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Thunder-Spurs Game 3: The best defense is… well, a good defense for OKC

Jun 1, 2012, 2:03 AM EDT

Thunder power forward Nick Collison strips the ball away from San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan Reuters

You have to fight the Spurs with defense.

OK, I get that sounds remarkably stupid in its obviousness. Please try and hear me out. In Games 1 and 2, Scott Brooks, for reason beyond understanding, chose to go with offensive lineups. Particularly in the fourth quarter of both losses, he went with lineups featuring Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Derek Fisher. The focus on trying to score with San Antonio was a critical mistake, and one he wouldn’t replicate in Game 3, and it resulted in not needing fourth quarter lineups at all as the Thunder blew out the Spurs 102-82.

It was a critical adjustment for Brooks, who went to extended minutes for Thabo Sefolosha, using him to switch onto Tony Parker to contain the All-Star point guard. The Spurs starters scored just .77 points per possession Thursday night, and the more the Spurs’ offense unraveled, the more the Thunder got out and ran for scores, which allowed their defense to reset.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The Thunder decided to pick another poison Thursday night, instead of letting Tony Parker loose, they packed the paint to prevent perimeter penetration, surrendering fifteen shots to Tim Duncan. But on a night where Duncan became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots, the future Hall-of-Famer only hit five for eleven points. With Manu Ginobili and Parker held to just 17 shots total, the Thunder let the supporting cast try and shot their way back into it. They could not.

It’s a considerable adjustment and reflects a development that began in Game 1. The Thunder defended well until the fourth quarter of Game 1, where the Spurs shot a blistering 75 percent effective field goal percentage. In Game 3, their game-long eFG% was just 46.7.

The Spurs won’t be affected by the loss much, even if they know that it wasn’t just an off shooting night but a legitimate counter punch from their Conference Final foe. They’ll have time to make adjustments before Game 4. But the inherent advantages that OKC has in terms of length and athleticism are not easily solved. All this sets up a monster Game 4, with the series on the line. A Spurs counter-attack ends the series, effectively, while a Thunder win resets everything. The big question will be if the Spurs’ offense can get that edge back in front of a hostile crowd. This is the first time they’ve really faced a team with confidence on the road, and a team that can defend.

Because the Spurs aren’t doing it this series. After holding both the Clippers and Jazz to less than one point per possession, the Spurs are now surrendering 108.6 points per 100 possessions in this series. It’s a tiny sample size, but it’s a trend that’s held. Their defense is not good enough to win this series. Their offense is. Which means that it’s the Thunder who have the control here. The Spurs are not going to defend OKC. If OKC can’t keep up this defensive efficiency, they’re going to lose. If they can, they will. It’s in their hands. Granted, the Spurs can counter-adjust offensively, but two things have stabilized. The Thunder can score, the Spurs can’t stop them. It’s all on the Spurs’ offense vs. Thunder D. Last year, this exact situation played out in the conference finals with another team from Texas.

The Thunder tried to outscore the Mavericks last year. Game 3 seems to indicate that they’ve figured out that’s not the approach to take.

In an all-offense series, it’s become about defense.

  1. bigmeechy74 - Jun 1, 2012 at 2:45 AM

    It is a miracle that Scott Brooks just now figured out that Sefalosha needs to be on the floor more than fisher. How did i know that all along and he didn’t?? He’s just now figuring this out? Why?

  2. reddolfan66 - Jun 1, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Wait till they play Miami’s defense….

    • gpatrick15 - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      The same Miami defense that allowed Rajon Rondo to score 44 points?

      • reesesteel23 - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:12 AM

        Yes…and shut down every other player on the team. Rondo can eat all he wants.

  3. davidly - Jun 1, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    The Thunder played great D. But I disagree that San Antonio won’t be able to defend them better.

    Note that the Spurs starters averaged 20 minutes to OKC’s 32. Thirteen Spurs logged double-digit minutes. A lot of coaches being down by 13 at the half and 18 at the end of three quarters would have had a tighter rotation. Not Poppovich. Wait ’til you see the adjustments in game 4. I’m not saying they’ll win, but it’ll be a lot closer.

    Either way, the Spurs will hold home court.

  4. davincizsp - Jun 1, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    No needs to be worried. Spurs will be leading to3-1 at Saturday night. Just that simple.

    • pastortodd78 - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:12 PM

      Uhm is there something wrong with the universe??? I thought it was plain and simple that it was going to be 3-1 right now, but it’s 2-2. Hmmmm. How did that happen? Maybe it is not that simple!

  5. allball23 - Jun 1, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    I wouldnt bet on spurs being up 3-1 the thunder were in the both games they lost and then blew out the spurs. The spurs are great at countering so we will see but I wouldnt bank on a W just yet.

  6. mungman69 - Jun 1, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    Let’s see if the Spurs can adjust. I think that they can.

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