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Thunder/Spurs Game 2: The rise of Westbrook, Harden

May 29, 2012, 1:41 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game One Getty Images

I said going into this series Russell Westbrook was the key to Oklahoma City’s chances against the Spurs — he needs to attack off the pick-and-roll, get into the lane and finish. Or kick it out. But he needs to disrupt the Spurs defense and put a lot of points on the board in the half court.

James Harden has the same burden on him — he should be the guy setting up plays for the Thunder in the half court late in games. Yet Harden only had one possession where he controlled the ball in the last 10 minutes of Game 1 and that is just bad execution by the Thunder. Harden is their best playmaker.

Westbrook and Harden — more than Kevin Durant — are the keys to the Thunder getting the Game 2 win Tuesday and evening the Western Conference finals at a game a piece.

What Thunder fans learned the hard way in Game 1 is that the Spurs are a relentless offense — they keep attacking, keep pressuring, keep looking for lineups that work then they exploit it. In Game 1 the Spurs had success by going small in the fourth quarter, which allowed them to get their points in the paint thanks to a matchup that favored them. They had Manu Ginobili with 26 points, Tony Parker with 18 and they had balance.

There was a logical adjustment to the small ball for Scott Brooks — Serge Ibaka. But he didn’t go there. And he regrets it, as reported by the Expres-News.

“Every decision you make, if it doesn’t work out, you always say, ‘Why did you do that?’” Brooks said. “I’m with you on that. I wish I would have played Serge last night.”

The problem is if Ibaka does play the disciplined spurs will just move on to the next option that works. It is what they do.

Which is why the Thunder can’t have their offense go stagnant as it did in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Which brings us back to Westbrook and Harden.

Late in the game, Harden needs to be the playmaker for the Thunder. The ball needs to be in his hands because when it is Durant still gets his but so does everyone else. In Game 1 Durant was the guy with the ball, and the combination of good defense from Stephen Jackson and little off-ball movement stalled out the Thunder attack. It opened the door and Ginobili pulled the Spurs through it.

On the pick-and-roll, Westbrook simply cannot settle — he has to attack and get into the teeth of the defense. The same is true of Durant. In Game 1 the Thunder ball handler on the pick-and-roll hit just 10-of-28 shots, and that’s not good enough in this series. They are not playing the Lakers with Andrew Bynum’s long arms back there anymore, the Spurs don’t have that kind of back line. OKC has to get its points inside.

All this does not mean OKC should just try and run on the Spurs — San Antonio is more efficient in transition than the Thunder. Over the course of the season it’s true, and if this just because an up-and-down battle it doesn’t really favor the Thunder. There were 97 possessions last game, the Spurs won. As was pointed out in one Spurs preview, San Antonio has won 21 games in a row when the pace is above 94.

It’s not about just being fast, it’s about being smart.

And it’s about Westbrook and Harden.

  1. thestudiokida - May 29, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    I hate it for the Thunder but they just don’t execute well. Maybe they have ten times the talent of the Spurs but they can’t win without some great playcalling and great execution. Maybe they haven’t been together long enough, maybe they are too young, maybe Scott Brooks isn’t that great of a coach but there’s a problem for the Thunder and the Spurs will expose it.

    • thestudiokida - May 29, 2012 at 2:20 PM

      In Game 1 Westbrook was handling the ball too much and trying too hard. He would drive at a bad angle and jump from the free throw line just to take an out of control shot. Very disappointed with his performance… probably Harden should be handling the ball more. He’s proved to be a clutch ball handler and always puts pressure on the defense.

  2. funktron2x - May 29, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    But that’s just it. The Thunder aren’t anything close to the more talented team. Durant is probably the best player on the court, but then all three Spurs stars are next before Westy and Harden. And then there’s the depth. Good lord it should be abundantly apparent that the Spurs are the deepest and most talented team in the league when the Bulls are minus Rose.

  3. bowwserr - May 29, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    I’ve become of the opinion that Westbrook’s problem is he takes too many bad shots instead of passing it off to someone who can get a better look. You’ve got one of the 2 best players in the game right now in Kevin Durant, and instead of giving him his, Westbrook tries desperately to be something he’s not. It doesn’t seem like he cares about the team at all. He thinks he’s the best player on that team, and he’s no where close.

  4. bankai78 - May 29, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    Either Westbrook hit a three or he is walking down a fashion runway modeling the newest OKC jersey.

  5. usavebob - May 29, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. the Thunder would have won the game had they stopped San Antonio a handful of times in the fourth quarter. I am the first to admit that SA is a great ten but why is everyone crowning them champs after a game in which they squeaked out a win on their floor. I dare say that if the Thunder disrupt the Parker and Duncan flow, they will win more often than not!

    That’s why they play the game.

  6. allball23 - May 29, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    Thunder played well for 3 quarters and couldnt finish in the 4th the spurs are deeper and have more lineups that they can use. OKC must needed a better effort on D and they would have been fine.

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