After the San Antonio Spurs lost two games in a row to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the veteran team striving to make another NBA finals was on the verge of reaching a breaking point. But Gregg Popovich understood he needs to change his thought process and approach. He decided to go smaller, which means Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter not on the court together, resulting in more minutes for Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, resulting in their best performance of the series.
The Thunder defeated the Spurs twice in a row because Serge Ibaka means that much to their defense. While team like the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers can go head to head with the Thunder while still use two big men who play in the paint without having to give up anything, the Spurs are different. A team that doesn’t win the physical matchups down low has to think differently and while Popovich took his time, he eventually found the solution.
Matt Bonner forces someone to go chase him on the perimeter. He might be 6’10, but he exists on the perimeter alone when the Spurs have the ball. He didn’t score a single point, but he did a very good job on defense when guarding Ibaka, not being tempted to help out on anyone, and forced the Thunder to open up the lanes to the rim. Tony Parker made a meal of that, and so did Manu Ginobili, while Tim Duncan finally had the freedom to operate with just one big man trying to obstruct his shot.
Scott Brooks might have a good feel for who is hot and who is not on his team and keeps the big egos in check, but he and his staff are bad at adjusting, still not finding a way to handle a team that plays small ball against them despite being burned by that approach almost two years ago in the NBA finals against the Miami Heat. His players had a bad day in general, but Kevin Durant simply making it about hitting or not hitting their shots is escaping the obvious: The Thunder had a big problem with the system they were facing, not just the level of play.
Brooks made another mistake, even as the Thunder were beating the Spurs in game 4: He didn’t let his garbage time unit get to the floor, which would have meant certain players getting some playing time and not left cold on the bench when he needed them. The Spurs played from the end of the third quarter without any of their starters and left beaten by more confident than they should have been, exposing another flaw in the coaching beliefs of Brooks, who looks more and more like a guy who is simply lucky to be handed this kind of talent to play under him.
Reggie Jackson is playing injured, but Jeremy Lamb didn’t provide an answer this time. Brooks took Collison and Sefolosha out of his rotation. They would have come in handy when needing to play against a small-ball approach from the Spurs, but Brooks lost them, at least for the time being, by not using them for consecutive games. Their offense might be an issue, but with his defense falling apart, he suddenly realized he doesn’t have a bench.
Everything changes from game to game in this series with blowout wins on both ends. In Oklahoma City, the pace and energy are different, or so we’ve grown to believe. The Spurs have a chance to finish the series and make the finals against teams, whoever comes out from the weaker conference, they are more comfortable playing. Thanks to Popovich realizing what he did wrong, they might be able to do it on the road.