The Oklahoma City Thunder look like one of the NBA’s most unbeatable teams, as they are on pace to win about 60 games. Potential playoff opponents need not fear though—I have a step-by-step, foolproof(ish) blueprint on how you can knock them out of the 2013 NBA playoffs.
It will not be easy. The Thunder are nearly unmatched in terms of starpower, boasting two of the game’s best scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. A well-built supporting cast and good coaching round out what is a true championship contender.
Fortunately, if you follow my blueprint, you will have a great shot at beating them in a seven-game series. Unfortunately, my blueprint is definitely easier written than done.
Keep Durant and Westbrook Out of the Paint
It is virtually impossible to stop both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the same time. Instead, potential playoff opponents have a much better chance of shutting down a particular area of their game.
The area they should focus on is the twosome’s offensive activity in the paint. When Durant and Westbrook can drive to the hoop, it opens up the outside for three-point shooters and results in points in the paint.
Combined, the forward and point guard combo have made 55.7 percent of their field-goal attempts in the paint. When opponents let them get all the way to the rim, they’ve made 62.8 percent of their attempts.
If that wasn’t enough reason to convince opposing teams to focus on crowding the paint, there is also the fact that they convert a large portion of their misses in the paint to free throws.
Sending them to the line is just as bad an option, as Durant shoots 91 percent from the charity stripe, while Westbrook shoots 80 percent—the two make an average of 14.2 free throws per game.
Obviously, keeping them out on the perimeter is anyone’s best chance at slowing them down.
Limit the Supporting Cast
OK. Let’s assume that you were successful in limiting both Durant and Westbrook from wreaking havoc smack-dab in the middle of your defense. You are not done yet.
Now, you have to limit the underrated supporting cast that fills in the scoring and defensive gaps around them.
The two biggest threats to be neutralized in this phase of the process are Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka. Martin has proven himself to be a natural at providing offense off the bench—he averages 14.3 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting. Ibaka is a superb athlete who averages 13.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.93 blocks per game.
Luckily for opponents, both have the bad habit of disappearing in games. Martin struggles at times to remain assertive in the offense alongside Durant and Westbrook, and Ibaka is still struggling to refine his game at both ends of the floor.
The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Hasheem Thabeet, Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson. While they all play their roles fairly well, none of them play a significant enough role (especially offensively) to worry other teams.
Limiting Martin and Ibaka, especially offensively, is the next step a team has to take if it wants to knock the Thunder out of the upcoming NBA playoffs.
It sounds cheesy, but the Thunder have become one of those teams who can beat you even when you feel like you have played them as perfectly as you could. It isn’t fair, and it doesn’t make any sense, but it does happen.
The reason it takes luck is just how versatile and talented the team is. Durant and Westbrook could kill you from three, despite you keeping them outside the paint. Even if you are able to stop the Thunder from scoring as they normally do, you still have to contend with their great defense. If you are able to put up big points on them, the odds are that they are right there with you, scoring up in the 110s and 120s.
It is possible though, as the Miami Heat showed in the NBA Finals a year ago, when they dismantled the Thunder in five games. That Thunder team was probably a bit better than this one, which is all the more reason the Thunder are beatable.
All you potential playoff opponents out there, just remember the three steps. Keep Durant and Westbrook out of the paint, limit the supporting cast (Martin and Ibaka) around them and don’t forget to bring a rabbit’s foot.