The Oklahoma City Thunder just lost Game 4, at home, to a veteran team that finishes games much much better at this point. While it may seem superficial, or even petty to some defensive Thunder supporters, I think that this series – and this current Thunder Team share some common traits with our beloved 2006-2007 Utah Jazz team that also won 9 games in the playoffs and were outclassed and dismantled by a San Antonio Spurs squad in the Western Conference Finals.
The 2006-2007 Utah Jazz:
This Jazz team was something special. They were super young and added a key championship player from the Los Angeles Lakers over the last off-season in Derek Fisher. Headlined by superb scoring forward Carlos Boozer and an absolutely physically dominating point guard in Deron Williams the rest of the Jazz were a collection of complimentary parts. There was the funny looking three point shooting Mehmet Okur and his beard. There was the long armed defensive specialist in Andrei Kirilenko. A number of younger guys who did not know fear – heck, there even was the ‘scrappy’ white guy best known for his physical defense and scoring in the paint in Matt Harpring. The playoff roster had an average age of 25.2. They won 50+ games in a tough Western Conference and scored 101.5 ppg and held opponents to 98.6 ppg. They had a pace factor of 91.6 and an offensive efficiency rating of 110.1 and a defensive efficiency rating of 107.0. They were second best at getting to the line in the entire NBA and seventh best at total rebounds.
The 2010-2011 Oklahoma City Thunder:
This Thunder team is something special. They are super young and added a key championship player from the Boston Celtics over the season in Kendrick Perkins. Headlined by superb scoring forward Kevin Durant and an absolutely physically dominating point guard in Russell Westbrook the rest of the Thunder are a collection of complimentary parts. There is the funny looking three point shooting James Harden and his beard. There is the long armed defensive specialist in Serge Ibaka. A number of younger guys who do not know fear – heck, there even is a ‘scrappy’ white guy best known for his physical defense and scoring in the paint in Nick Collison. The playoff roster has an average age of 23.0. They won 50+ games in a tough Western Conference and scored 104.8 ppg and held opponents to 101.0 ppg. They had a pace factor of 92.7 and an offensive efficiency rating of 111.2 and a defensive efficiency rating of 107.2. They were second best at getting to the line in the entire NBA and eighth best at total rebounds.
The 06-07 Jazz did not have the home court advantage in the first round. They won a hard fought series against the Houston Rockets (who magically had a healthy Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady at the same time). They ended up having to win a Game 7 on the road. Because the Golden State Warriors were the young team that was super hot and had an edge in the matchups, the Jazz avoided having to play the #1 Seeded Dallas Mavericks. The Jazz finished off the 8th seeded Warriors 4-1 and moved onto the next round. In this round, the Western Conference Finals, they played the San Antonio Spurs. After a resounding win in Game 3 at home the team lost Game 4, and then gave up the ghost in the final game.
The 10-11 Thunder had the home court against their first round opponent, the Denver Nuggets. They advanced with a 4-1 mini-sweep. In the next round, also against an 8th seeded team that was hot and had the match up advantage against the top seed, had the Thunder playing against the Memphis née Vancouver Grizzlies. The Thunder prevailed. This time it was a seven game series. Right now the Thunder are in the middle (or beginning of the end?) of the Western Conference Finals, against the Dallas Mavericks. They are trailing 1-3 with the next game in Dallas.
The Jazz won 9 playoff games, including a 4-1 mini sweep and a 7 game series. The Thunder have currently won 9 playoff games, including a 4-1 mini sweep and a 7 game series. They have at least one more game remaining. If they win that, then that would be a huge difference between these two teams.
That Jazz team was in their first playoff sojourn with that core. Deron Williams was only 22 years old and in his second season in the NBA. This is the Thunder’s second playoff appearance with this core, and this is Westbrook’s third season in the NBA. Durant is a jump shooting small forward, and Boozer is a jump shooting power forward. Memo is a center, Hardin is a guard. Fisher was a guard, and Perkins is a center. The main difference appears to be with the coaching. Scotty Brooks, whose timeout suggestions and lack of offensive creativity has become a twitter joke by now, has a Coach of the Year Trophy. Jerry Sloan, who had this team running a great offense that was executing to get great looks for people, doesn’t have one.
The other main difference is that Jazz team was built over the years (starting in ’99 when Andrei was drafted), with key parts coming over in free agency or trades. The majority of OKC’s core are young guys on their rookie contracts. Some guys were hold overs from the Seattle days, but a lot of their rotation guys are a product of going to the lottery so many times over a protracted period of losing. The Jazz missed the playoffs only three times after the Stockton to Malone years leading up to this core group. Twice by only 1 game.
The Jazz were killed by a Spurs team looking at the finals, and wanting to rest. Will the Thunder win their must-win game 5?