Thunder-Spurs: Thunder slows San Antonio by switching up defensive assignments

The Thunder slowed the potent San Antonio Spurs offense unlike no team has since late January because it committed to selfless team defense defined by 48 minutes of switching defensive assignments and picking up the slack for any teammate in need.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 1, 2012
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It's a word that in the minds of most ballers is synonymous with quit, a strategy that typically screams to opponents “we can't guard you.”

Switch.

Most players on most teams are too prideful to concede to that tactic.

But in Game 3 on Thursday night, it's what saved the Thunder from falling into a virtually impossible 3-0 hole in the Western Conference Finals.

The Thunder slowed the potent San Antonio Spurs offense unlike no team has since late January because it committed to selfless team defense defined by 48 minutes of switching defensive assignments and picking up the slack for any teammate in need.

“They're doing a lot of switching,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan. “Their length, size and athleticism is a huge advantage for them.”

Only in Game 3 has the Thunder taken advantage of its biggest strengths.

It started with Thabo Sefolosha getting the start defensively against Spurs point guard Tony Parker. After two games defending Parker, guard Russell Westbrook moved over to cover Spurs off-guard Danny Green.

The move worked wonders, as Sefolosha used his height and length as barricades against Parker. Sefolosha on several occasions cut off half the floor and funneled Parker to one side, generally right into areas where additional defenders lurked. Sefolosha also blocked Parker's vision, making passes difficult once the heady point guard picked up his dribble.

“It was more length. Gave them a different look,” said Westbrook, whose pride could have taken the biggest blow but didn't seem affected one bit.

“Like I said before,” he said, “my job is to make sure we win; whatever it is throughout the game that I need to do to make sure of that, that's all that matters.”

When the entire Thunder team bought into that philosophy Thursday, the Spurs had no shot.

Westbrook and Sefolosha, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison, even Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins switched assignments throughout Game 3.

In what quite possibly was the biggest game in Thunder history, the roster's designed and well-documented versatility produced a statement win.

“Our pick-and-roll defense was very good against probably the best pick-and-roll offense,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We did a good job of getting into the ball, did a good job of being up into the ball with our bigs. That was the key, and our other three guys were involved in it. But it's a team defense. I thought everybody was active. Everybody was engaged.”

The word Brooks was careful to not use was switch. In fact, a sly smile creased his face each time he was asked about it Friday. He knows the strategy gave the Spurs fits, and he was careful to not slip up and let the cat out of the bag.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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