Sometimes, it’s just not your night. Sometimes it’s just the other guy’s night.
Sometimes it’s a little bit of both, and that seems to be the overwhelming case in last night’s LA Clippers drubbing of the Thunder. The Greats sometimes put together transcendent games, and that’s exactly what Chris Paul did last night.
Let’s take a painful stroll down memory lane to put Chris Paul’s game into perspective: there was another Great who had a legendary playoff performance against OKC: Dirk Nowitzki. It was game one of the Western Conference Finals in 2011. Nowitzki absolutely destroyed OKC, scoring 48 points on 12/15 from the field with an NBA record 24/24 from the charity stripe. He set another NBA playoff record that night: The highest True-Shooting Percentage in a single game in playoff history (for those who qualified with enough attempts). His TS%? 93.9%. The previous record was set by Vince Carter in 2001 with a TS% of 82.5%
Paul dethroned him last night…in fact, Paul did to the record what both Nowtzki and Paul both did to OKC in their respective performances: Obliteration. Paul’s True-Shooting Percentage last night? An unholy 114.28%.
All of that to say, that it was Paul’s night. He’ll very likely never ever play so efficiently again in his life, let alone another playoff game. But when legendary performances happen, your entire team looks like they should be in the D-League. OKC certainly deserves a portion of the blame. Several of those Paul 3-pointers left his hand with a defensive contest as an after thought. But 8 of 9 from 3 is hard to do against air, let alone at full game speed in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs.
Game 1 is now in the past, and if OKC looks at their own history, they’ll discover that they’ve been on both sides of the early-in-the-series drubbing, both on stages more important than the 2nd round, both in 2012.
In Game 2 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals, San Antonio blistered the Thunder for 120 points and forced the Thunder to revert to the hack-a-center tactic used in last night’s game vs. the Clippers. Game 3 came with a great sense of fear. San Antonio was on a 20 game winning streak and looked as though they were going to roll right through the Thunder.
The Thunder proceeded to sweep the Spurs from behind and enter the 2012 NBA Finals. That Finals that looked so promising after Game 1, where the Thunder completely controlled the game after a 7-point 1st half deficit. The Thunder outscored Miami in the 2nd half by 18 and did so with seemingly relative ease. Game 2 came and went, and Game 3, and Game 4, and Game 5, and the Thunder left the 2012 playoffs empty handed after crowning “King James”.
For Thunder fans, it is easy to hit the panic button, in spite of the reality that a single early game in the NBA playoffs does not dictate the results of the series. The reasons are many (football mentality, spoiled fan-base, high-expectations) but none of them are adequate reasons to prematurely call for a franchise overhaul, or even specific aspects of the franchise. Memphis did not hit the panic button after an OKC barrage in Game 1 but came back to take a 3-2 series lead with an opportunity to close out in Memphis.
The Thunder are perfectly capable of making adjustments, and of the two teams, are coming off the more difficult series with the less similar opponent (that is, LA can apply more of what they used against Golden State to OKC than OKC can apply what they used against Memphis to LA). History has shown that OKC does indeed make adjustments, much to the chagrin of those who like to hate Scott Brooks. More often than not it proves to be effective.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment the Thunder need to make is just play the next game, because it’s sure to be a regression to the mean for Chris Paul and that changes the complexion and strategy of the game immensely…and maybe, just maybe, it will also be our night.