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Game 2: A Finger Roll Prevents a Total Collapse

Final Score: Thunder 105, Pistons 104

Stat Winners:

Scoring: Ben Gordon with 32

Rebounds: Serge Ibaka with 10

Assists: Westbrook with 11

My first impression of this game’s outcome is that although it ended up in the win column, from constructive purposes it felt like a loss.  Jeff Green made a heads-up play in the closing seconds, taking the ball hard to the rim instead of forcing an outside shot.  The shot fell, and the Thunder escaped with a dramatic win.  The Thunder led the game for the majority of the time, but struggled mightily in the 4th quarter when the Pistons made their comeback and nearly pulled out a win.  Clearly my expectations were too high this game, discounting too much the value that Detroit’s home court advantage, along with a decent crowd in the second half, in fueling their comeback.

Perhaps I’m just not yet familiar enough with the workings of this team (pretty much everything in my analysis is inductive at this point), but I have a tendency to see more about what is wrong than what is right.  This is what I saw:

Negative:

  • Once again Durant had a poor shooting night, mimicking his opening game’s shooting witha a 9-24 performance.  I unfortunately did not get a lot of great looks at his game last year, so I don’t know if any regression has taken place, but he seems to be a bit too in love with his shooting stroke at this point.  It reminds me a little bit of Glen Robinson of the Bucks back in the day.  He had a shooting stroke that was so liquid and smooth that he used it constantly, to the detriment of the rest of his game.  He turned into a one dimensional player, and deteriorated rapidly as an impact franchise player.  Likewise, Durant’s shot is so easy for him to shoot from anywhere on the court, from any position, that it seems like he’s too reliant on it to the detriment to the rest of his game.  Despite his slight frame, he is a talented rebounder, but the outside shot takes him out of that part of the game.  Too many times he took shots fading away from the basket, rather than attacking.  During game 1, he was at his best when he was moving forward, which gave him better passing angles as well.
  • The coaching in the second half seemed very suspect.  At that point, the Pistons were consistently about 8 points worse than the Thunder, until Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey started heating up.  Gordon has a weird way of becoming unstoppable at times.  At this point, Gordon was their only hope to get back in the game.  Unfortunately, there were no apparent coaching adjustments made to either get the ball out of his hands or trap him in a way that he could not shoot.    He continued to get one on one isolations and was able to create the space he needed to shoot.  As a result, Gordon almost pulled out the win with his fourth quarter flurry, as well as the key pass that dumped the ball into the hands of Charlie Villanueva for a corner three that allowed the Pistons to enjoy a winning lead for about five seconds.  The Pistons offense isn’t complicated.  The coaching staff should have been able to solve this issue before it got out of hand.
  • The team did not execute well down the stretch.   For all their success at the charity stripe, it was key missed free throws in the end, including one by Durant, that gave the Pistons a shot to win it in the end.  During crunch time, offensive possessions need to become very deliberate where your play maker is going to either produce a good shot late in the clock, or a situation where the defense has to foul.  The team did not get good possessions.

Positive:

  • The dramatic win in the hands of Green masked the real strength of the team’s performance, which was by its big men.  Both Nadad Krstic and Serge Ibaka had huge games, taking advantage of Detroit’s weak interior.  Ben Wallace is still a gamer but he is not the inside presence he once was during his last run with the Pistons.  Villanueva offers some of the Lamar Odom flavor, right down to the oversized bald dome, but as an inside presence he is limited.  The Thunder’s big men combined for 30 points and 17 boards, giving the Thunder a much needed boost while their offense was sporadic.  The addition of Nick Collison to the lineup will further fortify their front line, which will be critical when they start facing the likes of San Antonio and the Lakers.
  • Green continues his push to make an early first impression for his contract extension.  His game winning play was outstanding, giving him a second game scoring 21 points.  Having him as the 2nd or 3rd scoring option will pay large dividends.  He does remain somewhat maddening though to watch, as he often settles for the outside jump shot (which is not his strongest suit) instead of using his size and strength down low.

At the end of the day, a win is a win.  The reality though is that the Pistons are not likely going to be competing for a playoff seed. They won 27 games last year, and they are not materially better this year.  They played to their strengths and almost won, but the Thunder allowed themselves to play into that style of match up and allowed it to happen.

Next up is the Utah Jazz at home on Halloween.  The Jazz commitment to Sloan’s structured coaching will be a good early season test for the Thunder.

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Game 2 Preview

Thunder at the Detroit Pistons
8PM Tipoff

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • The Thunder have an opportunity to pad their wins a bit early on before facing tough consecutive games against Portland and Boston.
  • Injuries to big men are never a good thing, because they often rely specifically on their lower body strength, and Nick Collison’s knee bruise will likely keep him out for a while.  However, early on in the season it can provide opportunity for younger players to earn minutes that can pay big dividends down the stretch.
  • Ever since the Pistons parted ways with Chauncey Billups, they seem to have been a team without a specific identity.  They feel more like a mish-mash of ill-suited parts than anything else right now.
  • Ben Wallace?

What to expect:

The Pistons dropped their first game of the season to the New Jersey Nets, a team that won a grand total of 12 games last season (starting it out at an incredible 0-18).  The Pistons faded late in the game, losing a 7 point lead in the 4th quarter.  Their roster is populated by a bunch of guys who consistently get you about 15 points.  With the exception of Rip Hamilton and his fabulous Amish beard, there isn’t anyone on the team that can consistently score 20 in an efficient manner.    They will struggle to keep up offensively with the Thunder.

For OKC, they will likely individually and collectively be coming off the high of starting off the season right, especially after such lofty expectations for the young team.  This feels like a game where, if they can get out early and run, there will be opportunity to put the Pistons back on their heels.

Looking at match-ups, while Durant always poses a challenge for defenders, in this game there is really nobody at all that is going to provide much resistance to his offensive game.  Villanueva and perhaps McGrady offer a little bit of athleticism to slow his efforts, but his complete game should prove too much.  The key for Durant will be to be patient with his shot selection, which he did not do well in game 1.  The only way that the Pistons will be able to keep up with the Thunder offensively is if the Thunder waste possessions on quick shots.  Durant will get another 30 if he wants to, but the efficiency of how he does it will dictate the pace.

Pistons PG Rodney Stuckey provides a different challenge to Westbrook than what Rose offered him.  Stuckey possesses defensive acumen and tenacity, but has nowhere near the same offensive repertoire.  Westbrook showed a superior effort in game one largely in part because he did not force his shot selection, and scored his 28 off of only 15 attempts.  It is critical for PG’s to not take away shots from the rest of the team, and if he can do this again he should once more come out ahead in the personal matchup.

If the Thunder are to struggle anywhere, it could be in the rebounding game.  This is once again where Jeff Green will play a role.  His 21 points and a key 3 pointer were a valuable contribution in game 1, but having only tallied 4 rebounds, he needs to be more aware of his power forward responsibilities.  The easiest way for big men to get easy transition baskets is by first rebounding.   He must be able to keep the Pistons off of the offensive glass if the Thunder are to make quick work of this Pistons team.

In closing, if the Thunder can rebound well and utilize their superior transition game, which also heightens offensive skill positions, they should be able to make short work of the Pistons.  Detroit’s best chance is to slow the game down, commit to offensive rebounds, and hope that the Thunder get impatient with the pacing.

Prediction:

Thunder by 15