Missives from the Thunderdome #1: Three Weird Guys, One Weird Game

Posted on Fri 05 April 2013 in Features by Aaron McGuire

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Hey, folks. In our stable of rippling thoroughbred writers, we've managed to accumulate four writers whose names begin with "A." It's hard to fashion a feature out of the first letter of someone's name, though. We've also managed to accumulate two San Antonio Spurs fans and one Oklahoma City Thunder fan. Fitting with that, after every Thunder/Spurs game for the rest of eternity, the powers that be at Gothic Ginobili ... er, me ... will throw our three SAS/OKC rooting authors in the sarlaac pit to talk about the game and the matchup, all while being slowly digested by the most confusing creature George Lucas ever imagined. Today's broader topic: the April 4th, 2013 matchup in the Oklahoma City Thunderdome.

First question isn't a question. It's just a quote and a statement. "Home-court advantage mattered more last year because the Spurs were on a 20-game win streak." That was an actual thing Reggie Miller said on live television. No moral.

Alex Dewey: I agree with that. It makes perfect sense to me.

Jacob Harmon: What is he even saying there?

Alex Dewey: Oh, wait. Hold on. I'm that guy from Memento, I forgot.

Aaron McGuire: I have absolutely no idea. I mostly just noted it down it so we could gawk at it. What could he possibly be saying? What could that possibly mean?

Jacob Harmon: Who did it matter more to? The Spurs? The Thunder? I... I don't know.

Aaron McGuire: Is it... like... "the Spurs were on a 20 game winning streak therefore home court was... less important... because... they were 20-0 in the streak, and they won everywhere. The Thunder didn't care about home court advantage because the Spurs were 20-0 during the streak but 0-4 afterwards. Professional analyst, Reggie Miller, reporting for duty."

Jacob Harmon: Did you hear him say "Tim Duncan looking for the foul on the block by Tim Duncan"? Reggie's observations come from a place outside time and space, man.

Aaron McGuire: Fair.

Alex Dewey: Look, Aaron. You're being such a jerk about this. I'll have you know, Reggie was using an advanced maximum likelihood estimator with some factor analysis. He reasoned backwards from the 20-game winning streak and noticed that 10 of those came in the playoffs and 10 came in the regular season, therefore, home court was not the dominant factor in the Spurs winning streak.

Aaron McGuire: Haha, look at Dewey, with his nerd-rat pocket square statistics.

Alex Dewey: Real talk, though -- was Reggie Miller smoking a tailpipe blunt filled with neurotoxins on-air?

Aaron McGuire: That seems unlikely. Anyway, one last thing that has to be noted before we stop talking about Reggie. "MOMMY HAS SOMETHING FOR DADDY TO DO" has to rank among the worst dunk calls in the history of the sport, doesn't it? It just... it didn't make sense in the moment, and even afterwards, there was a lot of innuendo and sketchiness in that commercial in general.

Jacob Harmon: I felt the gutter thing was really meta. The innuendo is that this kid's mom is about to take Kevin Durant to town, then it turns out she just wants him to do chores. But he's cleaning the gutters, the implication being that the viewer's head is in the gutter for thinking that there was a sexual connotation to the "mommy has something for daddy to do" line. Was this obvious, or am I a genius?

Aaron McGuire: I thought something roughly similar when I first saw the commercial, but I never stated it as eloquently. Respect. Still, I'm struggling to think of any dunk calls that would be worse than that in terms of being creepy and out of place. Best I can think of are some don't-you-dare ones, like "BOOM GOES THE BOMB" in OKC or "THE JET PLANE HAS CRASHED INTO THE BUILDING" if Jason Terry hits a game-winning three in New York. Just these horribly offensive wastes of nature. That's how that dunk call struck me, albeit in a much less offensive-to-my-core-nature way. Come on, Reggie. Pull it together. Anyway. NEXT QUESTION, FOLKS.

• • •

Actual basketball analysis this time. Name one thing you saw in this game that isn't going to happen if these two teams meet again.

Jacob Harmon: I don't predict Derek Fisher being the Thunder's third-leading scorer again. Ever, really, but certainly not in a playoff series. That was insane. And I don't expect the Spurs offense to be so disjointed if either Manu or Parker gets back to a decent facsimile of their full form.

Alex Dewey: Tony Parker isn't missing three straight chippies again. Alternatively, the Thunder letting the Spurs back in it while the Spurs are playing that terribly.

Aaron McGuire: Mine's more of an anti-Spurs omen, unfortunately, but it has to be said. The Spurs are never ever going to shoot more free throws than OKC in OKC. Ever again. Period.The Spurs defense did a great job of defending without fouling, I felt, but the Thunder are built to go to the line. They're programmed to go to the line. And even when your team schemes them perfectly? They still go to the line. They're eldritch. That's simply not going to happen, and it's unfortunate for San Antonio that they were able to execute their defensive game plan really well and still come up so short.

Alex Dewey: True point.

Jacob Harmon: I'd agree with that. I don't remember the last time OKC spent so little time at the line.

Aaron McGuire: There's a good reason you don't remember it. The last time the Thunder shot 13 or fewer free throws was in a game against the Bulls... on January 4th, 2010.


Aaron McGuire: And that one was on the road. Their last home game where they shot 13 or fewer free throws was April 10th, 2009. All this is to say I feel like I can be reasonably confident that the Thunder won't be shooting 13 or fewer free throws in the playoffs any time soon, even if the Spurs continue to defend them so well. Will they face a Spurs team with a 1-6 Tony Parker? Not in the playoffs this year, because if Tony's playing that badly, the Spurs won't make the conference finals. But the Spurs are going to have to live with the fact that the Thunder will inevitably be at the line more than they were tonight. And their offense really needs to step up to match that. Anyway. Next question.

• • •

Name one thing you hadn't thought of going into the game that could definitely swing a playoff game.

Aaron McGuire: Tony Parker getting injured, or Kawhi Leonard having a breakout series.

Jacob Harmon: Besides the obvious things, like "no Tony or Manu" or "Fisher getting hot from three"... I'd go with Kawhi giving KD some real problems. That surprised me.

Alex Dewey: I was thinking the opposite thing, actually -- that Kevin Durant could kill the Spurs offense if he keyed in defensively against Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi isn't a distributor like Manu or Tony, but he's grown to become a vital part of the Spurs offense. Doesn't mean he's not a heck of a lot smaller than Durant, and despite Kawhi's amazing game, there were times when Durant's length seemed to bother him a bit and it stagnated the Spurs offense.

Aaron McGuire: That might get fixed when Tony gets back, but it's a good point.

Alex Dewey: True.

Aaron McGuire: It didn't swing this game, but in a game where Fisher doesn't make 6 of 8 shots, it could've swung it -- Kevin Martin looked straight-up terrible against the Spurs. He's way less versatile than Harden is, and if this is the kind of ball he's going to play in the playoffs, he'll be worse than useless.

Jacob Harmon: I'm with you on that. He's been the biggest question mark all season and that hasn't changed. He's efficient as all get-out, but like... he's been incredibly inconsistent. Some people are saying it's because Westbrook and Durant don't get him the ball, but it's really not. He just looks completely lost half the time, even when he gets his.

Alex Dewey: Yeah. Dude doesn't have the offensive creativity or athleticism of a James Harden. Makes me think he'd be potentially dominated in a series against any team with a wealth of perimeter stoppers.

Aaron McGuire: Doesn't need to be a stopper. Just someone who gets close and puts fear in his eyes. Anyway. Net result is you have this player who's incredibly efficient, but whose teams rarely make the playoffs and who -- at least now -- is so far down the food chain that teams don't put an excess of energy into scouting him like they do with Oklahoma City's big three. In a playoff series, though? The other teams key in on everything. And that may make him way less useful.

Alex Dewey: I've been saying this since October! Remember Magic Bonner?

Aaron McGuire: Yes.

Jacob Harmon: Ibaka is the X-Factor. I worry more about those games where nobody looks for him than all the ones people gripe about where Martin gets left out. He's more important on offense AND defense. We've lost so many games where Ibaka leaks out, gets to his spots, sneaks open, puts his hands out for an open jumper he's automatic with... and just gets ignored. Completely and totally ignored. And his rebounding is inconsistent. It can be the difference between a dominant performance and a surprise upset.

Aaron McGuire: That inconsistency is huge. During OKC's big run to pull away in the first half, Ibaka had something like 6 rebounds. But during all of the Spurs runs, Kawhi Leonard would box him out and snag rebounds over him. It was a tale of two teams when Ibaka's rebounding was on and off. Ibaka shouldn't have trouble rebounding over Kawhi Leonard, much as I love the kid. He outweighs him by Ten Mo Williamses, the traditional unit of weight in the NBA. Next question.

• • •

what is this world what is this life why are you westbrook

Russell Westbrook has never missed a game in his NBA career. Please advise.

Alex Dewey: ...

Jacob Harmon: Russell Westbrook is a cyborg.

Aaron McGuire: Russell Westborg? Also, let's be clear -- without Westbrook, the Thunder lose this game badly. He dominated it.

Jacob Harmon: A lot of people think that fact is brought up constantly. I don't think it's mentioned enough.

Alex Dewey: ...

Aaron McGuire: It really isn't. No other elite point guard does that. Shouldn't he get a pass, sometimes, for having a bad game where he makes the court? Elite point guards seem to average, like, 70 games per season. Tops. He's always there. Isn't a 50% Westbrook better than one of those nights when Deron Williams leaves the work to New Jersey's third string, or Kyrie Irving leaves the work to Cleveland's anything-but-him string? It's HUGE.

Jacob Harmon: Exactly! How in God's name do you play at his level -- and specifically, the way he plays -- and NEVER miss a game or get hurt? It's not like he doesn't take hits. He takes falls that would put mortals in stretchers.

Alex Dewey: Well, uh... I um... I bet he misses a ton of games at... making... shots? I can't even believe the premise of the question. You're lying. This is a ruse. It's a troll you've cooperated on to expose my ignorance. There's no way Westbrook hasn't missed any games. That's impossible. Next question.

Jacob Harmon: No, it's true. Not in high school, not in college, not in the NBA. He's a robot.

Aaron McGuire: Dewey, click on this and look at his games played by season. I dare you.

Alex Dewey: ... DAMN, homie. Please advise. I scared. I'm shook.

Jacob Harmon: Honest fact and possible emotion admission from an off-the-reservation Thunder fan: I've felt like Westbrook has dominated this Thunder team this season. I find myself feeling he's "the guy" offensively more than Kevin Durant, nearly every night.

Aaron McGuire: While I instinctively disagree because I'm not Westbrook's biggest proponent, and I haven't seen every Thunder game this season... I can't disagree completely. I'm one of the leading proponents of the "LeBron isn't auto-MVP" argument in Durant's favor, but there have DEFINITELY been games that I've felt that Westbrook has been the more important star when you watch the Thunder get into their sets and move the ball. Durant's efficiency has come coupled with a drop in usage. Westbrook's has stayed flat. Westbrook handles the ball more and Durant's major flaw remains that he's arguably the worst elite scorer in the league at simply getting open to receive a pass. It's frustrating.

Alex Dewey: That's one reason that the Durant-for-MVP case never felt quite right to me.

Jacob Harmon: Possible sacrilege -- I've had a lot of trouble getting really enthused about Durant's efficiency feat this season. It's a really eye-test sort of thing to say, but I've felt he's been really unreliable this year. Scoring to the handle. ESPECIALLY the handle. I expect him to lose the ball every time he puts it down. Maybe that's just an emotional thing -- he hit a ton of huge shots last season that could be serendipitous. But I've trusted Westbrook more this year. And I understand saying this makes me very weird.

Aaron McGuire: This year's Thunder team demonstrates a funny truth about the usage/efficiency tradeoff. When a crazy-nuts scoring talent like Kevin Durant lowers his usage and has a subsequent increase in efficiency, people want him to use the ball more with the idea that he'll continue shooting the same way rather than revert to his prior form. Westbrook maintaining his usage ends up looking like he's cheating the fans, even though Durant returning to his former usage would probably lead to a return to his old efficiency. It's a catch-22 for Westbrook.

Jacob Harmon: Otherwise known as the ever-popular "if Westbrook would pass more, Durant could score infinite points per game" theory.

Alex Dewey: It's ironic because that theory is low-key opposite of the discourse 10 years prior. The narrative has shifted from Jordan to LeBron as the basketball ideal, except for crunch time and who hits the "big" shots. Probably an overstatement, but still -- we lionize Durant's 50-40-90 over the equally insane feat of playing every game ever and shooting like his life depended on it with slightly worse efficiency. I wonder if he'll always be relegated to that Dirk status of needing a perfect complement in order to have a chance at a title at all, now that Harden is gone.

Jacob Harmon: ...

Aaron McGuire: ...

Alex Dewey: Well OK that wa--...

Aaron McGuire: That's a Sean Elliot-level overstatement. OKC's point differential this year is nearly +10. They're winning games -- on average -- by blowout margins. This team is really really good. They have more than just a "chance" at a title. That's a clown statement, bro. Come on.

Alex Dewey: Yeah, that was the textual equivalent of a shot that felt bad coming off my hands.

Jacob Harmon: Yeah. Numbers-wise, the Thunder are a great team. There are just questions. There are always questions.

Alex Dewey: OK, fair. My main point was that Westbrook -- contrary to the prevailing view -- actually IS that perfect complement. He uses the possessions Durant can't get open for. He elevates Durant and fills in his weaknesses, and visa versa.

• • •

"If the Thunder lose the first round, _______ will be responsible for it." and "If the Spurs lose in the first round, _____ will be responsible for it."

Alex Dewey: Two questions, one answer. Rockets.

Aaron McGuire: Note -- doesn't have to be a team. Can be a player.

Jacob Harmon: The first round matchup I most want to see as a Thunder fan is Houston, but I don't think they've got a snowball's chance in hell of winning it. So that's out. Assuming the 8th seed is the Lakers, which I do? I mean... crap, man. I don't know.

Aaron McGuire: My answers would be Ibaka/Martin and Tony Parker, respectively. I can see scenarios playing out where Ibaka gets flustered by a rejuvenated Howard/Gasol pairing or overwhelmed playing center against Asik in an absolute worst case scenario. Or, as we discussed earlier, simply ignored despite being one of OKC's biggest matchup advantages against any of the low-seed teams. Martin... we talked about. I think him fading would hurt the Thunder a lot more than most people think -- he's important to them. As for Parker, when he has a "bad Tony" game, the Spurs can get beaten by anyone. Regardless of who else is on the court. He makes the Spurs offense coherent. The days of perfect pinpoint offensive execution are long gone -- the Spurs haven't looked like that since December, and I doubt it's coming back this season. They need Parker playing well to bring naught more than a vestige of order to the offense now that their Duncan/Splitter defense has evolved into an elite crew. Without him? Life's tough.

Jacob Harmon: Absolutely no doubt that Ibaka can't handle a rejuvenated Gasol/Howard. Thing is, I don't see any rejuvenation in their future. Between him, Perkins, and Collison? They haven't had much trouble all season. I don't think anyone should be scared of the Lakers. This question is tough for me, because I don't think either team CAN lose in the first round. But I'd consider picking the Rockets to steal a few games, simply because of Harden.

Aaron McGuire: The Rockets are credible nightmare fuel simply due to their overreliance on threes. They could get swept if they have a bad series from behind the arc, but get hot for a few games? They'll steal more than their fair share and they'll make it a hard fought series. Period.

Alex Dewey: Same with the Warriors.

Aaron McGuire: I think they're a worse team than the Rockets, but fair point. Anyways. One last thing...

• • •

i'm guessing the pepsi center

_Alex Dewey _made this image tonight. Respond.

Jacob Harmon: What is this. Why am I looking at Matt Moore. What.

Alex Dewey: Yep.

Aaron McGuire: Dewey why.

Alex Dewey: Yep.

Aaron McGuire: Also, one tertiary question -- why in God's name do you use "puu.sh" for everything?

Alex Dewey: It's really cool, you just press CTRL-SHIFT-F4 and it lets you take a screenshot and then you puu.sh it to the server.

Jacob Harmon: Unh. Puu.sh it. Puu.sh it good.

Alex Dewey: Puu.sh it real good now.

Aaron McGuire: ... Forget I asked. Readers, these are my writers.