SAN ANTONIO — What do you do?
That's the question coach Scott Brooks, his staff and every last member of the Oklahoma City Thunder must be asking themselves.
What on earth do you do to stop the San Antonio Spurs?
After an encouraging debut in this Western Conference final, the Thunder left San Antonio still in search of a successful scheme to slow down the red-hot Spurs.
San Antonio held serve at home and seized a 2-0 series lead with an authoritative 120-111 win in Game 2 on Tuesday night inside the AT&T Center.
It was the 20th consecutive win for the Spurs, who have not suffered defeat since April 11, and their 11th straight at home.
In this latest victory, like many of the 19 before it, the Spurs scored in every way imaginable en route to a lead that ballooned to as many as 22 points. Not once did the scoreboard show the Thunder owning more points than the Spurs.
“Our guys played hard,” said Brooks. “Unfortunately, we came away with nothing the last few days.”
Oklahoma City must now win four of the final five games to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time.
If the Thunder is to get to there, it must first find an answer to the riddle that is exposing every flaw
San Antonio sliced through the Thunder's defense with ease throughout Game 2 just like the Spurs, and guard Manu Ginobili in particular, did in the fourth quarter of Game 1. The Spurs shot 55.1 percent from the field and scored a mind-blowing 65 second-half points against a Thunder squad that wants to pride itself on being a defensive-minded team.
All the while, nothing the Thunder tried provided any resistance against San Antonio's onslaught. If it wasn't one thing, such as the pick-and-roll, for instance, it was another that torched the Thunder, like the Spurs pinpoint ball movement, for example.
And what's got to be scary for the Thunder and everyone who bleeds Thunder blue is that even coach Gregg Popovich, a championship coach four times over, confesses that this is his best offensive team.
“We've had good ball movement with other teams that we've had here, but I think that the combination of penetrate and pitch and post-up with Timmy (Duncan) is probably the best that we've had,” Popovich said. “Other teams were more halfcourt. This team has more pace to it that what we've had in the past.”
So far, the Spurs are sprinting past the Thunder.
Spurs guard Tony Parker, who scored 42 against the Thunder back in February, again dazzled, this time with 34 points on 16-of-21 shooting to go with eight assists. His efforts captained a 27-assists night for the Spurs, who used that precise ball movement to get about anything they wanted, exactly when they wanted it.
San Antonio also made 11-of-26 3-pointers, burning the Thunder with the same sharp-shooting that the Spurs displayed during the regular season. Two nights earlier, the Thunder held the Spurs to 8-of-24 shooting from 3-point range and perhaps thought it had solved that part of the puzzle.
Only another problem popped up.
While the Thunder's big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden did what they needed to do, combining for 88 points on 30-of-54 shooting, the rest of the Thunder's players scored just 23 points on 7-of-34 shooting.
That was a huge difference in the game.
San Antonio, on the other hand, got an unexpected double-double out of rookie forward Kawhi Leonard, who what 18 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. His performance complemented the Spurs' big three of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan, who combined for 65 points on 24-for-43 shooting.
“They were making shots,” Brooks said. “I mean, they were spraying them all over the floor and knocking them in.”
The Thunder then got desperate, resorting to “Hack-a-Splitter,” an intentional-fouling strategy against Spurs forward Tiago Splitter. It's a tactic designed to put a poor free throw shooter on the foul line and hope that he misses.
It's the universal sign that one team can't guard another.
So, again, we ask what on earth can the Thunder do?
“We have to play better,” Brooks said. “We have to do everything better. From guarding the pick-and-rolls, from closing out, to making the extra pass (and) setting good screens. It's a variety of things that we have to play better.
“When you're playing against the best team in basketball, you have to do a lot of things well to beat them. But we have enough in our locker room to do that. We just have to do it.”