Skip to content

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Isaiah Thomas: ‘I felt very disrespected’ by Kings

    Jul 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT

    Isaiah Thomas, Michael Malone Isaiah Thomas, Michael Malone

    Sacramento’s search for a starting-caliber point guard let the one already there leave for Suns

  2. Report: Manu Ginobili ‘optimistic’ about playing in World Cup despite Spurs’ wishes

    Jul 24, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT

    Manu Ginobili Manu Ginobili

    San Antonio guard says he won’t represent Argentina if he still feels pain

  3. Anthony Bennett breathing much easier after having tonsils out

    Jul 24, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers v San Antonio Spurs Getty Images

    The good news, he did not eat all the ice cream he wanted during his recovery from a tonsillectomy.

  4. James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.”

    Jul 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets Getty Images

    Rockets players certainly are giving Parsons plenty of bulletin board material.

  5. Testimony ends in Sterling probate trial, closing arguments next week

    Jul 23, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT

    Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling

    We know how this movie is going to end, Donald Sterling will lose the Clippers, we just don’t know how we will get there yet.

  6. Rockets signing draft picks Clint Capela, Nick Johnson

    Jul 23, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT

    Houston’s other second rounder, Alessandro Gentile, to remain in Europe

  7. Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at

    Jul 23, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT

    Steve Ballmer Steve Ballmer

    If you really want something and you can afford it, why not? But Ballmer overpaid big for the Clips.

  8. Report: Celtics moving on from Kevin Love pursuit

    Jul 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT

    Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics Getty Images

    Does this mean Boston will trade Rajon Rondo?

  9. Report: Ray Allen to get MRI on knees then decide future plans

    Jul 23, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT

    2014 NBA Finals - Practice Day And Media Availability Getty Images

    If Kevin Love goes to Cleveland does that impact Ray Allen’s decision?

  10. Summer League in Las Vegas sets records for attendance, viewership

    Jul 23, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT

    Wizards Warriors Basketball AP

    Numbers show a substantial increase in popularity.

  11. Dante Exum knows his leap from high school games to Summer League was not smooth

    Jul 23, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT

    Dante Exum AP

    Exum is a project but he also could be the point guard of the future in Utah.

  12. Dwyane Wade says he was asked why he flops by a kid at his basketball camp (VIDEO)

    Jul 23, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT

    Dwyane Wade Dwyane Wade

    “I was about to get him kicked out of the camp,” Wade joked.

  13. Report: Jameer Nelson near $2.7 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks

    Jul 23, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT

    Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics, Game 6 Getty Images

    Good pickup to add some depth at the point, something Dallas needed unless you’re expecting a monster bounce-back season for Raymond Felton.

  14. Raymond Felton pleads guilty on gun charges, will avoid jail

    Jul 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Felton orange jersey Getty Images

    He was given community services, which he can complete in Dallas where he was traded.

  15. Rumor: Sixers have ‘strong interest’ in Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters

    Jul 23, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT

    dion waiters Getty Images

    Waiters will continue to be rumored to be available until he proves he can fit in with Kyrie Irving.

Featured video

Stephenson goes elsewhere for his future
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Love (4461)
  2. A. Wiggins (3389)
  3. L. James (3384)
  4. R. Allen (3140)
  5. E. Bledsoe (2949)
  1. K. Bryant (2818)
  2. D. Rose (2719)
  3. L. Stephenson (2386)
  4. C. Boozer (2376)
  5. K. Marshall (2364)