But with Ibaka patrolling that back line, the reinvigorated Thunder perimeter defenders have been freed to press up on threes and get physical with cutters. Russell Westbrook was the ringleader on Tuesday, unleashed to gamble and wreck havoc, compiling four steals in the second quarter and five of the Thunder’s 12 on the night.
The Spurs were outscored 21-0 in fast-break points and had no answer for the intensity, physicality, speed and athleticism.
“If we let them push us around and are not strong with the ball,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said, “that's when they get us on our heels and we stop attacking the way we do …We were again slower. It looked like we were a different speed, like we were in slow motion and they were going fast and strong.”
Against the Thunder, San Antonio’s old legs have again popped up as a potential problem. But after a season full of limited minutes, the Spurs starters rested plenty in Oklahoma City.
Facing large deficits and led by a dictator with occasionally radical tactics, the Spurs starters were benched for a majority of both fourth quarters.
“Thursday,” Popovich said as reasoning for his extensive use of the mop-up crew.
Thursday — when San Antonio returns to its safe haven with a chance to solve these sudden problems and save its season.