I resisted posting anything recently about OKC’s sudden dominance over San Antonio because I thought I might jinx the Thunder by saying something stupid like, “I really think OKC can beat San Antonio in San Antonio!” So I initiated radio silence …
But now I cannot contain myself. Actually, I kinda feel stupid. After the first two games of these conference finals I moved away from my bold predictions and jumped on the Miami/San Antonio band wagon.
You can’t fault me for abandoning ship. In Games 1 and 2 both the Spurs and Heat demonstrated true valor by tinkering with their opponents and then demolishing them in the second half. The Thunder looked dazed and confused while Boston just looked tired and ready for a long retirement.
And yet, both OKC and Boston struck back in a BIG way.
San Antonio vs. OKC
Last Win: 108-103 (OKC)
So far this series has proved to be the proverbial chess match everyone expected. G-Pop kicked things off with some “nasty” moves, but then Scott Brooks made the appropriate adjustments and BAM: tie series. And all it took was a little more faith from Russell Westbrook. The trigger happy PG oftentimes gets caught up in his own fame, methinks, and shoots his team out of ballgames. I said before the playoffs started the Westbrook was OKC’s biggest liability. Sure he can score, but man does he take a lot of risky jumpers.
In Games 1 and 2 Westbrook took 45 total shots, and hit just 17 of them. Compare that to the 25 shots he took in Games 3 and 4 (of which he made seven) and you have yourself a legitimate game changer. Westbrook can flat out play, no one denies that. But every jump shot he takes means someone else on his team isn’t getting the ball. And so guys like Sefolosha, Ibaka and, to some extent, Durantula, never strike a rhythm and flounder in the fourth quarter. OKC’s offense becomes one dimensional as a result, which makes Parker’s defensive assignment that much easier.
Game 4 saw Westbrook nearly dismantle his team by taking those poor shots (of which he was 9-for-24 overall), making wild passes, and careless turnovers. OKC held a double digit lead in the fourth quarter, but Westbrook made two out of his six combined turnovers and let the Spurs crawl back within five.
Luckily Westbrook began passing off to his teammates, namely Durant and Harden, who both made big plays down the stretch to shock the Spurs on their home court. Harden in particular made a crazy-as-Ashton-Kutcher’s-popularity fade-away 3-pointer over Kawhi Leonard with just 28-seconds left in regulation that gave his team a 106-101 lead (and all but silenced the rowdy home crowd).
San Antonio ran a frantic play on the final possession, which really surprised me. This is, after all, the Spurs – a team who, only mere days ago, ran a top-notch offense to upmost perfection. Heck, they panicked after every botched possession, every missed defensive assignment. At one point G-Pop took his OCD to another level by screaming Parker’s head off at midcourt despite the Spurs’ (at the time) 16-point lead in Game 2. Nice.
Ginobili did drive to the hoop following Harden’s 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three; and then Leonard forced a turnover that gave San Antonio the ball with 11-seconds to go.
And then it was time for that frantic possession.
Instead of taking the ball to the hoop, the Spurs opted for the go-ahead tie. Except, the play they ran was immediately torn to shreds by OKC’s excellent defense. I thought Harden did an excellent job on Ginobili during this particular possession, hounding him and forcing the former sixth-man-of-the-year to give the ball up to Duncan after a botched high pick and roll. Duncan, or “Timmy”, actually passed up a wide open 3-pointer (Durant was worried about Ginobili and had given Duncan ample room to work) and then dropped the ball back to his teammate who hurled a bizarre fade-away trey that clanked off the iron.
An unlikely turn of events, but one that a couple of bloggers (you know who you are) efficaciously predicted.
The Spurs are now left to ponder where it all fell apart. It just goes to show you that running your offense through a PG really isn’t a wise idea.
On a side note: I feel like the PG position is vastly overrated, particularly if the PG likes to shoot. A lot of teams get by with a mediocre point man by running their offense through a small forward (see Los Angeles circa early and mid-2000s and present-day Miami). Boston won the championship with their Big Three in 2008, long before Rajon Rondo came to fruition (and even he helps the team more when he takes fewer jump shots these days); and OKC plays better when they rely on Durant instead of Westbrook.
Last season Chicago bottomed out against Miami because they expected 6-foot-3 Derrick Rose to make big time shots over 6-foot-8 LeBron James. The Utah Jazz failed twice against Chicago because everyone on the team had to wait for Stockton or Eisley to give them the ball. (The Bulls, by comparison, had Steve Kerr … and MJ.)
That’s not to say a PG isn’t important, but championship teams all have one thing in common: they all carry a legit wing player who aptly leads them down the home stretch. The Spurs were at their best when Ginobili carried them on his back, followed by Duncan and Parker. The 90s Rockets had Drexler and Olajuwon … on and on we can go. Bird. Magic (more a versatile small forward than a true PG). A case might be made for Isaiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons …
Tonight San Antonio trailed almost the entire game until Ginobili stepped up and scored 13 points in the third quarter (including three treys).
OKC’s biggest adjustment was containing Parker and forcing the Spurs’ supporting guys to make their own plays. Except none of them can do that since they’re all spot-up shooters who must wait for the ball in the respective locations.
To that end I say “Bravo” Coach Brooks. You found the flaw in the Spurs’ offense and exposed it like a surgeon stopping an infected artery.
I think Coach G-Pop knows that his system has more or less been compromised. After three losses he has yet to come up with a countermeasure to get his offense back on track. I called the Spurs invincible at one point last week (after Game 2). They were invincible, except G-Pop forgot to dip their Achilles heel.
What does this mean for Miami and Boston? I’m not sure. Boston relies too heavily on Rajon Rondo to move their offense, while the Heat stand around waiting for Wade and James to make the big plays. Neither has a legit system to fall back on. I still think Miami wins that series, but only because they carry more athleticism. But I also think that series goes seven games.