As Game 2 flipped to 3 with the Thunder in desperate need of a kickstart, Scott Brooks made the proper and necessary adjustment.
He traded offense for defense, inserting Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup and pulling Thabo Sefolosha from the rotation.
But it came with a potential pitfall, which didn’t backfire during the Thunder’s two wins but popped up in Thursday’s Game 5 blowout loss in San Antonio.
All season, Jackson’s defense has been spotty. Starting in Russell Westbrook’s absence, he was exploited by opposing guards. Off the bench, he was exposed by some of the league’s most potent reserves. On Thursday, he was burned by both.
After defending Danny Green well back in Oklahoma City — earning high praise from both Scott Brooks and Kendrick Perkins — Jackson played a lead role in some team-wide breakdowns that allowed Green to get free for four threes. But his defense against Manu Ginobili was a bigger issue.
The Spurs’ crafty reserve had 19 points in only 21 minutes. Four of his seven baskets were with Jackson as his primary defender.
“I mean, they both can shoot the ball,” Jackson said when asked who presents a tougher matchup. “Ginobili is a little bit more of a playmaker, Green understands what he does for the team, constantly moving. They both are. They're both smart players. There's a reason that the Spurs are here. Everybody is tough to guard.”
But hobbling on a sprained ankle that stripped him of some of his lateral quickness, Jackson seemed to have the most trouble staying in front of the slashing Ginobili. At will, Ginobili got to the rim and made plays for himself and others, including six assists.
The Spurs seemed to identify that mismatch and pounce on it.
“I personally felt like they were attacking me,” Jackson said.
To his credit, Jackson owned up to his defensive lapses. He shouldered the blame and didn’t mince words.
“Gregg Popovich could’ve thrown on a jersey, and if I was guarding him, either he would’ve had a hockey assist or a basket,” Jackson said postgame. “I did a (expletive) poor job tonight.”
At Friday’s practice, after a day to stew on it, Jackson remained frustrated with his defensive showing.
“Film confirmed it,” Jackson said. “Still pretty (ticked) at myself ... Doesn’t really matter what I do offensively. It’s easy to give effort on the offensive end, but I really pride myself on being able to stop my man and didn’t really do so.”
Jackson will remain in the starting lineup. His playmaking ability overshadows any potential defensive worry. And he’s been far from the Thunder’s only defensive problem in the three blowout losses in San Antonio.
But for the Thunder to find a way to pull this series out, Jackson cranking up his defensive effort will be key. Because the Spurs are sure to test him.