First things first, the loss of Serge Ibaka is huge. It doesn’t matter how many points Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are combining to average nor how many players Gregg Popovich feels comfortable playing at any point in the ball game. Oklahoma City’s loss of their athletic big man is going to be hard to make up for. The San Antonio Spurs do a great job of getting easy looks with loads of layups and the rich just got richer.
Westbrook and KD are averaging a combined 58 points per game this postseason. The Spurs top scoring duo of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan only register 35 per game combined. But what’s scary about this for OKC? The Spurs as a team are averaging more points per game (105.5) than the Thunder (104.5).
Let’s go with a Battleship reference here.
The Thunder are using that not-so-legal technique your next door neighbor used where they stack all their boats on top of each other and you can’t seem to find any of his ships, but once you do, he’s done for. Translated back to basketball: it’s hard to stop the Thunder duo from scoring 58 a game, but once you do slow them down (or even just one of them), they become quite the sinkable ship.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are using playing quite shiftily as well. They are using that move where you’re five minutes into the game and they’ve moved their ships six different ways from Sunday. You can’t seem to find out where the ship is going even though your board is littered with misses. Translated back to basketball: when the Spurs are at their best you think that because you shut down Parker from dicing up your lane you’ve won the game. Instead you find yourself having to check the name on the back of the jerseys of three other bench players who just scored 20 on you, all while fighting the urge to flip over the whole game set out of frustration.
Keys to the Series
- Utilize your bench. I get that the Thunder won’t be able to keep up with the Spurs in terms of bench production, especially if they play the way they did against Portland. But with the absence of Ibaka, they’ll have to fill the role by committee. Steven Adams and Nick Collision both need to step up their scoring. Plus, the rest of the bench will have to help take the load of their dynamic duo, as they will likely play 45 minutes per game.
- Find your mismatches early. This series will be dictated in large part by what happens in game one. We’ll all get a look at what Coach Pop is doing with his deep list of personnel. What the Thunder need to do is take advantage of the moments when he decides to go small by allowing their two All-Stars to get high percentage shots close to the basket.
- Force Turnovers. Westbrook’s intense style of play is his gift and his curse. The Spurs should be salivating at the chance to turn his quick and thoughtless moves into easy turnovers and fastbreak opportunities. Not to say that Parker can cover Westbrook one-on-one, but the team defense of San Antonio thrives on making non-fundamental players suffer.
- Attack the rim. With Serge Ibaka down, this is a no-brainer. Perkins is big, but to try to compare his athleticism to Ibaka’s is laughable. There should be plenty of opportunities to slash to the basket as the Thunder will be less inclined to sag off anyone given the even disbursement of points among all Spurs players. Either make them pay for thinking they can leave your bench players open or attack the less-protected rim.
Steven Adams – I mentioned this guy already, but his success will be the key to a Thunder victory. We know what to expect out of Collison and so do the Spurs. But the rookie out of Pittsburgh has a high ceiling and has yet to be on this stage in his young career. If he can help fill the shoes of Ibaka, the Thunder will be punching their ticket to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.
It’s hard to ignore the dominance of the Spurs last round and the loss of Ibaka, but something tells me that Kevin Durant is in the middle of doing something pretty special. When you watch the early morning highlights of a Thunder game and you see Durant bury a 3- pointer in rhythm, you wonder how he ever misses a shot.
Thunder in 7