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The Adjustment Bureau: Game 4 of the WCF

By Jeff Koch on June 2, 2012.

I’m no great basketball mind…but I do think about it. A lot. Particularly after my team gets pasted in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder made a lot of key adjustments after losing the first 2 games, overwhelming the Spurs and winning easily. As the script goes, it’s time for Pop’s counters.

Again, I’m no great basketball mind. But here are many of the things I’ve been chewing on over the last 2 days:

–Part of what made the Thunder defense so good on Thursday was that they really overplayed the passing lanes and the cutters. One really easy and obvious counter to this is backdoor cuts, something the Spurs excel at. Ginobili started to figure this out in Game 3, trying to make a few, but the holes just weren’t there. I expect the spacing to be better in Game 4, and for more backdoor opportunities to exist. This alone won’t account for a 20-point swing, but score a few early, and it can help to loosen up the defense as the game progresses, freeing up other things.

–Bonner is playing poorly in the playoffs, yet again. This seems to happen every year. His value is in his shot-making and floor spacing…but the floor spacing only exists if he’s making shots. When he’s not making shots (1 for 8 in 3 games), he loses value. During the regular season he gets wide open because of the Spurs schemes and system. In the playoffs, everything speeds up a half-second, so those shots that were wide open in March are suddenly less wide-open because a defender is closing harder. That half-second could be enough to stifle Bonner. From what I’ve seen, he’s got about one more 10-minute first half stint to prove he can play in this series. With the amount of small ball being played, moving to a 3-man big rotation won’t really hurt the team.

–The Thunder are switching the PnR everywhere, clogging up all passing and driving lanes. But also putting a big (usually Ibaka, sometimes Perkins) on Tony or Manu. In the end, that should be advantage Spurs, and those 2 need to figure out how to exploit that.

–Also, in the PnR, starting it way up top (several feet above the 3-point line) forces the big man to come out a lot farther than he is comfortable doing, and also gives our guards more room to get going and blow past him. Once that happens, it’s advantage Spurs, either getting to the basket, getting fouled, or creating the wide open 3-pointers our penetration is wont to do.

–We really went away from our team offense in Game 3 and tried to force a lot more isolation and one-on-one play. That is a win for the Thunder. That is not our game, and we can’t abandon the best offense in the league because the defense gets a little pesky.

–One radical adjustment available to the team is to move Manu back into the starting line-up. The great counter of putting Thabo on Parker is diminished if Tony and Manu both start the game. That would force Westbrook to guard Manu, in which case we’d have Manu running the offense and Tony working off the ball a lot more (which he is very good at). Or, Thabo could switch to Manu, and we’d be right back to the advantage we had in Games 1 and 2. Either way, it would force the Thunder to make a choice they don’t want to make. I don’t think we’ll see this in Game 4, but it’s certainly a possibility if the Thunder D continues to stifle us.

–Sebastian Pruiti has a great article over at Grantland detailing some of the adjustments of OKC. One of the key things he points out is that Duncan found himself with the ball near the top of the key quite often, forced to make a decision. In Game 3, he often made a bad decision, or waited too long to make the right one. I think Duncan will be more prepared for this in Game 4. Another thing that would be interesting to see would be Diaw as our small-ball center, or at least in this situation. With his playmaking abilities, it’s often an advantage to have him in this position, essentially 4-on-3.

–Defensively, I’ll be curious to see if we continue sinking off their perimeter shooters to help on the drivers (mostly Westbrook and Harden). They pulled a few tricks out of the Spurs hat, collapsing the defense and then hitting their “others” for wide open 3s. In Game 2 we allowed their big guns to score 88 and won the game; in Game 3, the same players only had 47 points and the team pasted us. I’d rather take my chances allowing those 3 to get going, but shutting every other player down, than letting Thabo have 19, Ibaka have 14, Collison have 6, etc, etc.

–When the Thunder get into half-court offense, it’s already a win for the Spurs. When they’re out running transition, they are just killing us. They are clearly making it a point to run off everything. So we’ll need better floor balance on offense so that we have players back on D, we’ll probably have to sacrifice some offensive rebounds, and we’ll need to run our offense to get shots in the right places and make more baskets, so that they can’t run off of long rebounds.

–The biggest adjustment, though: more effort and energy. Or, in the immortal words of Pop: more nasty.

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