With their streak now up to 20 straight games, the longest winning streak in the last four years, the San Antonio Spurs finish their first home stand in the Western Conference Finals booming with confidence, after the impressive Game 2 over the Thunder, with Tony Parker leading the way, scoring 34 points.
Oklahoma didn’t seem to learn anything from Game 1. In fact, they just regressed and completely relied on individual skill to get them out of their first half hole. Durant, Harden and Westbrook combined for 87 points and it wasn’t enough. Not when only four more Thunder players are on the scoreboard, as opposed to 10 for San Antonio. Not when the Spurs make 11 three pointers and shooting 55.1% from the field.
The secret weapon to the Thunder all season, beyond Westbrook and Durant being the dynamic duo, was their defense. Gambling and steals, great perimeter defense from Harden and Sefolosha and the aerial support of Serge Ibaka while Perkins provided the big body to clog the paint. That aspect of their game simply hasn’t shown up in the first two games of the series.
Whatever slowed down the Spurs early on in Game 1 wasn’t there anymore. They opened aggressively and quick, like a tornado, led by Tony Parker, who scored 17 points in each half. Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw spread out the bigs, while Parker was simply unwatchable, moving like the wind off screens. The Thunder remained in the game and made a nice little comeback late in the second half through skill – Durant finishing with 30 points, Russell Westbrook with 27, Harden with 30.
But they look nothing like a team. Despite looking formidable, commanding and dominant in their wins against the Mavericks and Lakers, it’s down to one on one’s and improvisational scoring. No set plays, no creativity. Just relying on Durant and co. shooting prowess. It’s great against most teams in the NBA, but not against the Spurs. San Antonio didn’t just sweep through the Jazz and the Clippers because they were bad opponents. They made them look bad; They’re simply that good of a team.
Nasty seems to be the new tag-line in the city, heading over to Oklahoma City. The Thunder have yet to lose a game at home in the postseason, but after being outplayed in six of the eight quarters thus far, the warning signs and light bulbs must be buzzing for Scott Brooks. He has to find a way to match the Spurs’ intensity and speed. Fouling Tiago Splitter and sending him to the line slows things down a bit, but even that can’t be a solution. If they actually resort to stopping Splitter that way, the Thunder are lost.
It did take San Antonio out of their shooting rhythm for a while, but there’s just too much experience and intelligence on this team to let something like that lose them a game. Tony Parker woke up from his rough patch at the right time, and the Spurs just followed his charge to a nine point victory, which should have been more, just like in Game 1.
The Spurs are the most successful team in North American Sports over the last 15 years in terms of winning. Not just titles (4 since 1999); Simply winning games. The formula is based on Popovich being a great coach and Tim Duncan being a great guy to build a team around. Duncan had a rough night with 11 points and 2-11 from the field, but he also blocked four shots, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out six assists. He always finds a way to contribute. There are enough guys to score around him.
Can the Thunder turn this around? Only if they get it out of their heads that they’re a better team and supposed to/deserve to be winning this. Nothing in the way they played outside of small spurts based on Durant’s talent tell us that they’re good enough to beat the Spurs. The less the dominant trio trust the other guys around them offensively, the smaller their chances of winning this series. There’s a way to beat most of the teams in the NBA with the tools they have. Beating the Spurs, as it turns out, is a completely different story.