20 With 20 For 20
The problem with waiting a night for a recap in the Western Conference Finals is that within 24 hours, pretty much every corner of the basketball world has already written five articles about the game. Plus, unlike Game 1, Game 2 really had no cohesive narrative structure. So I’ll fall back on my old trick, bullet points. Here we go:
• The Spurs offense reached near orgasmic perfection in the 3rd quarter, capped off by the beautiful fast break where Tony brought it up, passed to Manu on the wing, who faked the three, then drove towards the basket as Tony slipped back to the corner. Manu then flung it back to Tony, who literally might have held the ball for 2 seconds, before lining up the three and pushing the lead to 20. Everything we rave about concerning this offense was on full display in those first 9 minutes, and it might have been the happiest I’ve ever been watching a team play basketball.
• The only way the Thunder could stop it, by the way, was intentionally fouling Tiago Splitter. As Spurs fans, we obviously have no leg to stand on in criticizing the move. I’m with Steve Kerr, who understands it to be good strategy, but thinks that it should be taken out of the game. Hell, Pop probably thinks so, too. Statistically, it didn’t do much, as the Thunder only cut one point off the deficit during that time. But if you watched the game, you know that it had a huge impact on the Spurs’ offense, which never quite found its bliss again, allowing the Thunder to threaten in the 4th quarter. Like I said, it was literally the only way the Thunder could stop the offense.
• We spend a lot of time vacillating between praising Leonard or Green (and sometimes Neal) as a key role player contributor, but how about some love for Boris Diaw? The way that he has seamlessly fit into the starting line-up is beyond incredible. We always knew his passing would be a natural fit with this team, but his shooting and ability to put the ball on the floor and score has added so much more versatility to the team. I love watching him and Duncan play together; it’s like they’re having a competition between each other each game to see who can get the other one the most lay-ups. Everybody (save for the Thunder) wins that game.
• But let’s not forget Leonard here. Another great Game 2 by the rookie. It’s like he needs one game each series to figure out the intensity and what he has to give to be a meaningful contributor, and then he adjusts and does it Game 2. Even though his numbers were fantastic, he also does so much away from the ball that never gets a tick in the box score. I love watching him play.
• Danny Green is still struggling in this series, but his stroke is so close to coming back. Just stick with him; it’ll be there.
• I can’t stop thinking about this number: 88. That’s the number of points OKC’s three stars scored. Each player essentially averaged 30 points, and we still beat them rather handily. What more can they do?
• This also means that the rest of the team accounted for 23 points. On the other hand, our “others” (as Shaq likes to call them) contributed 55 points. That’s 21% to 46% of total team’s scoring. Our bench (a weakness in playoff’s past) continues to play strong.
• The only time the Thunder really frighten me offensively is on the fast break. It’s almost a guaranteed 2 points. That’s why preventing live ball turnovers is so important. If we can keep the Thunder limited to their half-court offense, we should always have a good chance of winning the game.
• I’m not even going to write about Tony Parker’s game because it was so blisteringly good words shouldn’t be used for it. To co-opt one of my all-time favorite quotes, talking about Tony Parker’s Game 2 is like dancing about architecture.
• I was surprised to notice late in the game that Duncan only had 2 made field goals. Doesn’t matter, especially when one of them is a ferocious dunk (on Serge Ibaka). But more so especially when he does so much that helps a team win games.
• As much as I hated it while I was watching, I’m glad the Thunder made a little run and put a little pressure on the team. I’m particularly pleased that the Thunder seemed to find a defensive strategy that worked better in the 4th quarter. Why does that make me happy? Because that means the coaching staff has already seen it, and probably already has several counters ready for it. We still get credit for the win, and we might now be more prepared for what’s coming in Games 3 and 4.
• Game 3 in Oklahoma City will be ferocious. The Thunder will be playing with more energy, emotion, intensity, and desperation than we’ve seen from any team yet. If there’s a game to lose in this series, it will be this one. But I think if we can weather the initial storm and stay close, we’ll have a chance to steal the game late. Despite everything we’ve done in Games 1 and 2, if we don’t win at least one in OKC, we’ve really done nothing.
Every time this team has been confronted with a chance to let down, it has proven its mettle. Game 3 will be the biggest of those challenges. I can’t wait to see how the team responds.
Game 4 is Thursday night. Go Spurs Go.
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