3-on-3: How can the Thunder rebound from Game 1?
One game into the Western Conference Finals and some are already preparing the Oklahoma City Thunder’s obituary. We here at 48MoH are of the opinion that the San Antonio Spurs will eventually eliminate the Thunder and move on to the NBA Finals, but are fully aware that there’s a lot of series still to be played. As they say, it’s not a series until the home team loses a game. With that said, what does OKC need to do to get this round started? We had our pal Royce Young of TrueHoop Network site Daily Thunder joins us to share his reactions with us from Game 1.
1. What adjustments can the Thunder make in Game 2 to improve the interior defense?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Play Hasheem Thabeet! Just kidding. It’s kind of a rock-and-a-hard-place situation for OKC because they want to stay defensive-minded, but in doing that, they basically have to play 2-on-5 on the other end. Their adjustment in the third quarter was to sag off of Duncan at the high post and sink into the paint some. That seemed to be at least a little bit effective, but you’re playing with fire there.
Matthew Tynan, 48 Minutes of Hell: Without Ibaka, it’s going to take a change in game plan. It might be against their aggressive nature, but I think Oklahoma City needs to take a page out of the Mavericks’ first-round playbook: sag on pick-and-rolls almost entirely, switch on screens more often than they normally would and designate certain defenders to stick to the Spurs’ shooters. They’ve got to cut back on the gambles and curb their propensity to freelance, because without that shot-blocker they’ll pay dearly if beaten by a very disciplined and precise Spurs offense.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: They’ve got to do something to recreate the defense they played in the third quarter of Game 1. If there’s one thing that Oklahoma City has, it’s length and athleticism. Losing Serge Ibaka before the conference finals even started hurts that, but they still have plenty up and down the roster. Whatever Scott Brooks and his staff can do to unleash those long arms and active bodies on the Spurs offense like yesterday’s third quarter, he’s going to have to try.
2. How much small ball do you expect from Oklahoma City in Game 2?
Young: Still a decent amount, though it appeared to play into the Spurs’ hands. With Boris Diaw able to expose mismatches as a center, it didn’t quite allow the Thunder the kind of spacing they probably anticipated it to. Part of the Thunder’s identity is playing small with Durant at the 4, but that just increases their defensive interior issues.
Tynan: Scott Brooks was all over the place with his lineups in Game 1 (was that Durant at center in the second and fourth quarters?). It was that big lineup that slowed the pace and got the Thunder back into the game in the third quarter, but if I had to bet, I’d say we’re going to see more small-ball as the series rolls along. The Spurs scored at will against the smaller groups, but OKC is basically going 2-on-5 offensively when it stays big. So it’s a tough situation. The Thunder should probably bog things down instead of getting into a track meet all night, but they have to score somehow.
McNeill: I expect a pretty fair amount. I think still has some freedom in Game 2 to experiment with lineups and figure out what the Thunder can do to offset the loss of Ibaka. Remember, this team hasn’t had any time to really adjust to losing their interior defensive force; they’re having to figure it out on the fly. I don’t think Kevin Durant at center is the way to go, putting the MVP at the 4 and surrounding him with shooters might be the better option.
3. Who is more of a danger in this series to the Thunder, Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard?
Young: Tony Parker. I think Russell Westbrook can guard him, and Thabo Sefolosha has had some success in the past, but Parker is a paint scoring wiz, able to get at the rim and improbably get shots off. Without Serge Ibaka there to discourage some of those open runs at the cup, Parker is a menace to deal with.
Tynan: Leonard has become the Spurs’ most irreplaceable player, because there’s no one else like him on the roster. Tony Parker is a nightmare for the gamble-happy Westbrook on offense, but Russ can kill him on the other end. That’s not the case with Kawhi. Not only is he attached to Durant’s hip all night, but he forces the Thunder to stay mentally and physically engaged defensively as well. Dealing with Leonard for 40 minutes a night on both ends of the floor only adds to the burden of the OKC superstars.
McNeill: I think it’s still Parker, but it’s getting closer every day. Parker is the spark that ignites the Spurs offensive engine. If he’s limited or shut down in any way, there will be fewer open shots to go around and more pressure on the defense to shut down a hyperactive Thunder offense. Anytime the Spurs can score buckets, it prevent Oklahoma City transition opportunities and lets San Antonio set up their halfcourt defense.