That answers that…and then some.
The Oklahoma City Thunder came home facing questions about how on earth it would defend the red-hot machine masquerading as the San Antonio Spurs, who, through the first two games of this Western Conference final, looked unstoppable, shredding the Thunder's defense so thoroughly they made it look easy. And then Game 3 started.
When it did, the Thunder showed for the first time, and from the very start, that it had plenty of answers for the Spurs. The most significant is one that gives the Thunder the best chance to keep this series interesting — Oklahoma City can still dig in and beat the Spurs with shutdown defense.
That's what carried the Thunder to a 102-82 cakewalk over the Spurs on Thursday night, snapping San Antonio's mind-blowing 20-game winning streak.
The Thunder led by as many as 27 points and never trailed after taking a 29-27 lead with 10:11 remaining in the second period.
“They played really well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They played like it was a closeout game, both offensively and defensively…They beat us good.”
Following two methodical Spurs victories in San Antonio, the Thunder strung together one of its own to narrow the series to 2-1 after holding the Spurs to a series-low 39.5 percent shooting.
San Antonio's 82 points were the Spurs' fewest since a 79-point dud in a Jan. 27 loss at Minnesota. Over their 20-game winning streak, the Spurs averaged 109.4 points. Thursday was just the third time the Spurs had scored less than 100 points over that same span.
“I thought we played great defense from the start,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Everybody was engaged. Everybody was in their stance and our hands were active. We contested shots. We rebounded the ball. Defensively, that was as well as you can play the best team in basketball. Everybody did it throughout every possession.”
While Brooks made the necessary adjustments, tinkering with both his rotations and defensive assignments, effort is what really kept the Thunder from falling into a virtually impossible 3-0 hole.
The Thunder played with energy unseen for 48 minutes in Games 1 and 2. Nearly every Spurs shooter had a hand in his face. Almost all Spurs pick-and-rolls were thwarted by a tenacious defender, if not two. San Antonio's rapid and precise ball movement was negated by Thunder players countering with quick feet and undying commitment to every possession.
Quite simply, the Thunder gave second and third effort throughout the night and gave the Spurs a message-sending blowout.
“They played smarter than we did, and I think they played harder than we did,” Popovich said.
Brooks said the biggest adjustment his team made was simply playing better.
“You're not going to beat this team by playing one-effort basketball,” Brooks said. “You're going to have to have two, three, four and even five. They make you do that because they pass the ball so well and spread the floor so well…You've got to have multiple efforts, and I thought we did that tonight throughout the game.” Brooks, though, deserves credit for calling for the proper changes.
He started defensive bulldog Thabo Sefolosha on Spurs point guard Tony Parker, which held the jitterbug in check. He stayed with Sefolosha for the entire first quarter and even stuck with him at the start of the second period because he had set the tone so well.
The changes led to a slew of positives.
Led by Sefolosha's game-high six, the Thunder registered 14 steals. That helped the Thunder force San Antonio into a series-high 21 turnovers, which led to 20 OKC points.
Brooks stuck with Perkins despite many calling for Perkins to sit more in this series. And Perkins came through for his coach, grabbing a game-high eight rebounds while blocking four shots. Perkins also helped limit Tim Duncan to 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting, which directly helped hold the Spurs to a series-low 24 points in the paint.
Brooks, however, reminded everyone that the series still is far from over.
“We've done nothing but won our home game, and we have a tough one Saturday night.”