Oklahoma City, however, started switching in earnest late in the opening quarter.
The most stimulating sequence saw Perkins isolated on Parker at the top of the key, Perkins crouching into his defensive stance, clapping his hands at Parker as if to show the point guard he was accepting the challenge of the mighty mismatch. Perkins kept Parker in front of him for the duration of the assignment, refusing to allow the blur to blow by him and break down the Thunder's defense. Parker ultimately settled for a long 2-pointer that bounced off the rim.
Throughout the game, and all over the court, there were many more subtle instances. But each was just as significant.
Durant switched from Tiago Splitter onto Parker, Derek Fisher's man, twice late in the first quarter.
Collison switched from Matt Bonner onto Stephen Jackson, James Harden's man, late in the first quarter.
Ibaka switched from Splitter onto Ginobili, Sefolosha's man, early in the second quarter.
Ibaka switched from Splitter onto Gary Neal, Fisher's man, early in the second quarter.
Durant switched from Boris Diaw onto Parker, Fisher's man, midway through the second period.
By swarming to the ball with multiple defenders, the Thunder effectively took away the Spurs' driving lanes and shut off the paint, where San Antonio scored 50 points in Game 1 and 42 in Game 2. On Thursday, the Spurs scored just 24 paint points.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the most effective switch was Ibaka on Ginobili. Parker agreed.
“Definitely,” Parker said. “The way they switched every pick-and-roll with Manu helped a lot in that game.”
There still were gaps in the Thunder's coverage on occasion. For example, midway through the second quarter, Parker received a ball screen from Duncan, forcing Perkins to step up and show himself. But Westbrook just sort of stood in his place, which opened a window for Parker to pass to Duncan in the middle of the floor, the most dangerous part of the court against any defense. Duncan took one dribble toward the basket, making the Thunder's defense collapse on him. When Durant did from the right corner, he left Diaw wide open for 3. Durant closed out fairly well, but Diaw got off a clean shot that the Thunder was fortunate to see miss.
But the blueprint for the Thunder has been unveiled. Now, it's just a matter of sticking to the script.
“If you want to win,” Westbrook said, “you've got to do what you've got to do.”