June 19, 2012
A questionable substitution by the coach, more foul trouble for the superstar, and bad free throw shooting by just about everybody ruined Oklahoma City's chances in Game 3 of the NBA finals.
All that didn't wreck the Thunder's hopes of winning the series.
The Thunder trail the Miami Heat 2-1 after a 91-85 loss on Sunday in which they blew a 10-point lead in the third quarter. Kevin Durant went to the bench in foul trouble and Scott Brooks compounded the problem by yanking Russell Westbrook shortly after, both All-Stars watching when the game got away from the Thunder.
Oklahoma City was in worse trouble in the last round, dropping the first two games against the San Antonio Spurs. So they know they can climb out of the hole they're in this time.
"This is another great opportunity to show what becoming a champion is all about. You know, it's not something that ever has come easy," said guard Derek Fisher, who has won five of them."
Game 3 turned quickly, mostly because of the Thunder's own mistakes.
Durant picked up his fourth foul with 5:41 left and the Thunder leading by six. Westbrook was taken out 40 seconds later for Fisher, who converted a four-point play before it all fell apart for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder twice fouled shooters behind the arc, made only 6-of-11 free throws in the quarter, and when the game was getting away from his team, Brooks kept Westbrook parked on the bench for the remainder of the period.
Westbrook appeared angry when taken out, slamming his hand against a chair. He said he was upset with himself, and Brooks said there was no issue between them Monday.
"That's over with. We're moving on to Game 4," Brooks said.
"When Kevin got the fourth foul, that kind of changes the dynamic of that game because Kevin, I think he had 23 points at that time, things were going very well. So there was a lot of times that we had other things that we had to figure out. But I thought that stretch where we fouled the two 3-point shooters really was a big part of their comeback, and then we missed five free throws in that stretch, and as you know, we're the best free throw shooting team in the league."
Hard to tell in this series, though. The Thunder, who shot 80.6 percent during the regular season, were only 15-of-24 (62.5 percent) on Sunday and 54-of-77 (70 percent) during the series.
Durant has picked up five fouls in each of the last two games, forced to spend precious time on the bench and hurting his second-half aggressiveness as he tries to defend LeBron James. He said he didn't think all five on Sunday should have been called, but the Thunder needs him to be careful to avoid further trouble, particularly with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden averaging only 11.7 points on 41 percent shooting.
Game 3 was bad for the Thunder. The overall situation, they said, could be much worse.
"We've still got four games to play, and at the end of the day, we win a game tomorrow, and then it's the best of three with two games on our home court," center Kendrick Perkins said.