The imminent fear engulfing the Oklahoma City Thunder is what can the team accomplish without its other star, Russell Westbrook.
Nothing could have been more emblematic of that worry than the last 12.1 seconds of the Thunder’s 105-103 Game 4 loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday.
Trailing by two points in its final possession, Oklahoma City put the ball in the hands of superstar Kevin Durant on what Scott Brooks called a “scramble play” in his postgame news conference on TNT.
Guarded tightly, Houston’s Francisco Garcia forced the ball out of Durant’s hands, but there was little of an offensive threat to turn to.
Point guard Reggie Jackson ended up with the ball, drove to the basket but missed over the outstretched arms of Rockets center Omer Asik.
Serge Ibaka then missed an offensive rebound putback attempt as the buzzer sounded more like an alarm.
The panic of a Thunder’s offense sans Westbrook now has further evidence to bring worry. Other than Jackson and Ibaka, the other secondary threats on the final playwere Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha.
Those options are a bit limiting for Durant.
With Westbrook gone, Durant scored 41 points in a close Game 3 win and 38 points in Monday's Game 4 loss.
He has shouldered far too much without his fellow superstar; he can't do it alone.
So which teammates can Durant trust as his go-to sidekick down the stretch?
1. Kevin Martin
There is absolutely no reason that Martin should have been on the bench on the final possession. Outside of Durant and Westbrook, he’s the team’s best perimeter scoring option, and he can create shots in tightly guarded spots.
But for whatever reason, Martin, who was 5-of-11 and 2-of-5 from three-point range, was not in the game. He was Oklahoma City's best three-point shooter in the regular season, hitting 42.6 percent from behind the arc.
Martin did shoot just 31.4 percent from the field in the first three games against Houston.
2. Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher has hit more big postseason shots than anyone on Oklahoma City’s roster, and that includes Durant.
In Game 3, Fisher was 4-of-5 from three-point range for 12 points. He shot 50 percent in three-pointers in the first three games.
He’s also an important piece to have on the floor, as you can trust him with the ball. Fisher has only turned the ball over once in 72 minutes this series.
Who's stepping up in Westbrook's absence? How about Derek Fisher! The vet is 3/3 from deep w/ 9pts in the 2ndQ alone. #THUNDERvROCKETS4/30/2013, 2:43:43 AM
3. Reggie Jackson
Jackson may have the most pressure on him this series, and that’s asking plenty for a 23-year-old, second-year player.
So far, he is handling things very well. Through four postseason games, Jackson is shooting just under 47 percent. He showed good instinctual awareness in the final possession, taking the ball aggressively to the basket despite missing the shot.
Yaya Dubin @JADubin5
Durant took 15 FTs to Jackson's 2, so more like ~24 to 17 KD. MT @AlexKennedyNBA: Jackson 18 shots. Durant 16 shots. That's unacceptable.4/30/2013, 4:56:26 AM
4. Thabo Sefolosha
If Sefolosha is going to be in the game during the final possession, it better be for good reason.
He can knock down shots when open, which may or may not be an effect of having received open looks as a last option on a court with Durant and Westbrook. His true shooting percentage this regular season was 61.8 percent, a career high.
Sefolosha is being asked to do more offensively now, and he hasn’t answered. He was just 2-of-5 shooting from the field on Monday night.
In the team's first three games against Houston, though, Sefolosha averaged 1.7-of-5.3 from three-point range. That's down from his 31.9 percent (1.3-of-3.2) during the regular season in which he averaged 7.6 points per game.
5. Serge Ibaka
The inside scoring of Ibaka is one that’s primarily predicated on cleaning up the offense’s leftovers, but he also earned his points when the defense collapsed in help on a driving Westbrook or Durant.
Now, Ibaka, who has undervalued accuracy from the field, is going to need to become more of a pick-and-pop guy.
He was just 3-of-8 with only two free-throw attempts in the Game 4 loss, but Brooks is going to need to find a way to run more offense through him.
J. Michael @JMichaelCSN
Barkley laments Ibaka only 8 shots. My gripe for 2 yrs. Too talented to have just 8 pts. Skill set to avg 15 #NBAplayoffs #ThundervRockets4/30/2013, 4:45:15 AM
Ultimately, it’s clear how drastic the absence of Westbrook changes the look of Oklahoma City’s offense.
But as defenses key even more intensely on Durant now, as seen in the final possession of Monday night’s loss, it’s imperative that Durant finds offensive threats who he can trust.
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