The Thunder fell just short of the second round, dropping their Game 7 matchup to the Rockets in a 104-102 thriller in which they had two separate chances at a game-tying or go-ahead basket.
Their first attempt was a nightmarish offensive possession that saw Luguentz Dort catch the ball on the wing and get blocked by a spectacular closeout from James Harden, with Houston up 103-102. The next came after Robert Covington split two free throws with 1.1 seconds to play, leaving OKC with the chance to tie or take the lead with a sideline play in the frontcourt after a timeout. The result was the Thunder never even getting a shot up, as the inbounds pass ended up being thrown, somewhat inexplicably, to Steven Adams at the three-point line after the Rockets denied the ball going into Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari.
The question, for many, was why the play was designed as it was, given they were only down two, and didn’t even consider having Adams go to the paint while being guarded by P.J. Tucker who was much shorter than he was. On the first attempt at the inbounds play, Tucker was fronting Adams well away from the hoop when OKC called timeout, with no backside help for a possible lob to the rim. Channing Frye, watching the game from home like all of us, was melting down at the refusal to even consider the size mismatch inside.
On the play they actually ended up going with, Frye walked up to his TV to break it down and just kept getting madder and madder about the refusal to throw it to the paint.
I have never been more mad pic.twitter.com/bYbvgKzxHU
— Channing Frye (@channingfrye) September 3, 2020
Dwyane Wade likewise was calling for them to toss it inside to the big man with Tucker fronting him.
If they don’t throw this ball over the top to Steven Adams with PJ guarding him like that
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) September 3, 2020
It’s understandable if Adams isn’t the primary option on the play, because there is concern over him catching it and getting hacked before getting a shot up, sending a bad free throw shooter to the line, but given how they were guarding him before the timeout and then on the play where he was screening they abandoned him, having him roll to the rim for a lob after looking for the first two options would’ve been a vastly superior option than him running to the ball with 1.1 on the clock where he’s absolutely no threat shooting it.
The Thunder will certainly be thinking through how they could’ve executed better down the stretch, and that ATO play from Billy Donovan will get plenty of scrutiny for its design and lack of diversity of options against a smaller Rockets team that sent them home.