It seems simplistic to imply that Kevin Durant’s near-perfect fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook’s 27-7-8 and James Harden’s 21 points off the bench didn’t matter, that they were simply what happens when the Thunder’s superstars go to work. But Game 2 of the NBA Finals was as much about the OKC role players’ collective inability to produce as it was about the three-headed Durhardenbrook’s steady excellence.
Everyone who has gone to school and participated (a faction that a cynical person might say doesn’t include most NBA players) understands the frustrations of a group project. Any group includes a couple of people at the top of the class and a selection of role players.
For the group project to succeed, every team member must pull their own weight—no matter what relative weight each is asked to pull. As much as the team needs leaders who are able to develop worthwhile conclusions and present findings to the class, those end products are expected of the team leaders. It is the role players who represent the wild card.
The team must have members capable and willing to wade through dense research, piece together chapters, even run a final spellcheck. Conclusions based on bad research, no matter how grandly presented, are worthless. And a typo confusing they’re, their and there immediately delegitimizes a formerly sound sentence.
This is the difference between the best players and the most important players.
The Thunder narrative of the Finals thus far has little to do with Durant’s brilliance in the clutch or Westbrook’s cyclonic energy. During Game 1, the non-Durhardenbrook players shot 16 for 27 from the field for 37 points, in addition to providing suffocating second-half defense.
They were so effective, Oklahoma City didn’t need Harden.
In Game 2, they looked like another group entirely. Outside of the Big Three, the Thunder shot just 5 for 20 from the field for 16 points. Oklahoma City won’t win a seven-game series with that level of support from its role players, not without Durhardenbrook scoring 90-plus every night.
So look for Derek Fisher’s open three to fall and for Nick Collison to attack the boards. It will tell us all more about the Thunder’s chances than yet another—yawn—brilliant offensive display from Kevin Durant.