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Thunder need to get defensive Thursday or this series is over

May 31, 2012, 2:54 PM EDT

Spurs point guard Tony Parker celebrates his three-point basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder Reuters

Scott Brooks doesn’t seem to have any answers. Neither did Vinny Del Negro or Ty Corbin. Nobody has for 20 games now.

The San Antonio offense over the last month is as efficient a machine as the NBA has ever seen and unless the Thunder can find a way to slow Tony Parker and the Spurs down in Game 3 Thursday night in Oklahoma City this series will be all but over. And the Spurs will be Erik Spoelstra’s problem.

The Thunder were not a perfectly efficient offense in Game 2 — they need even more from Russell Westbrook, he remains the key to this series — but the Thunder still put up 111 points last game. James Harden had 30, Kevin Durant 31. The only way that doesn’t get you a win is if you are playing the ‘80s Nuggets or you can’t slow the Spurs now. San Antonio put up 120 last game.

So, now what? Because home or road, you know the Spurs are bringing it Thursday.

If there are answers they came during the Thunder’s 13-4 in the fourth quarter of Game 2 when they made the game interesting again.

Rewatching that stretch, the Thunder really tried to pressure the pick-and-roll ball handler and switched everything. They went with a more athletic lineup (and Derek Fisher, who should play less) and they collapsed guys who should be on shooters into the paint to take away penetration, then tried to close out on shooters. It worked for a bit, they forced a couple isolation plays, the Spurs turned it over a couple times and they just missed a couple shots.

But then the Spurs found their footing again, and won. And that’s the problem, you can throw something at them that works or a stretch, but then San Antonio adjusts on the fly and you have to try something else.

The Thunder need to try a lot of different looks to keep San Antonio off balance — chase Parker over the pick sometimes, trap sometimes, go under others — but it comes down to the pick-and-roll. The Spurs will run 80 or more of them this game, and in Game 2 the ball handler shot 10-12 for the Spurs (via MySynergySports). If they do that again, it’s hard to see the Spurs winning.

Zach Lowe summed up the Thunder’s conundrum well at Sports Illustrated.

But the Thunder have to try something. Perhaps they should experiment with Sefolosha on Parker, and/or with going under the initial screens, rather than chasing Parker over them. Maybe they should trap Parker more aggressively, hoping that they can recover properly before Parker finds an open Duncan.

I don’t know the answer, but I know the status quo isn’t working. The Thunder need a solution — and they’re running out of time

The Thunder have not looked bad this series, just half a step behind the Spurs best. Oklahoma City still has Kevin Durant. They will have home cooking and maybe the crowd’s energy can get them a couple more defensive plays that become transition buckets. They need those. They need stops that become easy buckets. They need the very best of Russell Westbrook.

Then they need to find a way to sustain that. But let’s get one win first.

  1. funktron2x - May 31, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    “But let’s get one win first”? :-) Actively rooting for the Thunder, are we?

  2. andrewproughcfe - May 31, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    I’ve seen most of the Spurs’ games the past couple of months or listened to them on the radio, as I only live 45 minutes away. I would say the Spurs could have scored 120 in about half or more of their games over the past 2 months, but they tend to let up and play defense once they get a big lead in the 4th (which is often). The last couple of months of the regular season, they were frequently pulling all their starters and letting the deep bench guys like Patty Mills, James Anderson, and some call-ups from the Austin D-league team play the entire 4th quarter while the big 3 sat on the bench and laughed it up.

    I don’t know if anyone has seen the Spurs best, 100% offensive effort yet in the playoffs. Tonight might be the night, as they will probably face their stiffest test so far in OKC.

  3. lakerluver - May 31, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    Okc has been exposed in this series. Not having an inside threat is hurting them. So is the fact the Westbrook just doesn’t always make the best decisions with the ball. He’s a phenomenal athlete but he needs to get better at setting up others and not look for his own shot so much. Even with their flaws I still think Okc is the 2nd best team in the league.

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