The Oklahoma City Thunder made the NBA Finals in 2012 but were eliminated in the second round on Wednesday night. Do you wonder why? Here are three totally obvious reasons for the early exit.
The Grizzlies' defense is superb. It was No. 2 in the NBA during the regular season, boasts three All-Defense players in Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Mike Conley and is so insanely good when the team's at home. In five games in Memphis in the postseason, opponents are shooting 42 percent. And those two opponents, the Clippers and Thunder, have two of the best offenses in the NBA.
That defensive excellence allows Memphis to get by with a shaky offense. The Grizzlies had an effective field goal percentage of .389 in Game 5 ... and still won. Holding OKC to a .405 eFG at home in addition to protecting the ball (nine turnovers in 91 possessions) and getting to the line (25-29, a ratio of roughly one made free throw for every three field goal attempts, which is good) got the Grizzlies over the hump. According to Basketball-Reference's database, since 1986 teams that shoot 37 percent or worse are 50-297 in the playoffs (.144). Memphis is now one of those 50 teams with a win.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK IS PRETTY GOOD
I'm not sure any team could survive losing their second-best player, especially one who controls so much of the offense. (The Warriors in the first round are the exception that proves the rule.) Debate the James Harden trade all you want -- just make sure to remember that the trade will result in the Thunder using the Raptors' lottery pick in five weeks -- but the Thunder didn't have a second playmaker strong enough to even emulate Westbrook. In my opinion, undoing the Harden trade wouldn't have fixed that.
Westbrook is a supreme facilitator in addition to being a fearless shot taker. Harden's a good passer and playmaker for a shooting guard, but he's not Westbrook. Maybe the series is closer with Harden still around, but I don't think it's a sure thing that they'd have advanced. And again, the Harden trade was about more than one series with an unexpected injury in 2013.
In a sneaky way, the Eric Maynor cap dump really came back to bite the Thunder in the ass. Oklahoma City gave the back-up reins to Reggie Jackson and shipped Maynor to Portland at the trade deadline. Jackson is a nice prospect, an aggressive, high-potential type. But Maynor is a fine young game manager and could have helped. Again, it's unlikely the Thunder would have found enough points to overcome the Grizzlies. But these games were close enough that it could have added a win to OKC's total.
OH, KENDRICK PERKINS
Kendrick Perkins in the second round, by the numbers.
* 12 total points in five games.
* 11 total turnovers in five games.
* 21 total rebounds in five games.
* Three total blocks in five games. (One was admittedly huge.)
* 4-23 shooting overall. For a center.
* 18 personal fouls overall.
* A -40 in 116 minutes during the series. In the other 129 minutes of the series, the Thunder were a +20.
Yet Perkins started all five games, and played more minutes than Nick Collison in every single game.
Scott Brooks' devotion to Perkins is, at this point, totally indefensible. It didn't cost OKC this series -- the two reasons above have more heft -- but it's still a glaring problem. Something in this situation needs to change before next season. If that means using amnesty on Perk, replacing him in the starting five or finding a coach who can better manage his frontcourt, so be it. But Perk was a consistent problem for OKC throughout the series.