A few things to watch for Spurs – Thunder
The update has been given: Manu Ginobili (rest), Aron Baynes (rib), Matt Bonner (calf) and Austin Daye (lat strain) are all out against the Thunder in Oklahoma City this evening, where the Spurs are putting their 19 game winning streak on the line.
I urge you, for your own sanity, not to buy much stock in what you see tonight — unless one team just completely overwhelms and physically dominates. However, there are a few things to watch in terms of team and individual matchups.
1) There are two teams in the league capable of throwing a game-changing wrench in San Antonio’s offensive machine: the Miami Heat, and these Thunder. Their length and athleticism gives them the ability to collapse on penetrating guards while still being able to recover to shooters on kick-outs, which is kind of the Spurs’ thing. But, against the chaotic defense of the Thunder, San Antonio will look to attack the paint and the short mid-range area in order to set up the corner three, the idea being they want to force OKC to bungle defensive rotations. The Thunder are too long and quick, so the Spurs have to keep the ball moving. Without Ginobili there won’t be that frenetic change of pace off the bench, but it’s going to be interesting to watch San Antonio and whether or not this offense can sustain systematically against OKC.
2) The Kawhi Leonard – Kevin Durant matchup is so damn juicy. Durant is likely going to be the league MVP this season, and he’s basically impossible to stop. But Leonard is also playing at the highest level of his young career at the moment. I’m not saying he’s going to hold Durant to 30 percent shooting and like 18 points — KD is going to score. What you want to watch for is how difficult Kawhi can make life for Durant on the floor. The Spurs want to force jumpers and don’t want to foul, and if they can force Durant to put up the majority of his points from mid-range, it’s kind of a win in itself.
3) A very underrated matchup in my mind is Danny Green on Russell Westbrook. Green is longer than Russ with enough athleticism to at least marginally keep up with the explosive point guard. The Spurs will sag off him at times and live with those long-range pull-up jumpers, but when they get in trouble is when Westbrook starts getting regular momentum utilizing picks and penetrating toward the rim. San Antonio wants to keep him out of there; they want him shooting 18-footers all night. Green is a good enough defender to sag off just a tad, while still being in position to challenge perimeter shots.
4) I’m not sure how the Spurs will defend Reggie Jackson. With Leonard and Green typically preoccupied with Durant and Westbrook, the rest of the Spurs guards — who aren’t great defensively — will be saddled with keeping up with OKC’s physically imposing backup point guard. I’m not sure there’s an answer. It’ll just have to be one of those things where San Antonio’s defensive system must be trusted to corral a guy like that. The Spurs will do everything in their power to force jumpers, but as always, it’s going to take a monster effort to deal with the explosive Thunder.
So, those are just a few things. Again, I’m not all that concerned with the result tonight, especially considering San Antonio is playing its fifth game in seven nights and the Thunder haven’t played since Sunday. It’s actually sort of surprising Manu is the only member of the Big Three sitting tonight, but I don’t think you’re going to see big minutes from Tim Duncan or Tony Parker. Though it’ll probably depend on the pace of things and how the game is going. It’s not like this one doesn’t matter. The Spurs still need to hold off OKC if they want the top seed. Should be fun!