Spurs 120, Thunder 111
Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday's Game 2 loss at San Antonio.
- As the saying goes, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Early, often and all night for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even when the Thunder stormed back from a 22-point deficit and pulled within six, OKC was plagued by a bad bounce here and a tough break there. It was just that kind of night. The kind you'd just as soon like to forget ever happened. The kind you'd like to write off as one of those occasional clunkers that come around in this league's marathon season. But the problem is you can't do either of those things after Tuesday night's loss. Because what this win did for the Spurs was prove to the Thunder, and every other person with a basketball brain, that San Antonio is simply the better team. There was only a sliver of doubt before this series started. Now, even that has been shredded like the Thunder's defense against Tony Parker in the pick-and-roll. This Western Conference final might still be far from over. But something, something drastic, must change and change soon for the Thunder. Or else there's no way OKC wins four out of five and sees its first ever NBA Finals.
- If you're like me, you walked away from Game 2 asking yourself how on earth do you stop the Spurs? Offensively, they're a machine. They have a potent mix of pinpoint passing, low-post scoring, perimeter shooting and marvelous playmakers. Stay at home on shooters and they murder you in the paint. Sag off and supply too much help and they scorch you from outside. Shut down option one, two and three, and they just keep passing and passing until they get a quality shot. Show signs of sluggishness getting back and they burn you in transition. They make basic basketball look not just beautiful, but also unstoppable.
- And oh by the way, if you do ever find a way to stop the Spurs you then have to score on them. While not the defensive stalwart it's been in the past, San Antone still can muster some pretty impressive stops. Scoring on the Spurs remains a challenge, one the Thunder has yet to completely figure out. In these first two games against a Spurs squad that supposedly has taken a step back defensively, the Thunder is shooting just 42 percent.
- The Spurs have more firepower than the Thunder. Plain and simple. The Thunder got a huge night from Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant. Anytime the Thunder gets two of those three rolling, it's generally a win. Tonight, the Thunder got major production from all three and this one still wasn't even close. That's how good the Spurs are.
- The Thunder's big three combined for 88 points on 30-for-54 shooting. San Antonio's big three of Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan combined for 65 points on 24-for-43 shooting. The difference was the role players, mainly Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard, who notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds to provide an unexpected boost.
- The Thunder's role players? They went 7-of-34 for 23 points. Put differently, the seven guys not named Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Kevin Durant who played for the Thunder in Game 2 combined to make the same amount of shots as Kawhi Leonard. Only they needed 22 more shots than Leonard.
- You might remember me noting in various places how one of the worst things about the Thunder's blown lead and subsequent loss in Game 1 was that OKC wasted great performances from its role players. Now you see why finishing the job in Game 1 was so important with the role players playing so well. Now you see why not sealing the deal that night was so costly. Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison combined to score 25 points on 11-for-18 shooting with 12 rebounds and four assists in that game. And we may never see that out of them in San Antonio again this series. It's rare that role players perform so well on the road, and we saw them come back to earth tonight. The Thunder will still need to win in San Antonio, taking either Game 5 or Game 7, to win this series. I seriously doubt that can happen if the role players don't show up to play.
- No Thunder role player suffered a drop off quite like Fish. He was wonderful in Game 1 but, frankly, in the way in Game 2. He was 1-for-10 late in the fourth quarter before finishing the game 2-of-11 for 10 points. And it's not like his defense was making a difference. Thunder coach Scott Brooks should have gone with Sefolosha over Fish but could have gotten as much as Fish provided out of Daequan Cook, or Royal Ivey, or even Lazar Hayward. First it was Serge Ibaka sitting in Game 1. Now the decision by Brooks that will be second-guessed for two days will be why Fisher played all of the fourth.
- No surprise that Brooks ended up playing Ibaka the entire fourth quarter in this one after sitting him for the duration of the final period of Game 1. As a young coach, Brooks essentially had to go with Ibaka after all the criticism. Sticking with Kendrick Perkins down the stretch in Game 2 would have reeked of an act of defiance rather than any sort of assuredness in his game plan. And he would have been considered crazy if again it did not work. Veteran coaches get away with those things. They get labeled coaching geniuses when moves like those pan out. And when they don't, they rarely are second guessed, especially not publicly by the masses. Brooks hasn't built the resume to risk it.
- Ironically, Ibaka was terrible for much of this game despite receiving significantly more minutes. He set weak screens for Durant, which got him an earful by KD. He bobbled a boatload of balls inside and he missed a ton of bunnies. Early on, the basketball world saw why Brooks is more comfortable with and confident in Perk.
- Late in the game, Ibaka did have a few nice defensive possessions on Duncan. And his mobility and length defending the pick-and-roll helped slow the Spurs a tad while spurring the Thunder's comeback attempt. It ended up being a roller coaster type of night for Ibaka.
- One sequence late in the second quarter characterized so much about the Thunder. It started on the defensive end, when Ibaka blocked a layup attempt by Leonard but then watched Leonard grab the ricochet and put it back in. Following Leonard's make, the Thunder lollygagged up court, with Westbrook being the only Thunder player showing any urgency, waiving his arms to get his teammates to join him. As Westbrook crossed center court, he appeared to call out some sort of "Four Down" play. But his big men set up in a play referred to as "Horns," which has one guy at each elbow gearing up to set a screen and giving the ball handler the option to go either way. Nobody did anything from there. Westbrook tried to call out more instructions, pointing players to certain positions. But nobody budged. Worse, there was no movement off the ball. Everybody just stood there waiting on Westbrook to make a play. When Westbrook was left with no choice but to, he threw up a pull-up 3-pointer that missed with 2:11 left in the period. It all said so much about so many things. 1) The Thunder's good (Ibaka's blocked shot) is not good enough. 2) The Thunder's youth and relative inexperience still leads to mental lapses and emotional swings (lollygagging up court). 3) The Thunder's offense remains too vanilla. 4) The Thunder still has a point guard who still struggles to lead while learning the position. 5) When all else fails, a jump shot is going up.
- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich unveiled a nice little adjustment tonight. He stuck Danny Green on Westbrook from the start instead of Parker. He hid Parker on Sefolosha. It's not something the Thunder needs to overreact to. But it's also not something the Thunder can let the Spurs continue to get away with. Parker can't be allowed to loaf on defense and preserve his energy to attack, attack, attack on offense. Either Sefolosha has to make Parker pay, or Brooks could start Harden. The latter is the radical adjustment the Thunder might not yet need and, let's be honest, is one Brooks isn't likely to do anyway.
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