Skip to content

How do the Thunder deal with Tony Parker?

May 25, 2012, 4:55 PM EDT

San Antonio Spurs head coach Popovich talks to Parker during their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City Reuters

We can sometimes overanalyze what happened in a regular season game when trying to look at a playoff matchp. It’s like comparing Suzanne Collins and José Saramago novels, technically they are the same art form but one of these things is not like the other.

However, the Feb. 4 meeting of the Spurs and Thunder provides some interesting insights into what we might see starting Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals — specifically how the Thunder try to deal with Tony Parker.

In that game, on orders from coach Gregg Popovich to attack Russell Westbrook, Parker had 42 points on 29 shots, had 9 assists, got to the line a dozen times and carved up the Thunder defense like your dad on a Thanksgiving turkey. The Spurs won. Then this week Parker added this:

“We’re definitely going to go at (Westbrook). It’s not going to be like Dallas or the Lakers,” Parker said. “Their point guards are not as aggressive. It’s going to be a little bit different. We’re going to go at him.”


Westbrook told the Oklahoman he remembered that February game.

“It was a bad game,” Westbrook said when asked what he remembers about that night. “It was a bad game for our team. We got out sluggish, kind of let them do what they wanted to do, especially Tony Parker.”

That’s a tad short on details for my taste. Fortunately, Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated has more details and information than you’ll know what to do with in his breakdown of the Thunder and Parker.

Westbrook, however, can be jumpy against the pick-and-roll, and the Spurs know this… In pick-and-r0lls involving Westbrook, Parker often waits an extra beat as the screen is set to see if the Thunder point guard will try to get a jump on the play by lunging in the direction he thinks Parker will go — usually in the direction of the pick. Parker had great success waiting for that lunge and then going against the pick, leaving Westbrook hopelessly behind. Or, if Westbrook’s aggressive sliding took him far above the pick, Parker would dribble at him, cross over and split defenders on his way into the paint.
The Thunder’s standard defense against Parker offered a second way for him to attack: by going full speed at the big man helping against the pick-and-roll. The cliché about Parker is that he is a shaky long-range shooter, and that opponents should go under picks, daring him to shoot jumpers. But the Thunder did not defend Parker this way. They mostly had Westbrook chase Parker over the pick, while the man defending the screener slid over to contain Parker’s dribble penetration….

The strategy concedes the pick-and-pop jumper, and Duncan get several wide-open looks at jump shots against the Thunder. But having Duncan shoot 20-footers — some of which the Thunder could contest by crashing from the wing — is a better outcome for Oklahoma City than having Parker get into the paint, break down the defense and find a layup or wide-open shooter.

Go read Lowe’s entire post.I’ll wait.

This starts to explain why I think San Antonio will win this series — the Thunder can’t really stop them, the Spurs are too efficent. Right now the Spurs’ ball movement in situations like that is incredible. Duncan may hit that 20 footer, or he may make a pass to the next guy to hit a corner three or drain another shot of choice. The Spurs are getting and incredible 1.18 points per possession on spot up jumpers in the playoffs because they are getting the jumpers they want. If they do that against Oklahoma City, the Thunder will struggle to keep up with the scoring.

Which comes back to why I think Westbrook is the key to the series — he has to dent Parkers’ efficiency on one end and create a lot of offense on the other end.

It’s a big task. Spurs are relentless on offense. As athletic and talented as the Spurs are, I’m not sure they can keep up. I just keep flashing back to the original Terminaor movie and seeing the Spurs offense.

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

  1. cdog0o7 - May 25, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Good analysis – But doesn’t this go both ways?

    How are the Spurs supposed to stop Kevin Durant?

    • Kurt Helin - May 26, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      I did a whole preview post that touched on this, but Durant’s a problem for the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard will get the primary job.

      I still think the stars in this series will get theirs, but the Spurs depth and team play will win out.

  2. mat9844 - May 25, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Playing a team once during this shortened season is not a very good indicator; both teams have had time to tweak their games and make changes in their approach. The last game was three months ago and a lot has happened. I think OKC is in a position to win this series now; back in Feb. they weren’t.

  3. lmvs2012 - May 25, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    Okc will only win one game in this series…

  4. aboogy123456 - May 25, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    how do the spurs deal with james harden?

    • abchome - May 26, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      Ginobili will school Harden in the flopping shoot out… lol

      • abchome - May 28, 2012 at 1:27 PM

        Amazing Ginobili/Harden double flop in Game 1, and Ginobili got the call

  5. lmvs2012 - May 25, 2012 at 7:41 PM

    Just watch the game aboogy then ull know how the spurs will stop harden and the okc

  6. mungman69 - May 25, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    I like the Spurs in a sweep.

  7. mungman69 - May 25, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    And how do we deal with Matt Moore. The weekend is coming so I guess we will have to deal with Matt Moore’s biased reporting. Hey Matt, you are a good writer so don’t lower yourself to that scumbag reporting.

  8. lmvs2012 - May 26, 2012 at 3:01 AM

    Mungman…then sweep it is!

  9. txnative61 - May 26, 2012 at 3:07 AM

    Love that “Terminator” analogy! Tim Duncan on trash talk, “I just quietly keep going at them, over and over and over, until they break. Nothing pisses them off more.”

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Why can't Lakers have a player-coach?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Love (4248)
  2. T. Warren (4104)
  3. L. James (3869)
  4. R. Allen (3572)
  5. A. Wiggins (3358)
  1. K. Bryant (2895)
  2. D. Rose (2821)
  3. E. Bledsoe (2751)
  4. J. Nelson (2611)
  5. C. Anthony (2279)