SAN ANTONIO — Here's the question of Game 2: What's more indicative of how this series will go, the Thunder's three quarters of strong defense or its fourth-quarter fold in the face of Spurs nasty?
The wind in the Alamo City blows strongly in the direction of nasty. I get that.
But what to do with those first three quarters of Game 1? Discard them? Attribute Tony Parker's hesitancy, those 16 Spurs turnovers and their 39 percent shooting to San Antonio's week layoff?
To do so is understandable given the gravity of that fourth quarter for the ages, the Spurs' 101-98 victory and the fact they haven't lost a game since filing their taxes.
Understandable, but unwise.
If you're Oklahoma City, you build on those 36 minutes, if only for this reason: Playing that way might be the Thunder's only viable option.
This team is not built to consistently walk the ball up court in the Western Conference Finals and run a half-court play that produces an open shot against the smartest, most cohesive team in basketball. And if anyone needed a reminder of that, the Thunder's International Distress Signal was on display again in Game 1.
You've seen the signal. It's Kevin Durant drifting, drifting, drifting toward half-court, desperately holding out one hand and begging for the ball as the shot clock ticks inside 12 seconds. It's not the sign of an unimaginative offense. It's a sign the Thunder is taking the ball out of the net too often — which is about all OKC did in the fourth quarter when San Antonio hit 12 of 16 shots.
We might grow weary from listening to Durant, Scott Brooks, Brian Davis and everyone else cashing a Thunder paycheck say this. But “defense leading to offense” is the only Thunder Way that works this deep in the playoffs.
Remember that comeback from a seven-point deficit in Game 2 of the Lakers series? Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden got serious about contesting passes to the wing. (Kobe Bryant called it a risky strategy. Others termed it essential). Steals led to layups that led to another Durant game-winner.
On each of those plays, the Thunder scored before Laker 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol crossed the 3-point line. When you're facing Tim Duncan, the easy basket imperative is even greater.
The Thunder had them in Game 1, outscoring the Spurs 14-6 on fast break points through three quarters. When Brooks dreams of this kind of basketball, Westbrook fights over a screen to block Parker's shot from behind and ultimately prompts a series of skittish shots by the Spurs point guard. Serge Ibaka lurks close enough to make Parker think twice about pulling the trigger, giving Westbrook time to use his quickness to recover for the block, the loose ball and a layup at the other end. All of that happened Sunday, on one play.