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Thunder vs. Spurs: Game 2 Pregame Primer

Thunder vs. Spurs: Game 2 Pregame Primer



Western Conference Semifinals (Best 4 of 7)

Thunder (4-2, 2-1 road) vs. Spurs (5-0, 3-0 home)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:30 PM CST

Spurs lead 1-0

Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 114.6 (3rd), Spurs – 115.5 (2nd)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.4 (9th), Spurs – 91.2 (1st)

Well, that happened. After the massacre that some people called a game, I heard many people saying, “This is what happens when the Spurs play their best game and the Thunder play their worst.” And that may be true. But that’s not what I saw. I saw a team that was completely and wholly unprepared to play against the Spurs. I saw a team that defended the Spurs as if they were the Warriors. The Thunder’s smalls and bigs were hedging on the Spurs’ guards to prevent penetration, but in the process, they were leaving the roll/pop man completely open. Against most teams in the NBA who eschew the mid-range shot in favor of 3-pointers, you can do that. But against the Spurs, you play right into their wheelhouse.

And that’s what went wrong on one end of the court. On the other end, the Spurs defended Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook extremely well…..because they literally were not defending anyone else. Serge Ibaka led the Thunder with 19 points, mostly on wide-open perimeter looks. Andre Roberson, usually a non-factor on the offensive end, was an eye-gouging detriment in this game. And with the lane being so clogged, Steven Adams had a tough time doing anything in the paint. The only positives in this game were Dion Waiters’ ability to get into the paint and Ibaka’s continued excellence from the perimeter. Unfortunately, those two aren’t carrying you to the promise land in the 2nd round of the playoffs against the best defense in the league.

3 Big Things

1. Pick and roll coverage

You can’t leave LaMarcus Aldridge open from mid-range. You. Just. Can’t. Even Arya Stark in her current state could see that. The major difference between the Aldridge from Portland and the Aldridge from San Antonio is that in Portland he would try to back his defender down and shoot a turn around jumper. In San Antonio, he is feasting on open mid-range jumpers.

I don’t know why the Thunder chose to defend the Spurs like they did in Game 1. Tony Parker is no longer the threat he was in previous seasons to penetrate and score in the paint. Age has taken some of his quickness and athleticism. So why did the Thunder smalls choose to go under the pick, while the Thunder bigs chose to hedge on the guard? It made no sense to me when Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard are the roll/pop men. Instead, with Parker in the game, the guard needs to go over the screen, while the big needs to stay on the big, especially if its Aldridge or Leonard. If Mills is in the game, the guards needs to work a little harder to go under the screen in order to prevent the 3, while the big needs to, once again, stay home. But alas, with Gregg Popovich as the opposing coach, he probably already knows how the Thunder are likely to adjust and already has a counter to the Thunder’s counter.

2. Shooting Guard

Two years after Thabo Sefolosha had to be replaced by Reggie Jackson in their series against the Spurs, the Thunder still find themselves with the same problem. Unless Andre Roberson is guarding Leonard, he is absolutely useless on the floor against the Spurs. Against the Maverick’s ever changing rotation of point guards and wing players, Roberson was a necessity. But against the Spurs, who’s offense is basically run through its small forward and power forward, the need for an elite wing defender kind of goes out the window. So what is the solution?

The Thunder’s offense completely bogged down when the Spurs packed the paint, cutting off the lifeblood of the Thunder’s offense. With no consistent threat on the perimeter, the Thunder were forced to throw up contested lay-up after contested lay-up. With someone like Danny Green out on the floor, the Thunder could possibly start Anthony Morrow to space the floor. Even if the Spurs have to pay attention to one more player on the floor, that opens up the lane that much more for Westbrook and Durant to operate. Defensively, Green is the perfect player for someone like Morrow to guard. Other alternatives are Dion Waiters and Cameron Payne, but I think you’d want them sticking with the normal bench roles to play most of their time against back-ups.

3. Kevin Durant

If Leonard is going to defend “the head of the snake,” then Durant needs to step his game up. I don’t know what is going on with Durant, but he has yet to have that one signature game in these playoffs. Has he checked out? I really doubt it, but it has happened before (see LeBron James in the 2010 playoffs). Is he tired? He shouldn’t be, as he has played the least amount of minutes of his career while playing in at least 72 games since his rookie season. Is he just in a funk? Maybe. Or it could just be that defenses are keying in on him and making life that much more difficult for him to score. Whatever the case may be, the Thunder will only go as far as Durant will carry them.

Thunder Killer

Kawhi Leonard – With so much attention likely being paid to Aldridge in this game, I could see Leonard building off his Game 1 performance to burn the Thunder once again. Perhaps building off of what Durant said about him, Leonard is quickly becoming the ultimate silent assassin.