The Thunder were on the verge of tying up the series versus the Houston Rockets, but due to some decisions that were made, the Rockets were able to escape with the win and push their series lead to three games to one. The Thunder were right there, but they failed unfortunately and now they face high elimination as they head back to Houston for Game 5. There will be some that place the blame of this loss on Russell Westbrook or others, but Billy Donovan is really the one to blame.
The Thunder were rolling early in the game and they were making things happen with Westbrook on the court. He was shooting and assisting on a lot of things while the Rockets’ James Harden was pretty much having an issue scoring for some reason. Westbrook, even though he struggled in shooting in the second half, was still facilitating the offense and making things happen to keep them in the game. All series long, Donovan has had a pattern of taking Westbrook out at a certain time late in the third quarter. When he takes him out, Donovan is taking a chance and sure enough it burns him every single time. We all know that Westbrook needs to get his rest in while he is playing. But one thing that has become very predictable is the time he gives him his rest. What Donovan should have done is change up the rest pattern he gives Russell. We all know that Russell would play all game is you let him, but he does have to rest sometime. Just make it a different time each and every game so that the opposing team does not know that plan and so that you don’t have repeats of what has happened over and over again: your team give up leads without him on the court at the end of third quarters.
But this was not the only mistake that Donovan made Sunday afternoon. In the fourth, with both teams going back and forth, Mike D’Antoni started to use strategy on the Thunder. Instead of defending the Thunder, he began to foul Andre Roberson. For all that don’t know, Roberson is a poor free throw shooter and he had not hit a free throw all game long. Well, the Thunder continued to foul him each and every possession, taking the Thunder out of rhythm and allowing Houston to build as much as a six point lead with under three minutes left in the game. Roberson hit maybe one of his free throws during that timespan and the Thunder lost all momentum and rhythm they had offensively. Donovan could have stopped this from happening and he did not and it ultimately helped cost his team the game. Donovan eventually took Roberson out and replaced him with Jerami Grant, but my question is what took him so long? If he had done that earlier, then maybe the Thunder don’t get down as many points as they did. I understand the loyalty you have to a player and what he can give you defensively. But Roberson was hurting your team Donovan and he needed to come out.
Instead of the Thunder going back to Houston tied up at two games apiece, they now go back down 3-1 and fighting for their playoffs lives. The Thunder have played better at home and the role players have stepped up around Russell Westbrook. But you may not be able to count on that same thing happening on the road, where role players usually go back to their normal status quo. We shall see what happens, but the coaching of Donovan cost the Thunder in that game Sunday afternoon and could ultimately seal their playoff fate.
The General Mike Patton is an up-and-coming writer from Nashville, TN who brings a fresh and non-biased opinion about sports. From his radio experience in Nashville to his time as a sports writer for Free’s World, the website for radio personality and former co-host of BET’s 106 and Park Free (www.freesworld.com), The General is definitely one you want to get to know in the sports world. You can catch his work on SPORTSAWAKENING.COM. Mike grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago Cubs and remains a passionate sports fan who expresses intelligent opinions.