I finally get to celebrate a win in these Conference Finals!
After watching the San Antonio Spurs completely dismantle the Oklahoma City Thunder for two games, I was left wondering whether Durant and co. could muster enough offense/defense to win even one game.
Alas, my old man said it best: “This will be a home court series.”
How right he was.
While Game 3s tend to kind-of-seem … pointless (?) once they’re played, tonight’s Game 3 featured a stunning turnaround by Oklahoma City who whipped the Spurs 102-82 (the Thunder trail 2-1 in the series). Coach Scott Brooks took some risks, made the proper adjustments, stopped trying to double team Parker, who spent the night running from Sefolosha and Durant rather than Fisher and Westbrook, and then forced his guys to rotate and switch-up on defense after every Spurs pass.
Lots of missed San Antonio shots and lots of San Antonio turnovers, which in turn led to OKC doing what they do best: running the fast break. The Thunder scored 18 fast break points against San Antonio’s seven, and dominated the paint 44-24 … okay, so they similarly outscored San Antonio in both categories in Games 1 and 2, but still …
The key to OKC’s victory tonight was their defense. They held the Spurs to just 82 points (their lowest score in these playoffs so far), and just 39-percent shooting, compared to the 55-percent they shot on Tuesday.
Intriguingly, Sefolosha made the biggest impact, using his length and speed to bother Parker. The little French dude had few easy buckets tonight, and instead looked disoriented and slightly aghast (he’s still probably feeling humiliated at having his “loving” coach grill him at mid-court in Game 2 … “Un coach vicieux!”). As did Ginobili, who tried to provide his team with a spark, but ended up committing four turnovers to go along with Parker’s five. Together, the dynamic duo put up 24 points while “Timmy” chipped in 11. If it weren’t for some shocking Stephen Jackson 3-pointers in the third and fourth quarter, the blowout might’ve been even greater (maybe in the thousands).
As it stands, San Antonio probably isn’t too worried. Sure their streak snapped, but they’re not a team that focuses much on such insignificant aspects of the game. I’m sure G-Pop is calculating numerous ways to free his PG on Saturday, and get OKC’s defense back to “scrambling mode”.
Another key difference tonight for OKC: their supporting cast finally showed up. I already mentioned Sefolosha’s defense, but the 6-foot-7 shooting guard contributed 19 points, including four monstrous treys that put a stop to San Antonio’s advances. Durant and Westbrook had seemingly quieter nights than usual, with 22 and 10 points, respectively, but like Steve Kerr said, they played under control. Rather than forcing shots or trying to do everything by themselves, the two superstars continually kicked the ball out to supporting players (giving the Spurs a hefty dose of their own medicine). And it worked. Everyone on the team scored, including Ibaka (14 points), Fisher (5 points), and the always amazing James Harden (15 points).
I like what Kenny “The Jet” said about OKC at halftime: “They cannot get complacent.” Thrilling victory as tonight’s was, the Thunder have to be ready for the Spurs’ adjustments. They need, as Shaq added, “A plan B.”
From what I saw, though, the Thunder exposed the Spurs’ greatest flaw: that those supporting characters (all nine of them) are useless if Parker doesn’t give them the ball. They can all drive to the lane, sure, but most of them, including Leonard, Green, and Neal, are spot-up shooters. They don’t create their own shots, and when they try the ball bounces off the rim or they commit an erroneous turnover. By stopping Parker, Brooks effectively stopped San Antonio’s attack.
Funny how only two days earlier I called San Antonio invincible. A few tweaks and suddenly they’re getting blown out by 20-30 points.
I love the playoffs.