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NBA Playoffs: Thunder play well, but Spurs win while still seeming unstoppable

May 30, 2012, 12:10 AM EDT

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

The San Antonio Spurs have now played an even ten games in the NBA Playoffs and, amazingly, have won every one of them. The wins haven’t all been dominant — Tuesday night’s 120-111 victory ended up being one of their more difficult challenges this season — but it’s been astounding to watch the old, formerly boring ball players simply click on all cylinders for majority of the past few months.

While we all marvel at what the Spurs have been able to do en route to staying undefeated for 48 consecutive days, the most impressive thing is that the Spurs haven’t been playing any sort of “hero” ball … they’re just playing basketball the way it was meant to be played and, surprise(!), it works. Gregg Popovich has found out a way to put a fine-tuned machine out on the court, allowing the basketball purists among us 48 awesome minutes of watching wings cut to the bucket, guards move the ball around, slashers slash, passers pass and the big men doing what big men have been taught to do since the first time they picked up a basketball and their coach realized they were bigger than anyone else.

The Spurs are winning simply by playing fundamentally-sound basketball, really, so it shouldn’t be any sort of surprise that Mr. Fundamental himself — the ageless Tim Duncan — helped San Antonio earn a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals following Tuesday night’s victory. Duncan wasn’t the most efficient player from the floor as the Thunder got a bit more physical with him than he would have liked, but his double-double while chasing down loose balls and picking up four big blocks were key for the Spurs as Oklahoma City employed the “Hack-A-Player” defense on backup Tiago Splitter (oh, and in case anyone missed it, he also did this to Serge Ibaka).

Most frustrating for the Thunder, though, is likely the fact that San Antonio was able to find another answer on the offensive end. Manu Ginobili was the star in Game 1, but Argentina’s favorite sixth man was bottled up early on Tuesday night and never really found his rhythm … at least not until hitting what might have been a dagger three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. No worries for the Spurs, though — Tony Parker simply decided to show once again why he belongs in the conversation as one of the top point guards in the league by accumulating 32 points, seven assists and turning the ball over a mere two times — all while hitting 15 of his 20 shot attempts in part of a near-perfect performance. The scariest part is that Thursday night’s Game 3 will likely end up belonging to someone entirely different if the Thunder are able to figure out  how to stop both of the Spurs perimeter playmakers (here’s hoping for Gary Neal and Matt Bonner three-pointers early and often).

If the fact that San Antonio continues to find contributors on the other end no matter what the Thunder do on defense — Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined for 25 points — it probably isn’t making Oklahoma City happy on offense that the Spurs are also quite adept at keeping them from getting into any sort of rhythm. Tuesday night’s game got grimy in the second half when a plethora of free-throws were shot and, even though the Thunder shot more from the charity stripe, it kept them trailing as they were unable to get into a rhythm and barely picked up even a modicum of momentum before San Antonio eventually elicited an answer for each run.

The worst part about Tuesday night’s game might have been that Oklahoma City’s stars all ended up having excellent games. Kevin Durant scored 31 points on 17 shots (though he was limited quite a bit in the fourth quarter), James Harden came off the bench to hit 10 of his 13 shot attempts and free-throw attempts to score an even 30 points while Russell Westbrook scored 27 points and dished eight assists and nary a turnover. Typically when one team’s top three players are able to score 88 points against an opponent that hadn’t given up triple-digit points in their previous nine outings, it’ll lead to a victory. That surprisingly wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, however, because San Antonio held the remaining six Thunder players to a total of just 23 points despite attempting 35 shots.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Thunder decide to change for Game 3 considering they did almost all they can be expected to do on Tuesday night before falling into a two-game deficit in the seven-game series. If they’re unable to win when their top three players combing for nearly 30 points apiece while shutting down the star from their series-opening loss, can there really be much hope left in the Oklahoma City locker room?

  1. elgorditodehumboldt - May 30, 2012 at 12:19 AM

    I love the Spurs brand of basketball. Old school fundamentals – shooting, passing, cutting, defense with no chest bumping, dancing, mad dogging, etc. It is completely refreshing to watch in this day and age.

    • florida727 - May 30, 2012 at 8:41 AM

      Couldn’t agree more. The Spurs actually execute basketball PLAYS… instead of the typical one-on-one garbage that almost every other NBA team employs. That’s why the game has gotten so predictable, and boring. LeBron isolation. When he needs a blow, Wade isolation. When LeBron catches his breadth, back to LeBron isolation. The Spurs actually have more than one player involved at the offensive end… AT THE SAME TIME. What a novelty :)

      • southbeachtalent - May 30, 2012 at 12:16 PM

        We can always count on you to bring up the Heat..

        Whats sad is that this story gets 15 comments. Two small market teams playing great basketball and only 15 comments. Isn’t this what everyone wants?

    • ndnpaint - May 30, 2012 at 11:54 AM

      The spurs are really good at passing team, and they have some good shooters. Unfortunately, for the Thunder the refs aren’t keeping up with the game (it moves fast). If they refs were a little more on the ball there would be a split series at this point. A lot of people realize this by merely paying attention to the replay’s. It almost seems as thought there is a veiled effort to build Pop into the next Phil.

  2. andrewproughcfe - May 30, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    Last year’s Mavericks and this year’s Spurs – teaching all those young guys that if you want some hardware, you might just want to learn to pass…

    • iknowzeroaboutsports - May 30, 2012 at 1:06 AM

      It’s really quite beautiful.

  3. savvybynature - May 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM

    I learn so much about basketball watching the Spurs, it really is a joy to see.
    The Thunder played very good basketball and have a great team, but the Spurs are in incredible harmony right now.

  4. term3186 - May 30, 2012 at 12:50 AM

    Spurs look downright scary. Fantastic basketball. It’ll be interesting to see how the hold up on the road.

  5. ragingmouse - May 30, 2012 at 1:16 AM

    Like fine wine…

    Never get tired of it!

    Super
    Poised
    United
    Resilience
    Special…

    • teamobijuan - May 30, 2012 at 9:32 AM

      Now do one for “Lame”

  6. ladan2012 - May 30, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    Spurs are just phenomenal right now.

  7. Zammael - May 30, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    Thunder: Dribble Dribble Dribble… Brick.
    Spurs: Pass Pass Pass … Easy Score.

    Never fails to amuse.

  8. captainjackspuro - May 30, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    Does any one feel like these spurs play like the computer on nba2k11. Or all madden? Just when u think u can crawl back in it, pilling and scraping back into striking range……..boom computer unleashess a ridiculous assault of dagger ( wide open) threes, spinning drives to the lane, and everything else is wide open while u try to compensate!

    This all looks to easy for the spurs. I feel the biggest challenge now is to keep them motivated. Knowing pop he might have a problem with that.( hehe).

    History in the making!!? What u got lebron?

    • delius1967 - May 30, 2012 at 10:28 AM

      d00d id luv to give u tumbs up but cant fined it? luv ur point tho

      • slopmcflop - May 30, 2012 at 12:39 PM

        wat

  9. funktron2x - May 30, 2012 at 4:37 AM

    It’s awesome that the Spurs most deadly combination yet comes in the twilight of timmy and manu’s careers. If they keep steamrolling and win it all, then stop and think about how good can they be in 2013. Kawhi, Danny green, gary neal, Splitter, Blair should all keep progressing, and the way they manage Timmy/Manu minutes plus possibly keeping Diaw AND adding a guy like nic batum…. Good lord.

  10. schaffershokai - May 30, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    The Spurs are winning because they have the mindset of destroying the competition: http://youtu.be/UVspaHILMZ4

  11. drew902brees - May 30, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    This is the best “team” basketballive ever seen. It really is refreshing to watch. Did you ever notice how well players play after a divorse? ( Tony Parker)

  12. southbeachtalent - May 30, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Anyone care to talk about Kevin Durant and his 4th Qtr play? 4 pts? 2 of which were free throws??

    hmmmmm.

  13. slopmcflop - May 30, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    The Spurs offense is a spectacle to behold right now. Such crisp passing and movement off the ball. The Thunder aren’t exactly a defensive powerhouse, but they allowed 96.9 points per game in the regular season (good for 17th best) and 92 throughout the first two rounds of these playoffs. The Spurs had 92 after the 3rd quarter last night.

    The Thunder are athletic and long enough to be able to play defense well in spurts, but through two games they just look completely helpless against this Spurs offense. Always a step behind. How many times have you seen a Thunder defender closeout late to a open jumper from a Spurs player? Constantly seeing the Thunder just rotating like crazy, but to no avail. I don’t think I’ve seen more open looks for a team this far along in playoff basketball, and that credit belongs to how on point this Spurs team is. A joy to watch, and I say that even as someone pulling for the Thunder.

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