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Oklahoma City Thunder Offensive Blueprint Being Exposed and Sunday NBA Takeaways

Published by Bleacher Report on Mon, 29 Dec 2014

Through three quarters, the Oklahoma City Thunder appeared to be on course for their second signature win of the holiday season. But an all-too-familiar brand of offensive collapse humbugged any hopes of that in the fourth quarter.OKC fell to the Dallas Mavericks by a final score of 112-107 on Sunday, done in by a 19-point final period that featured chaotic execution, predictable attacks and, perhaps most frustrating of all, the total disappearance of Serge Ibaka.We'll start there.Ibaka put together a brilliant effort through three periods, shooting 10-of-13 from the field and drilling three of his four attempts from long range. It was the continuation of a quietly remarkable season of development for the 6'10" power forward, one marked most impressively by his expanding range.Despite his early impact, Ibaka got just one shot in the fourth. To his credit, he didn't complain after the game, per Royce Young of DailyThunder.com:He finished with 26 points and 10 boards in 37 minutes, competing admirably with Dirk Nowitzki's season-high 30. It's hard to look at how this contest turned out without wondering what might have happened if the Thunder had continued to feature the hot-shooting Serge.Instead of Ibaka, it was Russell Westbrook who took control down the stretch. Considering he was mainly responsible for the Thunder surging past the San Antonio Spurs on Christmas Day, it wasn't the worst plan available.The Mavericks succeeded where the Spurs failed, though, forcing Westbrook to attack in one-on-one situations after snuffing out OKC's initial actions. In the end, Westbrook connected on just six of his 23 field-goal attempts, finishing with a hard-earned 18 points, nine assists, nine rebounds, five steals and five turnovers.Dallas deserves credit for working the Thunder into ugly possessions, getting the job done without Tyson Chandler. Rajon Rondo's individual defense on Westbrook was excellent.It's critical to note that Kevin Durant wasn't a part of the proceedings, sitting out his sixth consecutive game with a sprained ankle. OKC has succeeded with a similarly vanillaoffense plenty of timeswhen KD has been there to make something out of nothing.Then again, the outcry about Scott Brooks' offensive play-calling crops up like clockwork every postseason. None of what happened against Dallas felt new to avid Thunder followers.When Durant returns, it will be harder than ever for Oklahoma City to justify its predictable late-game collapsesnot just because an MVP on the floor changes things, but also because Ibaka's growth has been significant enough for him to command tons of defensive attention as well.With three terrifying offensive options, the Thunder should theoretically be able to get consistently good looks. They'll need to draw on that offense in order to make up more ground in the West, and then later in the postseason.Hopefully, falling short against Dallas will serve as a reminder that eschewing system and structure in favor of individual talent (no matter how great) is, at best, a risky play.Around the AssociationCleveland Bottomed OutYou might assume the four-game losing streak in November constituted rock bottom for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but a 103-80 home loss to the Detroit Pistons (now 7-23 on the year) certainlyfeelslike an even lower point.The Cavs got ahead early, leading 28-17 after a quarter. They then promptly mailed in the next three.LeBron James shot 5-of-19 and turned the ball over seven times. If you parse the data finely enough, you can make a case that this was the worst loss of his career.Without Kyrie Irving, who missed his second straight game because of a knee contusion, the Cavs couldn't generate offense. On the other end, they allowed the Pistons to tie a franchise record with 17 made triples.There are excuses available: James has slowed down a bit, Irving was out, Anderson Varejao is done for the year, the bench continues to underwhelm, everybody is still adjusting, and the Pistons have looked much better since ditching Josh Smith.For a team with championship aspirations, though, a loss like this is a bad look. The Cavs won't have much time to dwell on their defeat; they've got the dangerous Atlanta Hawks Dec. 30, which is LeBron's 30th birthday.Patty Pays OffEveryone loves Patty Mills. His energy is infectious, and he changes the tenor of the game merely by being on the floor. He made his season debut for the Spurs on Sunday after missing the first 31 games recovering from shoulder surgery.And he paid immediate dividends.It was his manic defense on James Harden that caused The Beard's ninth turnover of the game, extinguishing any hopes of the Houston Rockets pulling even in the final minute. They fell 110-106 in San Antonio.Harden, who finished with a game-high 28 points, took responsibility for the mistake.But we all know what really happened: Patty.Danny Green's 24 points, four rebounds, three assists and five steals might have had something to do with the result, too. And it probably would have helped if the Rockets could have made more than 18 of their 31 foul shots.But let's not complicate matters.It's Time to Worry About MeloAgain.Carmelo Anthony tweaked his left knee in the second quarter of the New York Knicks' 101-79 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, ending his night early and casting a still darker pall over an already shadowy Knicks season.It's the same knee that has hassled Melo all season, and it doesn't appear to be getting betterpartially because Anthony feels compelled to keep playing on it.Per Chris Herringof The Wall Street Journal:'It would be a thought,' Anthony said, when asked if hed simply sit out in a different situation. 'Its hard to think about that right now, though, because weve got so many guys who cant [play].'Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and (of course) Andrea Bargnani all sat out the Portland loss. So, in some ways, Anthony's insistence on fighting through injury is admirable. Maybe even kind of heroic.But with New York having lost eight straight and no real chance of success this season, it's also starting to look a little silly.Melo is the Knicks' future. He's on the hook for near-max dollars over the next five years. There's no sense in running him into the ground now.Kobe's Comeback: Mixed BagThree games off seems to have lent Kobe Bryant some perspective.After watching his Los Angeles Lakers teammates play with an undeniable sense of freedom as he rested for three games, Kobe returned against the Phoenix Suns a more deferential player. He waited nearly the entire first quarter before finally taking a shot and finished fourth on the team with 10 field-goal attempts in 32 minutes.He doled out seven assists and grabbed eight boards for good measure.The Lakers didn't defend, though, giving up 50.6 percent shooting to the Suns and losing 116-107. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic got whatever they wanted, with the former putting up a particularly monstrous stat line: 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals.Despite Bryant's apparent progress, there were also troubling signs, per B/R's Kevin Ding:Kobe will get a chance to prove his more giving ways are for real when the Lakers head to Denver to take on the Nuggets Dec. 30.Kyle Lowry GoodThat heading's not a typo, you see, because the Toronto Raptors have done away with action words.We the North, they claim. Where the verbs, I inquire.We'll bend the Raptors' rules, though, because it's hard to make a cogent point without verbs.That cogent point is this: Lowry got loose against the Nuggets, particularly during a fourth-quarter blitz in which he scored 10 points and created 10 more by way of assist.Efforts like this are part of the reason he can't possibly be denied an All-Star nod this February. They're also why the Raps sit atop the East.Lowry good, and Toronto good, too.Follow @gt_hughes
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