3-on-3: Spurs-Thunder Game 2 reactions
Two games into the Western Conference Finals and this is an entirely different series than we expected just a week ago. The San Antonio Spurs look like the train rolling through the city in Inception and the poor Oklahoma City Thunder are the cars littering the streets in the rain. There are still two all-important wins the Spurs have to secure before this series is done and dusted, but it feels like there’s an impossible path ahead to for OKC to traverse. Jared Dubin of Bloomberg Sports/Grantland/Hardwood Paroxysm fame joined us for today’s 3-on-3 looking at the first two games of the Western Conference Finals.
1. Fill in the blank: This series is _______.
Jared Dubin, The Internet: A formality. Maybe if Serge Ibaka were healthy things would be different, but the Thunder don’t really stand much of a chance without him. Everything the Thunder were able to do to gum up San Antonio’s offense in any way whatsoever in those 12 match-ups over the last couple of seasons in which they went 10-2 centered on the fact that the perimeter guys had Ibaka behind them to clean up any messes they made. Without him, all of that falls apart. The Spurs have averaged 60 points in the paint in Games 1 and 2. SIXTY! They are on a completely other level right now so maybe Ibaka wouldn’t even make this an even series, but at least this bloodbath we’ve seen wouldn’t be happening.
Trevor Zickgraf, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fun, but not as fun as it could be. I was rooting really hard for the Los Angeles Clippers last series, in part because of how much a healthy Oklahoma City team scared me. I thought the Spurs could win, but wouldn’t have been surprised to see OKC end things in six games again. When the Ibaka news came out, I was sure the Spurs would win, but not like this. While a seven game slugfest would’ve been great, I have to admit I’m enjoying the phenomenal execution on both sides of the ball for the Spurs.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Almost over. I’ve been as bullish as anyone on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s prospects this season and was trumpeting the matchup problems they create for the San Antonio Spurs. But with Ibaka out, this is not that team. It’s not that the Thunder have to replace the production of Ibaka in the form of points, rebounds and blocks, it’s that they have to entirely change the way they play without him, especially on the defensive end. Without Ibaka, this is a different team, one that doesn’t stack up against the Spurs Machine.
2. Who needs to step up on offense for the Thunder?
Dubin: There’s no one answer here. It’s everyone. Russell Westbrook needs to not chuck pull-up jumpers in transition when there’s nothing there. Kevin Durant needs to shake free in half court situations so Russ doesn’t have to dribble for 20 seconds and then take a flailing jumper. Thabo Sefalosha needs to make something. Nick Collison needs to at least pretend to be a threat when he catches the ball on the pick-and-pop. Steven Adams needs to set better screens. Reggie Jackson needs to be that tertiary guy who can punish the Spurs for devoting too much attention to KD and Russ. Derek Fisher and Caron Butler need to make those open shots. Kendrick Perkins needs to not drop the ball and make his freaking open layups. And Scott Brooks needs to call some plays, man.
Zickgraf: Reggie Jackson. The other starters, Perk, Sefalosha and Collison, aren’t doing anything on offense, but how much were we really expecting them to do? On the other hand, Jackson has destroyed the Spurs this year, but so far he’s only averaging 10 points and three assists a game. He doesn’t have an excuse for not being more aggressive.
McNeill: Technically, everyone—Kevin Durant hasn’t had a supernova game yet in this series, I still expect him to have at least one contest this series where he goes off for 40-45 points—but I think the burden falls on OKC’s shooters. When the Thunder go small, the Spurs are hiding Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter on guys like Butler and Perry Jones III (though calling Jones a shooter may be a stretch, the point still stands). If Oklahoma City is going to make the Spurs pay and adjust to what the Thunder are doing, those guys and others are going to have to knock down shots and stretch San Antonio’s defense. Though, as they say, bench shooting doesn’t always travel. We’ll see how they do at the ‘Peake.
3. What’s been the biggest key for the Spurs through two games?
Dubin: It’s a cop-out to say “Ibaka’s absence,” so I’ll go with Tiago Splitter. The passes he’s making from the high post, off the catch in pick-and-roll, and underneath the basket are of the variety he just did not have in his arsenal as recently as last year. The big-to-big passing to Tim Duncan has been terrific, he’s made a few diagonal, cross-court passes to shooters in the corner after catching the ball on the move in P&R with Tony Parker, and has even facilitated some offense from the elbow. Not only has this been key for this series so far, but it may be the thing that pushes San Antonio over the top if they see the Miami Heat in the Finals again. Splitter having to come off the floor was huge last year.
Zickgraf: The aggressiveness attacking the paint. Sefalosha started off Game 2 guarding Parker, and for the first few minutes he and the Spurs seemed content taking the open jumpers the Thunder were giving them. Then San Antonio reverted back to the Game 1 game plan of relentlessly attacking the paint. If they keep doing that in Games 3 & 4, they may mitigate any home court advantage by again getting the Thunder bigs in foul trouble. Getting to the free throw line early and often would help quiet down what is sure to be a noisy Oklahoma City crowd.
McNeill: The defense. We figured that Ibaka’s absence would be detrimental to the Thunder on the defensive end of the floor, which it has, but the problems Oklahoma City has had scoring on the Spurs through two games has been a surprise. San Antonio has a 94 defensive rating so far in this series and allowed just 77 points in Game 2. With no Ibaka, the Thunder don’t have a 4 or 5 who can draw the opposing Spurs big away from the basket. When Brooks goes small, San Antonio is able to hide their second big man on someone like Butler, like I said previously, and still help out inside. The Spurs have had their troubles containing the Thunder in transition, which is understandable, but the clamps they’ve put on OKC in halfcourt situations has been impressive.