The Oklahoma City Thunder were heavily criticized for their play in game six of the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder were at home in that game and with around five minutes left in the game they had a seven point lead, a lead that look like no problem for the team after what they had done to the Golden State Warriors the two games before. That is when it all fell apart for the Thunder, when their chances of getting into the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012 went from extremely bright to as dull as can be.
The Thunder would blow that lead and end up losing the series. Once the entire series was over the fingers started being pointed and they all went directly to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The two players did deserve the blame, they turned it over multiple times in the final few minutes. Does this mean the Thunder need to change their end of game routine? No, they do not. Hero ball will not be the downfall of the Thunder, it will be quite the opposite. Hero ball is why the Thunder were there and why they will succeed in the future.
During the 2015-16 season when games got close for the Thunder Kevin Durant was more successful than most would think. Durant hit 51% of his shots when the Thunder were down or up by five points, 51% is pretty dang good. If it gets close there is no one on the Thunder that should be shooting more than Durant. Andre Roberson, a man who was also on the court near the end of that game six, did hit 49% of his shots in the same situation that Durant it 51% of his. The biggest difference between the two players is that 70% of Roberson shots were assisted on and only 53% of Durant’s shots were assisted on. Quite simply, Roberson cannot create his own shots.
The man that can create shots for Roberson? Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was an assist machine throughout the year, the guy is a playmaker for his teammates. Westbrook also hit 46% of the shots he took in crunch time, the key is that Westbrook took almost 600 more shots than Roberson did. Chances are if Roberson had got more touches his average would have gone down to a bit.
Westbrook and Durant took tons of shots at the end of the game, no doubt about that, but the Thunder are giving the ball to their best players. The Warriors, a team that has been praised for their great ball movement and all-around team play, are not much better than spreading it to their role players than OKC. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson took at total of 1,371 shots when games got close this season, making 650 of them. That comes out to a shooting percentage of 47%. Compare that to how Durant and Westbrook did, the two took 1,530 shots and hit 743 of them, that’s 48% field goal percentage.
The two Thunder superstars took worlds of more criticism than the Warriors’ superstars did but were more efficient when they did so. Where is the problem with the hero ball there? Teams raise and fall with their superstars, the Thunder just so happened to miss their shots when the spotlight was on. The morale of the story is that when it comes down to it there is no better players to have the ball in the hands of than your best players. Superstars will be judged for giving up the ball too much at the end of games and will be judged for not giving it up enough at the end of the games.
At the end of the day, all that matters is if the shots fall and who comes out victorious. The Thunder should have won that game six, but if they would have played in the exact same way as they did before and won then no one would have complained. The Thunder have what they need to win it all, they just need to finish the job.