Thunder vs. Spurs: Breaking Down OKC'S Blueprint to Beating San Antonio
All good things must come to an end—20-game winning streaks included.
That is, aside from the fact that they did it at all.
No, the Thunder's Big Three didn't dominate the scoring column or anything to that effect. In fact, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for "just" 47 points—their lowest combined output of these 2012 NBA playoffs.
Their second lowest? Fifty points, in OKC's 77-75 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference semis.
Not that the Thunder's stars were slouches in any way. Westbrook stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, nine assists, four steals and two blocks. Durant did his part with six rebounds, five assists and a steal, alongside Harden's four boards and three helpers.
But, as with any dramatic shift in a series, the story here is all about the variables—the adjustments made, along with whatever other factors might have contributed to the cause.
The overarching theme, though, was the performance of OKC's role players in front of thousands of screaming, blue-clad fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena. An uptick in play by the supporting cast between road and home is to be expected, given the added modicum of comfort that comes with sleeping in your own bed and going about your business amidst familiar surroundings.
And the Thunder's helpers didn't disappoint. Derek Fisher dropped four dimes, snagged three rebounds and chipped in five points off the bench, along with Nick Collison's six points and four rebounds. Serge Ibaka played big on both ends of the floor with 14 points and an assist, to go along with three rebounds, two steals and three blocks.
Kendrick Perkins wasn't a complete waste of space, either, to which his four points, eight rebounds and three swats stand as a testament.
The real difference-maker, though—the x-factor, if you will—was Thabo Sefolosha. After scoring just two points and playing all of 15 minutes in OKC's 120-111 loss in Game 2, Sefolosha was (fittingly enough) a Swiss Army knife of sorts, scoring a playoff career-high 19 points while chipping in six rebounds, six steals, an assist and a block.
But Thabo's contributions went above and beyond the box score. His defense on Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili was invaluable, as he helped to hold those two to a combined 24 points (and nine turnovers) after they accounted for 44 points in Game 1 and 54 in Game 2.
His mere presence, defensively, allowed OKC the freedom to switch on San Antonio's never-ending stream of screen-and-rolls. That, along with OKC's team-wide length, played a big part in forcing 21 turnovers—fueling 18 fast-break points for the Thunder—and holding the Spurs to 39.5 percent shooting from the field.
On the other end, Sefolosha's ability to drain shots opened up the Thunder's offense, encouraging Durant, Westbrook and Harden to make the extra pass rather than pull up or drive to the cup for their own shots.
But beyond X's and O's, beyond any tweaks made by Scott Brooks (which worked to brilliant effect, by the way), the biggest difference was the mere fact that OKC's back was against the wall. There's no manufacturing or scheming for the desperation that comes with being down 0-2 in a series, especially to a team that, for the last 50 days, looked ready to roll to and through the NBA Finals largely unimpeded.
Seeing as how no team in NBA history has ever won a series after going down 3-0, fat chance that the Spurs, as battle-tested as they are and as well as they've played since mid-April, would wind up as such a dubious footnote in history.
Or that the Thunder would allow the situation to get to that point. Not at home, in front of a building packed to the rafters with screaming Okies. Not with a trio of 20-somethings who all rank among the most talented players in the Association.
And not with a supporting cast that had hardly bothered to make an appearance on stage during the first two games in San Antonio.
Does this mean the Thunder should be favored to come back in Game 4 and even the series at two games apiece?
Which team will win Game 4?
Not necessarily. Gregg Popovich will surely have plenty of adjustments of his own to make. San Antonio's Big Three of Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan will "bring it," as will their role players, most of whom (save for Stephen Jackson) were practically invisible up until garbage time.
OKC, on the other hand, will be hard-pressed to duplicate that same manic energy that served to stomp San Antonio's scintillating streak out of existence.
That being said, if Durant, Westbrook and Harden continue to do what they do, and the Thunder, as a whole, share the ball on offense and disrupt the Spurs' flow on defense by switching screens and letting Thabo pester Tony and Manu, then this series, as good as it's been and can be, won't come to an end so soon.
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