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How To Lose A Game, Inch by Inch

By Jeff Koch on December 17, 2012.

Oklahoma City represents the Spurs biggest potential failings in the playoffs, and not just because they were that last year.

The Spurs offense is predicated on using intelligence, design, and ball movement to free up as much possible room to create the best opportunities to succeed. At the professional level, every sport is a game of inches, and San Antonio gets the most inches. But Oklahoma City has the athleticism, the length, the tenacity, and the discipline to erase that distance. Suddenly, wide open shots are contested; lay-ups are blocked; passes are deflected. A team that prides itself on always making the extra pass and the smart play, must make one more extra pass, must play even smarter.

One play in the first quarter drove this point home. Tony Parker drove into the lane from the side, as he often does. Against many teams, at this point, he’d be freed up for a teardrop. But Oklahoma City had not one but two players contest the pump fake. OK, Parker got two defenders out of the way, the basket is all his, right? Wrong. One more defender was waiting for him. So one more fake gets that defender off the ground, and then an extra pass to Tiago Splitter, finally all alone under the basket, for the lay-in. But it took 2 or 3 extra plays to create an open shot that would’ve existed much earlier against most teams.

In the first half, despite seeming to be behind the entire time, the Spurs hung close because they played disciplined and smart and as a team. When the wheels came off in the 3rd quarter, it’s because we stopped doing those things. The one way we can guarantee we will never beat the Thunder is by playing one-on-one. Line up the two teams, and the Thunder will win most one-on-one battles. The offense stalled out, the Thunder got up and down the court, and a close game stopped being one.

With a road game looming in Denver tomorrow night, Pop threw in the towel early. Given all factors, it was probably the right decision. We just didn’t have the horses tonight.

A few other notes:

–Of course, the game of inches, just isn’t relegated to choice; there’s also an element of chance. Several shots for the Spurs were right on line and just went in and out. A few more of those baskets, and we probably have the confidence and energy to hang in there. Make or miss.

–Parker played a superb first quarter, exactly how he needs to play to beat the Thunder. We weren’t able to replicate the magic in the 3rd quarter, but I’m not sure if that’s really even his fault.

–I liked our defense on Durant and Westbrook. Just like in Game 5 of the playoffs, if Ibaka is going to go off, we’ll just have to live with that. You have to give up something.

–Diaw is treading on thin ice. He walks such a fine line with his selflessness hurting and helping the team. When it hurts the team, it’s usually because he’s being aggressive in the wrong moments, and not aggressive enough in the wrong moments.

–On the other hand, Tiago is a stud right now. And I’m ecstatic that the Duncan-Splitter pairing seems to be working well. I’ll always choose Duncan over Splitter, but there are things in the offense that Splitter is probably even a bit better at than Duncan at this point in their careers. And Splitter is even showing some signs of getting better on defense, as he protected the rim quite well on a few occasions. Of  course, it helps that he is no longer getting whistled for every little contact he makes with another player.

Quick turnaround in Denver tomorrow night. We’ve lost 3 in a row on the road, with a potential 4th loss possible. But given the recent schedule, I’m not too worried about it. The team is still playing well, and ahead of the curve based on the early season schedule.

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