The 2 Keys to a Thunder Comeback - Yes, Just 2!
But with a red-hot Spurs team cruising into town, nothing is going to be gift-wrapped for the Thunder. The first two games haven’t been as one-sided as the media has made them out to be. Sure, the Spurs have been the better team so far, but if the Thunder follow my 2 keys to the rest of the series, a lot of that talk is going to switch sides:
1. Close Out on ALL Three-Point Shooters
As the Thunder started to chip away at the Spurs lead which decreased from 22 points near the end of the third quarter to about 7 with about 8 minutes left in the fourth, the Spurs looked the most vulnerable they have looked all postseason apart from the atrocious first quarter of game 3 against the Clippers, where LA was just crazy on fire – only to melt down the following three quarters.
Why did the Spurs look vulnerable?
Because the Thunder started to play in-your-face defense, body-to-body across the perimeter. There were probably four or five deflections within the first five minutes of the fourth, something we really hadn’t seen much of from the Thunder earlier in game 2 or in game 1. But as the OK City offense started to miss key opportunities to keep cutting into that San Antonio lead, their defense began to falter along with it.
Perkins and Ibaka did a great job on Duncan in game 2, constantly forcing him to catch the ball at least 12 or 15 feet from the rim and the future-hall-of-famer was held to just 2-11 shooting – despite the rim-rocking dunk that made ole’ Timmy look about 20 years younger. Parker and Ginobili, on the other hand, were constant bothers to the Thunder defense. Parker was making excellent reads off his constant supply of high screens and his shot was as silky smooth as I think I’ve ever seen it. Ginobili continually broke down the Thunder defense, found his way to the line when the team needed a pick-up, and hit the biggest three-pointer in the game that pretty much wrapped things up for the Spurs.
When Parker and Ginobili are feeling it, there’s only so much you can really do as a defender. Try and contest as many shots as you can and hope that the referees aren’t being too generous.
But Parker and Ginobili combined for only a little less than 50% of the Spurs game 2 points – 54 of the 120. Still a ridiculous percentage, but we aren’t talking Wade and LeBron here in terms of percentage of a team’s points – how about 70 of their team’s 101 in game 4 against the Pacers! While Parker, Ginobili and Duncan are undoubtedly the heart and soul of the team, San Antonio wouldn’t be up 2-0 without the help of their supporting cast beyond the arc.
The combination of Diaw, Leonard, Neal, and Jackson have gone a healthy 10 for 20 from three in the first two games of the series. It’s nothing eye-popping but when you consider both games being decided by single digits (game one made a lot closer thanks to an OK City three-point shooting barrage in the final minute, but still a rather close game from start to finish) you start to realize the difference between going 10 for 20 and maybe 6 or 7 for 20.
So key #1 for the rest of the series is to disrupt every jump shot the Spurs take. This means constantly hedging off of screens, flashing out to cover shooters, and probably a lot of defensive switches. Ginobili and Parker have a somewhat un-guardable aspect to their games, but players like Leonard – 25 points in the first two games combined – can be greatly marginalized by pressure. This isn’t to take anything away from the very talented supporting cast of San Antonio. I’d just like to see what they could do if OK City were to play a full-game’s worth of solid perimeter defense instead of just half of a quarter.