The Oklahoma City Thunder were well on their way toward disposing of everyone's favorite Cinderella, the Memphis Grizzlies, in Game 3 of their 2011 NBA Playoffs second-round series. Then, a familiar problem returned: their inability to execute in crunch time. Oklahoma City blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead and ultimately lost in overtime. Russell Westbrook took too many shots, Kevin Durant took too few and the masses descended, ready to declare this a fork in the road and a key moment for the franchise.
Really, it's the same story though. It's tempting to blame Westbrook and Westbrook alone, but there's a larger systematic problem. Durant, for some reason, can't get open, and he's been way too passive in every big-game spot in the playoffs thus far, save for Game 5 of the Nuggets series. Everybody else stops moving, and Westbrook panics and forces a bad shot. Westbrook has the ball and is therefore the most recognizable guy coming up short, but it's a team problem. (I'd say more, but Daily Thunder covered this well).
What's the fix? Honestly, I think the only solution is time. I sarcastically refer to OKC as the league's "golden boys" because we consistently expect too much out of them. Remember: the team's four best offensive players (Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden) are 22, 22, 21 and 21. When do players that young ever blitz through the NBA Playoffs? Also, Westbrook isn't merely just 22; he's 22 and a converted shooting guard playing point guard. For years and years and years, players that young tend to be a) extremely talented, b) prone to lapses in concentration in key moments, c) not experienced enough to know how to channel their talent perfectly in high-intensity settings like a road game in a 1-1 series in the NBA Playoffs. The Thunder are no different.
This shouldn't be a slight either. Youth is not an excuse for poor effort, but youth is a reason to not make too much out of postseason struggles you can directly attribute to youth. If the Thunder lose this series, it'll be seen as a disappointment, and I'll want to pull my hair out. Teams this young shouldn't even be this close to being a legitimate title contender. Hopefully, we can appreciate that.