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Thunder vs. Spurs: Game 5 Pregame Primer

Thunder vs. Spurs: Game 5 Pregame Primer



Western Conference Semifinals (Best 4 of 7)

Thunder (6-3, 3-1 road) vs. Spurs (6-2, 3-1 home)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Series tied 2-2

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

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 111.8 (3rd), Spurs – 109.4 (4th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.8 (9th), Spurs – 97.1 (3rd)

Finally! A vintage Kevin Durant 4th quarter performance. The stat line was 6-6 from the field (including 2-2 from 3-point territory), 3-6 from the FT line (???), and 2 assists that generated two more 3-pointers. That’s 23 total points from Durant in that final quarter. In addition, the man Durant was guarding, Kawhi Leonard, went 0-5 from the field, including 0-3 from 3, and had one turnover in the 4th quarter. It was vintage Slim Reaper….or The Servant…..or the Junkyard Dog…..or whatever the hell he wants to be called when he is laying waste to the opponent.

It was starting to get a little worrisome that this man that almost had another 50/40/90 regular season (50.5%/38.6%/89.8%) was struggling so hard with his efficiency in the playoffs. But that’s what San Antonio (and for that matter Dallas) does to you. They force you out of your sweet spots and hope that you feel uncomfortable enough to get out of rhythm. That’s what they are doing with Russell Westbrook and that’s what they have done with Durant. But in that 4th quarter though, Durant got into that zone where everything he puts up was going in. He was in rhythm for all of his jumpers and used his attention to generate open looks for others. He played smart team basketball, and executed like we haven’t seen in a while. And it was a thing of beauty.

But moving on to Game 5, I wonder what adjustments the Spurs have in store for Durant. Will Leonard exclusively guard him or will they keep him on Westbrook? If Westbrook is freed from the shackles of Leonard, will he exploit whoever is guarding him to hopefully get back in rhythm with his shot? The Thunder, while being a collection of several good players, will only go as far as their two superstars go. Play efficient, smart basketball, and the outcome is usually a victory. Come out and try to force your will on the opposing team, and that can cause you to play inefficiently.

3 Big Things

1. Perimeter Defense

Any team is going to be more comfortable playing in the friendly confines of their home arena. The shots weren’t falling for the Spurs in Oklahoma City as they did in their first two games in San Antonio. This is the site where LaMarcus Aldridge turned 15-17 foot jumpers into lay-ups. The site where Danny Green awoke from his season-long slumber to go 9-18 from deep. Perimeter players, for the most part, just feel more comfortable playing at home.

As the series swings back to San Antonio, its up to the Thunder to continue with the defense they played in the 2nd half of Game 4. That defense caused the Spurs to turn into a iso-heavy team in the fourth quarter. For the Spurs, that is something they are definitely not too comfortable with.

Along with the perimeter defense, the pick and roll defense will be very important to how the Thunder defender. In Game 3, the Spurs used a myriad of pick and rolls with Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard to get open looks for a lot of their players. In Game 4, the Thunder did a better job of snuffing that out and switching on the picks. They will have to continue that to prevent the Spurs’ offense from getting going.

2. Russell Westbrook

The Spurs are making Westbrook’s offensive life extremely miserable. First off, they usually have the reigning two-time defensive player of the year hounding him; a player that is at least 4 inches taller and has the wing span of a condor. Secondly, they are disrupting his rhythm, by backing off of him. They are giving him the 3-point jumper, while backing up to the top of the key. If Westbrook makes it past the first line of defense, he is usually met by one or even two defenders at the rim.

All this has caused him to shoot an anemic 33% from the field and an atrocious 21% from deep. He is shooting 17/41 at the rim. He has been most effective from 15-24 feet out shooting 14/30. In my opinion, Westbrook should probably try to get it going from the mid-range, which then may open up his driving ability to the paint.

3. What’s at stake?

While this probably isn’t the most important game of the series, it is an extremely pivotal set-up game. Win, and you head back home with the ability to close the series out. Lose, and you have an elimination game on your hands. On to Game 5.