The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 98

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The Margin is a quick one topic per difference in the final score, a format originated by Rob Mahoney over at the Dallas Mavericks TrueHoop blog The Two Man Game, borrowed initially by our own Graydon Gordian, and written by me for this edition. Since a last second, irrelevant James Harden three-pointer trimmed the number of points at my disposal, I will try to cram as much as I can into these three bullets:

  • Oklahoma City certainly has an explosive trio in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Beyond them, however, there is little offensive depth and almost no shot creating to speak of. Even with their top three players in the game, the Thunder often field lineups with two complete non-factors on offense. The most obvious advantage is that the Spurs can clog the driving lanes that Westbrook (7-21, 17 points) and Harden (7-17, 19 points) thrive on. The underrated one is with a stationary matchup to defend the Spurs can finally play sharpshooter Gary Neal extended minutes alongside Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the clutch. In Game 1 Neal scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, connecting on 3-4 shots and playing almost the entirety of a 39-point fourth quarter.
  • In that fourth quarter the San Antonio Spurs attempted 18 free throws. Prior to that they managed a meager seven for the game. Some of the credit belongs to backup center Tiago Splitter for drawing two quick fouls to start the fourth. Though his free throw shooting has dropped of a cliff in these playoffs, his ability to draw fouls still remains an overall plus, especially when it helps get the Spurs in the bonus early–at which time Manu Ginobili feasts on drawing fouls and getting free throws (five fourth quarter attempts).
  • His role has lessened since his first stint here in San Antonio, his numbers declining, but Stephen Jackson still has some valuable contributions left for this team. Gregg Popovich and his teammates have an unwavering trust in Jackson, as evident by him playing the entirety of the fourth quarter–all of it guarding the NBA’s most potent scorer. In Game 1 Jackson validated that trust, doing an admirable job in denying Durant easy catches and holding him up long enough for help defenders to arrive. That he hit a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter just adds to the mythology of Stephen Jackson in San Antonio.
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  • Kev

    Putting fan-bias aside, I think most objective spectators knew the Spurs would score easily against this Thunder team. The question going in was really centered around their interior defensive presence lead by shot blocking machine Serge Ibaka. I feel Duncan proved he can still move laterally (and spin) quick enough to create space against the premier shot blocker in the paint, and from mid-range. And the way the Spurs space the floor allows those lanes to open because Perkins has to come out, Ibaka has to come out, and the pick and roll sets the Spurs used last night really exploited the lack of perimeter defense the Thunder possess (or don’t). Quick fouls were called on Harden and Westbrook trying to poke the ball away on many reaches at the top of the key as the pick was being set. San Antonio showed last night (2nd half / 4th quarter especially), that if you control the ball and execute with minimal errors (turnovers) you can take away a huge part of the game the Thunder rely on to generate momentum and drawing fouls (the fast break, and points off turnovers). This was a match-up nightmare for Oklahoma City, and most of basketball collective could see it on paper. I am still fairly confident the Spurs have one of the rarest opportunities in NBA playoff history, to sweep the first 3 rounds (if you take away Harden’s last 2 undefended 3-pointers, this game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicates). But, I would not be surprised at all if OKC wins game 4 to take it back to San Antonio (pride game on their home-court).

  • Andrew

    The Thunder’s stars didn’t play very well in game 1, especially Russell Westbrook. i think this series will be competitive but The Spurs have more firepower than the thunder and move the ball so well. The Spurs got a lot of easy looks all game. Early on they were misses a lot of them but they went off in the fourth.
    http://4hoopsheads.com/2012/05/28/spursthunder-the-real-nba-finals/

  • Steve Tallent

    One of the keys to the fourth quarter was that the reaches were being called. Quite a few of the early turnovers were fouls. That being said the guys need to understand the lay of the land and protect the ball better in those situations.

  • Frank Ameka

    @ Kev – If it is at all possible, I would prefer they sweep Durant and Co.

    I would argue that Pop won this game for the Spurs.
    Pop let the team play their game in the first half. Either Pop is the best analyzer in the game or his stat team are working overtime. The offensive sets were like watching a maestro. beautiful half court offense that eats up the clock, efficient possessions and crisp defensive rotations.
    Pop’s pep talks! I know everyone is harping on the nasty nugget, but I actually thought his opener was the gem, “So, Are we having fun yet?” While this instance was televised to everyone, I would like to be privy to the rest of the pep talks. I suspect they are very acerbic, witty and entertaining. http://youtu.be/M5xM8Z618zI
    The final time-out! He could see a repeat of .04 sec nightmare coming – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FR7Z1Pq2s5I. I guess you can chalk this up to experience. Pop call the time out, cools Harden, gets a set-play that sends Parker to the line and eventually he is left with 3 sec to make something happen. Difference is that before they had four straight defensive lapses, three of which had given the Thunder 9 points and with some of the younger crew on the court, we might get another nightmare in-bounds play, remember the Spurs vs. clippers gm 3 last play in the first half….
    Coaching moves – Pop is a crazy dude! he played Manu and Capt. Jack in this game! They had not played Manu and Jack all year. The guys that nagged you last time you played, Bonner and Blair are yet to be unleashed. Scott, You got played!

  • Colin

    Remember Jackson essentially rendering Nowitzki useless in ’07 when he was with the Warriors? Stephen’s scoring and handling skills may be declining, but he is able to play defense with the best of them.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Well SJ better guard his man at the arc come crunch time next time or Pop will go off again like he did on the sidelines. They had to bring in the calvary again because of that with little time left in the game.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Jack is the X-factor. His D on Durant will be a huge key in this series. Kawhi needs to be taking notes. If he can grab 25% of Jack’s nastiness, he’ll be so very good.

  • omahaspur

    I agree that Jack did a remarkable job on Durant in the 4th. But, my recollection is that most of the time in the 4th Durant started his possessions of the ball “still” and between half court and the top of the key. Would Jack have a tougher time if they ran Durant off a few screens and instead got him the ball that way? Would another Spur (Leonard?) with younger legs to chase Durant around be better in that situation? I think Durant actually talked about that adjustment (working off ball more) during the post game presser.

  • Daniel Wheeler

    When Stephen Jackson hit that three pointer, was there a Spurs fan anywhere that didn’t turn to the person sitting next them and say “I love Stephen Jackson?” I was only 17 when the Spurs won the ’03 championship, and maybe I look at the past through rose-colored glasses, but I firmly believe we don’t win that championship without him that year. (I’m also a guy that doesn’t believe the Spurs win the ’99 championship without Jaren Jackson.)

    Anyways, I just got done watching the highlights from Game 6 from the ’03 Finals in preparation of tonight’s game. (This seemed appropriate considering 4 of the 5 key players from that team will be playing for the Spurs tonight, and I’m sure I’ll get at least one shot of the Admiral sitting in the crowd.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRieYTW3zkM

  • Titletown99030507d

    @google-fcf96fb6f49bbef5ea6fe012deae2842:disqus 

    Nice stroll down memory lane. Love the “That’s the worst quarter I’ve ever seen in my life!”, It was the best 4th though!”