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Thunder’s long, athletic defense has Spurs’ beautiful offense looking ugly

May 28, 2014, 1:32 AM EDT

Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili

When the San Antonio offense is clicking, they play the beautiful game. The extra pass to the open man, the movement off the ball, the trust, the smart cuts, the open shots that fall. We saw that in opening two games of the Western Conference Finals.

However, for the last two games Oklahoma City has blown that up and made the Spurs offense look ugly.

The length, the athleticism, the physicality of Oklahoma City just blows up what the Spurs want to do because of how fast Thunder players can recover.

“When we use our athleticism, use our size, use our strength, we are in a good position,” Russell Westbrook said in his post game press conference.

“We used our length and athleticism to disrupt their flow,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks added.

It was ugly Tuesday night for San Antonio in a blowout Game 4 loss that evened the series.

The Spurs shot 39.8 percent in Game 4, with an offensive rating of 97.2 points per 100 possessions (more than 14 off their playoff average coming into the game). The Thunder’s length led them to contest 47.6 percent of the Spurs shot attempts (well above the Thunder’s season average) and San Antonio shot just 30 percent on those contested. Tim Duncan was 1-of-7 on contested shots. That doesn’t even take into account the turnovers and blocked shots, many of which became fast break points the other way for the Thunder (OKC had 21 fast break points to zero for the Spurs). The Spurs are used to whipping the ball around the perimeter, but the Thunder defenders (knowing Serge Ibaka is behind them to clean up mistakes) can pressure those passes and make them less crisp and accurate (if not outright get a steal).

When the Spurs would conncect on the extra pass but you could see them hesitate as they checked where Ibaka was standing before they shot.

San Antonio actually got off to a quick start in Game 4, an 8-0 lead, Tony Parker looked sharp  and attacking. However then but the Spurs got away from what worked if you ask coach Gregg Popovich (Parker did stop attacking by the middle of the second quarter).

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge (Ibaka) could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench so they’d know who Serge was. Really unwise basketball all of a sudden. Rather than hitting open people we started attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots and turnovers.

“You got to play smarter against such great athletes,” he continued. “They’re talented, obviously, but their athleticism and length gives you a smaller margin for error and you better be smart the way you play. And you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.

“And I think we have to play harder. I think they’re playing more physically than we are, they are getting more 50/50 balls, and playing with more determination than we have the last two games.”

The Spurs likely will do those things once they get home.

But the Oklahoma City won four straight over San Antonio in the 2012 in the Western Conference Finals and six of eight since then because the Spurs ball movement can’t outrun the length and athleticism of the Thunder defense. It has changed completely since Serge Ibaka re-entered the series.

And when the Thunder walk off the plane in San Antonio, they are still going to be long and athletic. That could be real trouble for the Spurs.

  1. antistratfordian - May 28, 2014 at 2:21 AM

    What a difference two games make. What happened to ”This time the Spurs are going to win this series and return to the NBA Finals” and “It’s not 2012”?

    And everyone harangued me down for saying, “it’s still the Spurs… so anything can happen” – even accusing me of just being a simple hater. Well I never!

    But I’m just going to say the obvious – If the Spurs lose the next game this series is over because the Thunder are going to win Game 6 in OKC.

    • 00maltliquor - May 28, 2014 at 3:09 AM

      Yeah I got the same thing too anti. Can’t believe I agree with you. I have nothing against the Spurs one bit at all and I really like everything about that franchise from top to bottom but all I have to say is…


      Even if they advance they aren’t winning the championship. Seen this movie too many times. There isn’t an alternate ending. (and to all you crying about the Spurs championships, I’m talking about THIS decades Spurs’ teams)

    • zoomy123 - May 28, 2014 at 8:04 AM

      This happens every year: We see the 1 or 2 games of a series then hyperbolically overreact. It happened when the Pacers won game 1 and when the Spurs won game 1 + 2. It never fails. Year after year “analysts” and casual fans fall for the same trap. I can’t believe people were already crowning San Antonio as the 2014 NBA Champs. SMH.

    • fanofthegame79 - May 28, 2014 at 8:13 AM

      This series is going 7 games with the home team winning each game on their home court. Of course I’m guessing just like everyone else, but I can see that happening with these two teams.

      • antistratfordian - May 28, 2014 at 7:08 PM

        Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me. But it is certainly a must-win game for the Spurs tomorrow. In fact, I was reading some Spurs blog where the author said Game 4 was must-win territory… so that’s interesting. Maybe he’s going to be right about that.

      • fanofthegame79 - May 28, 2014 at 8:00 PM

        It’s going to be interesting to see how Popovich and the Spurs adjust to Ibaka being back.

    • savvybynature - May 28, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      You are a hater. You hate on OKC and Durant, too. If you’re gonna be a hater, might as well embrace it, don’t deny it.
      Really, you just hate on anyone and everyone except the Heat and Lebron in some misguided attempt to make them look better, as if what you say on this blog carries even a modicum of weight in terms of how people perceive the game.

      • antistratfordian - May 28, 2014 at 7:15 PM

        So saying that the Heat would beat OKC means that I’m hating on OKC? Saying that OKC has flaws with their offense means that I’m hating on OKC? Saying that LeBron deserved MVP over Durant means that I’m hating on Durant?

        Nope. No hate involved. That’s just basketball analysis that you disagree with so you resort to name calling. Grow up, homeslice.

      • antistratfordian - May 28, 2014 at 7:20 PM

        Nope. There is no hate involved. It’s just basketball analysis that hits a little too close to home so you get emotional and resort to name calling.

      • savvybynature - May 28, 2014 at 10:25 PM

        Shouldn’t you be watching your precious foul out of this game, Smigel?

  2. 32magicman - May 28, 2014 at 4:30 AM

    The only positives the spurs can take from that game is that their starters got plenty of rest! Oh and Diaw looks like he has found his confidence. Cant wait for the next game.

    • antistratfordian - May 28, 2014 at 4:54 AM

      Diaw looks like he found a 100 boxes of krispy kreme.

  3. sportsfan18 - May 28, 2014 at 6:50 AM

    I beg to differ,.. “the Spurs ball movement can’t outrun the length and athleticism of the Thunder defense.”

    Good ball movement ALWAYS outpaces length and athleticism.

    This would be the thing where a really good team, emphasis on team, can be better than an opponent who is more talented physically but doesn’t play as well together as a team.

  4. newyorkball82 - May 28, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    Heat fans praying that San Antonio doesn’t advance….

    • thomasvanek - May 28, 2014 at 7:25 AM

      They should be careful what they wish for.

    • kinggw - May 28, 2014 at 7:48 AM

      Keep thinking that. While the Spurs are capable of beating the Heat, I think the Heat will beat them in 6.

      Last year is last year. Wade is much healthier and the Spurs aren’t scaring anybody. Dallas took them to 7 games and they appear to be in a dogfight with OKC. Even if they advance to the Finals again, I don’t see anything that should make them favorites. The Heat have proven that they don’t need home court advantage. Nothing San Antonio has done this postseason has been overwhelming, yet you come up with this narrative that Heat fans want to avoid the Spurs. Regardless of who advances I like Miami’s chances.

      • drunkenjunk - May 28, 2014 at 10:05 AM

        Spurs still pose more of a threat to the Heat than the Thunder. If the Thunder advance, the series will go 5 games max.

    • 00maltliquor - May 28, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      Yeah right! If I’m the Heat, I’d be praying for them to hurry up and finish the job on OKC. Not the other way around.

  5. jbeagles23 - May 28, 2014 at 8:17 AM

    I don’t know what happens the next three games of this series but the people on here talking about ibaka not making a difference look like fools. The spurs or heat for that matter are not unbeatable. The difference between them is the heat have the best player in the world

    • 00maltliquor - May 28, 2014 at 11:53 AM

      I think I literally did not read one comment on here by someone not thinking Ibaka mattered on any post, and I’m on here a lot.

  6. jzone954 - May 28, 2014 at 8:36 AM

    How many of you were praying for the spurs to “try” and beat miami this year , yet overlooked the thunder …..another team has beat good ol pop and the spurs?

  7. jzone954 - May 28, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    @newyork baller….your Ammo seems to be running low, it went from “Brooklyn owned you guys ” to ” pacers in 2″…now it’s “heat fans praying spurs don’t make it” lol…..if Miami wins them I’m sure well get the “well I wasn’t impressed” and the “if Derrick Rose was healthy”…

  8. newyorkball82 - May 28, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Pacers in 2? I’m pretty sure no series is decided in 2 games. Brooklyn did own you guys in the game they beat you… Im glad that I don’t have to do the thinking for myself anymore. You’ve taken the liberty of doing that. Heat fans constantly throw around the term “hater”, but a lot of times it’s just the fact that they are heat “lovers” (at least in the last three years), and can’t see why anyone could possibly dislike their beloved heat. It’s like a parent who can’t understand their kid being a brat. Or a Justin bieber fan understanding why anyone could possibly not be a fan.

  9. azarkhan - May 28, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    It’s become obvious that the 32 year old Tony Parker cannot handle the 25 year old Russell Westbrook. So what can the Spurs do? I think they should pull Splitter from the starting line-up and go with 3 guards (Parker, Danny Green and Cory Joseph) for game 5. Let Joseph handle the point and Parker play off the ball. Unfortunately this creates problems on defense. Leonard has to cover Durant, which leaves the 38 year old Duncan on 24 year old Serge Ibaka. Ibaka can take Duncan off the dribble, plus Perkins will have his way with which ever Spurs guard is covering him. So the Spurs will have to go to a zone defense and pray the Thunder don’t start raining 3’s on them.

    Can this save the Spurs? Probably not, because not only is OKC the younger team, but their top three players (Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka) are in the top three at their respective positions in the NBA. But unless something dramatic is done, OKC will close out this series in 6.

  10. mshinson - May 28, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    “Thunder fans are hanging their hat on that again in 2014 — they turned it around against the Spurs before, they can do it again.

    No. Not this time.

    This time the Spurs are going to win this series and return to the NBA Finals. It will take four or five games, based on the fact they won the first two by a combined 52 points (it was 12 in 2012).”

    -Kurt Helin

    • Kurt Helin - May 28, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      If you notice by actually reading that entire post, it was written before Serge Ibaka was returning.

      • mshinson - May 29, 2014 at 8:44 AM

        I did read the entire post. I read the entire post right after it was published. It’s just frustrating to see a professional writer make these types of guarantees on a regular basis, only to back off of them a week later with no mention of the prior guarantee.

        But you did respond, and I respect you tremendously now for doing that.

        Now please hire me to do stuff. I’ll do agate every night and will look better than ESPN’s.

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