Fact vs. Fiction from OKC Thunder's NBA Playoffs Performance so Far
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had a rather eventful postseason thus far, with some closely contested games as well as a devastating injury to Russell Westbrook.
Since the Thunder will be without their star point guard for the remainder of their playoff run, they are in an unprecedented situation since the Oklahoma City era began.
Because of this sudden change in the Thunder's gameplan, we've seen a different type of team since Westbrook's injury in Game 2 of the first round.
As a result, there are some judgments that fans can make about the team, especially in a high-pressure environment like the postseason.
Some of these judgments that are made do hold a certain amount of credibility and value, while there are others that are a bit rushed or may be based on a small sample size.
Whatever the case, it's time to separate the facts from the fiction regarding the Thunder's playoff run thus far, so we can get a clear picture as to how well they are functioning without Westbrook.
Fact: Kevin Martin Is a Key to Success
After battling through some despicable shooting numbers in the first five games against the Houston Rockets (17 for 56 or 30.3 percent), Kevin Martin has rebounded recently to give the Thunder a huge scoring boost.
In the decisive Game 6, Martin was coming off a 1 for 10 shooting night in the previous game and responded with 25 points on 7 of 13 shooting. To follow that performance, he dropped 25 points once again in Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies and shot even better at 8 for 14.
With Westbrook down, Kevin Durant really needs an offensive companion who he can rely on when his own shots aren't quite dropping. Martin can be that man and has proven himself still capable of being a productive scorer, much like his previous years in Houston and Sacramento.
He may not be able to consistently put up 25 points every game, but Martin absolutely must be able to knock down his open shots, which he should see a decent amount of with all the attention focused on KD.
The Thunder need an offensive factor to soften the blow of Westbrook's injury and K-Mart has responded well as of late. If he can keep up his efficient shooting and scoring, it would be extremely beneficial to the Oklahoma City offense which is not used to being without Westbrook.
Fiction: The Thunder Are Better Without Russell Westbrook
Though Russell Westbrook is highly regarded as an elite point guard and explosive playmaker, he still shoulders the burden of plenty of naysayers who believe that Kevin Durant should fly solo.
Durant and Westbrook have grown together during their still-young careers, but Durant's always had the edge over him in terms of talent and productivity. Because of this combined with Westbrook's emotional play and competitive spirit, many believed that he was jealous of Durant and wanted to outshine him at any time possible.
Those same people believed that this jealousy was hurting the Thunder from really achieving their true potential and that Durant would function better with a more traditional point guard like Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul.
So when Westbrook tore his meniscus, all of his critics finally had a chance to see how Oklahoma City functioned with Durant as the lone star. What they got wasn't exactly what they were hoping for, either.
What the Thunder have had to do is step up in a lot of areas in order just to close out a Rockets team that would have undoubtedly been swept if Westbrook was healthy. Instead, OKC needed six games and a lot of Kevin Durant dominance to end the series.
Even with how well Reggie Jackson has been filling in, this team simply doesn't have the same explosiveness or speed without Westbrook. Fastbreaks aren't as much of a threat with Jackson running the point and Durant doesn't have anyone nearly as reliable to look to as his second option for scoring. Overall, Oklahoma City is a very different team without Westbrook on the floor every game.
While the Thunder will be able to band together and return to the NBA finals remains to be seen, but they are certainly not a better team without their star point guard.
Fact: Kevin Durant Can Carry This Team
Even though the Thunder may not be better without Westbrook, Kevin Durant is making it his mission to make sure that they aren't any worse.
It's the first time since he's been in the NBA where the Thunder is his team to carry by himself and he's been responding well to the challenge.
KD is no stranger to racking up some points, but he will be especially accountable for his offense for the rest of the postseason since he is by far the best scorer available for the Thunder right now. Luckily for OKC, Durant is arguably the best scorer in the league and has also demonstrated great progress in rounding out his game with passing and rebounding.
Even without Westbrook, Durant has shown that he can play some point-forward and run an offense or even just do the usual and create offense of his own.
This team belongs to Durant right now. He knows it and he will take that responsibility to do everything within his being to carry them as far and long as he can.
Fiction: Kendrick Perkins Is Useless
It's getting harder and harder to defend Kendrick Perkins as the starting center for the Thunder and his postseason play hasn't made it any easier.
In Game 6 against the Rockets, head coach Scott Brooks made the decision to only play Perkins for four minutes after he got into a heated confrontation with Houston's Francisco Garcia.
The Thunder, incidentally, played very well without their starting big man and came out victorious to close the series out. While this may sound like a call to bench Perkins for good and play Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet more, it's not.
Instead what I'm saying is that Perkins still has plenty of value on the court and he's not as completely useless as many angry fans are thinking. His value was displayed in the first game of the next series against Memphis where he was tasked with shutting down one of the best centers in the NBA, Marc Gasol.
While Gasol did have a solid 20 point, 10 rebound game, it could have been a lot worse if Perkins wasn't as tough as he was in the paint. Much of Gasol's scoring came from his perimeter jumpers, also known as "a place where Perk isn't expected to defend". In terms of the interior, Perk responded to his benching well by matching up well against both Gasol and his front court partner Zach Randolph.
Should the Thunder advance in the playoffs, Perkins' defense will be extremely crucial against other potential big men like Andrew Bogut or Tim Duncan. Therefore, Kendrick Perkins is not completely useless, even if he doesn't show up in the box score. On the contrary, he is still very much an important aspect to how well Oklahoma City does for the rest of the playoffs.
Fact: OKC Can Make It Back to the NBA Finals
When Westbrook went down, so did almost all the expectations for a deep playoff run from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Not many people out there still expect this team to be able to compete for an NBA championship this season, since they weren't even able to beat the Miami Heat last year with a healthy Westbrook and James Harden, too.
However, I do think that Kevin Durant holds the key to just how far Oklahoma City can go. Durant knows how heavy the expectations were coming into this season and how this team wasn't supposed to just be a contender anymore, but a favorite instead.
Now, it's KD's time to rise to the occasion and lead his team almost single-handedly to the Finals, where they were expected to be back in October.
Durant's the type of player to step up when necessary and he certainly has the talent to do so. This team plays very well together with great chemistry, which also means that they will rally around him to make it seem like they never needed Westbrook.
Combine that with the home crowd of Oklahoma City and the grit that the team has shown in close games, and you might just be surprised just how far they can go this postseason.