cannot recall a series where my “feel” for a given game at a given moment was so inconsistent with the score. Both teams had substantial leads that didn’t feel substantial. Both had slim leads that felt a lot bigger. Then at times both kinda crapped the bed.
I’m not a big fan of the “choke” label, though I don’t begrudge its use. It’s an eternally-contested concept, which means it has no established definition. It can be defined and re-defined to suit the user’s purposes, like “political correctness,” “draft bust,” “crunch time,” or in a recent addition, “ball movement.” So anyone can make a case for a choke job whenever they like, and it might even be insightful. (This is not.) Sometimes, the moment really can be too big. But, I’m not enamored with morality play analysis that turns every poor play or missed shot into a character flaw. I’m also not to into analysis that over-weights end-of-game scenarios. Put it this way, consecutive blown (uncontested) layups by Speights and Green with about 6 minutes to go, a questionable blocking foul on Green, a Green turnover and another near-turnover, could have been all been utterly condemnable gaffes. These plays are indistinguishable from anything anyone on OKC did late in game 6 or 7. Green was well on his way to crapping of the proverbial bed, and a summer of merciless replays of Adams posterizing him, but for the body blows Golden State’s 3rd unit landed to close out the 3rd quarter. That flurry of shots put Steph in a position to close things out with transcendent play in the 4th quarter, while Durant and Westbrook had to be perfect. Consider that OKC had mostly owned the ends of 3rd quarters throughout the series.
My synopsis? Basically, OKC didn’t really have enough 3-point shooting. For several games it looked like they might, but they came back to earth hard in games 6 and 7. When OKC can get even reasonable 3-point shooting–a must against Golden State–they are in a position to win. In their four losses, OKC shot 28% from 3 and in games 6 and 7 they’d have killed for even that. They shot 13 and 26% respectively. (In their wins they shot over 37%.) OKC’s “issue” is structural, not a character flaw. And it’s the same as it’s been for a while. They need a versatile and consistent (not prolific) weak-side scorer. Kevin Martin should have worked but that dude fell off a cliff when he got there. I thought they should have been in the DeMarre Carroll market, but it’s not like they haven’t tried to address the issue. I’ll be almost as interested in OKC’s off-season as New York’s.