NBA Playoffs 2012: What San Antonio Spurs Must Do to Send Message in Game 2
The Western Conference finals features a matchup of the old veterans against the young up-and-coming stars, and in Game 1, the San Antonio Spurs showed their young counterpart, the Oklahoma City Thunder, why they've been so successful over the past several seasons.
The Thunder simply could not match the composure of the Spurs, as late offensive fouls by James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook cost the team some key possessions.
When all was said and done, not even Durant's 27 points could hold off the surging Spurs in the fourth quarter.
With the Thunder leading 73-64 early on in the fourth quarter, the Spurs made their move.
Reserve Tiago Splitter was a huge part of the team's rally to erase the nine-point deficit, scoring five points during the surge and taking a charge against Harden.
Gary Neal and Tony Parker then hit back-to-back jumpers, tying the score at 73. Parker would then put his team ahead with his signature one-handed floater.
Needless to say, the Spurs ended up winning the contest by a score of 101-98—a good victory for the team, but not nearly how coach Gregg Popovich was looking to get it done.
In reality, the Spurs were pretty lucky to have won the game.
Westbrook and Harden combined to go 14-for-38 from the floor with just 36 points, which is not the production that Thunder coach Scott Brooks was expecting from two members of his "big three."
The Spurs already have a 1-0 lead in the series, but there's still much they can do to send a message in Game 2.
First off, they must show the Thunder how a championship-caliber team adjusts from game to game.
The Spurs lulled through the first three quarters of Game 1, scoring just 62 points and trailing by nine. It took a little encouragement from Popovich to get the team going, and his incredible coaching proved to be the difference in the game (via ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz):
Are we having fun yet? I need a little bit more dose of nasty. I'm seeing a little bit of unconfident, a little hesitation. It's not supposed to be easy. Every round gets tougher…Penetrate hard, good passes, shoot with confidence. I want some nasty.
That must have gotten the fire going, as the Spurs went on to shoot a ridiculous 75 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter, scoring 39 points—that's more than they scored in the second and third quarters combined (38).
The Spurs will have to play a more consistent game in Game 2, playing solid offensively in each quarter. A constant offensive attack will really deflate the young Thunder, who will always be looking to play catch-up.
Secondly, the Spurs big three—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili—will have to outperform the Thunder's big three.
In Game 1, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined to score 60, grab 24 rebounds and dish out 11 assists. They shot 48 percent from the field.
Durant, Westbrook and Harden, despite a lower shooting percentage of 39, managed to score 63 points, grab 21 rebounds and dish out 10 assists.
Aside from shooting percentage, the numbers are very similar.
Ginobili was great in Game 1, scoring 26 points to lead the Spurs. Duncan and Parker will need to step their games up to send a message to Oklahoma City that the aging veterans are still title contenders.
I believe that if the Spurs' big three outscores the Thunder's in Game 2, the Spurs will take a 2-0 series lead.
Finally, the Spurs need to continue showing the NBA world how a championship-caliber team plays.
Their combination of clutch offense and clutch defense in the fourth quarter of Game 1 shows just how ready this team is to compete in the NBA Finals.
Although Ginobili led the team in scoring, it can be argued that Parker was the offensive star of the game, scoring 18 points to go along with eight rebounds and six assists.
His defense was just as important though, as his aggressive play on Westbrook forced the Thunder point guard to take many contested shots. That led to him scoring just 17 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
It's hard to argue with a victory, but the Spurs need to send a message to the Thunder in Game 2.
The Thunder are playing with a lot of heart right now, but in the end it's the experience of the Spurs that will lead them to the Finals.
In order to get there though, the Spurs will have to count on their big three and some clutch performances from their stars as well as role players.
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