With the drama and confusion of the previous game behind us, it’s to move on to the second stretch of the Western conference semifinal series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Those 13 seconds with every foul, infringement and dirty play in the books are behind us. The Thunder are tied with the Spurs at 1-1, and game 3 takes us to Oklahoma City. While the Thunder haven’t been able to generate explosive offense (and might struggle to do it against the best defense in the NBA) for a long stretch in this series, their defensive effort and ability to make the Spurs look disoriented and confused offensively holds the key to success and moving on to the conference finals.
The early going seem to be the key in the game. The Thunder opened game 2 with a 17-4 run. The Spurs missed 12 of their first 13 shots, finishing with just 42.6% from the field. Their game 1 numbers were completely different, shooting over 60% from the field and winning by 32 points. But while the Thunder players love to talk about intensity and physicality, it’s about staying with Spurs players as they move the ball, and not let their defense lose its shape and focus.
We have to come into the game like we’re down 0-2. We know that’s how they’re going to approach the game. We know they’re going to come in and do what they do. We have to match their intensity. We know it’s important to take care of home-court advantage. We have to come in with the mindset of coming in to win and compete, play hard as possible and play smart.
That’s Dion Waiters speaking, the hero of the inbound play that led to five different moments of the referees missing huge things, including Waiters hitting Manu Ginobili with a forearm to make room for a pass, which the Thunder turned over anyway. But Waiters, one of the more perplexing players in the NBA due to his combination of talent and weird decision making, hit a huge three pointer for the Thunder in their 98-97 win. In order to beat the Spurs, it’ll take more than the given 50 points or more from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
One thing the Spurs need to do differently is move away from LaMarcus Aldridge. While the Thunder don’t want him scoring 40 points on them every game, they’ll take that if it means the rest of the team isn’t involved. They took away Aldridge’s midrange jumpers, something he probably does better than any other frontcourt player in the NBA, and forced him to work in the post. It worked well for Aldridge, but disrupted the Spurs offense and rhythm.
Conclusion? While the Thunder aren’t exactly a half court kind of team, their defense is going to try and make it something like that. Being able to get to the line and crash the offensive glass is another key for Oklahoma City, stopping the Spurs from going into transition. San Antonio? They’ll look to regain the order in their offense, in what should be another very physical and how knows, maybe testy kind of game.