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Fool Me Twice

By Jeff Koch on December 21, 2013.

Oklahoma City 113, San Antonio 100

After two games against Oklahoma City, I have three overriding thoughts regarding this match-up:

1. No team’s interior presence bothers us more than the Thunder’s. Every time we play them, the team misses so many lay-ups and bunnies and shots at and around the rim. The team either rushes shots, or use too many moves and overwork themselves into bad shots, or overpasses on the interior and turns the ball over. In tonight’s game, the Spurs missed 10 layups in the first half. That’s an incredible number. Ibaka clearly has a role in this, but all of the Thunder bigs seem to affect the Spurs and take us completely out of our offensive rhythm.

2. With the maturation of Reggie Jackson, the Thunder seem to be one of the few teams that outplays our bench, usually an overriding strength for us. In the first half tonight, the starters played to a draw; it was the bench of OKC that really opened up the game in the second quarter, leading to an eventual 40 point quarter. It’s hard to win games giving up 40 point quarters. To compete with this team, we will need our bench to be a strength for us, not a time when we fall behind.

3. The usual chain of events when we play the Thunder is that Westbrook plays like crap (he has his worst shooting percentage against any single opponent with the Spurs), Durant plays fine but not spectacular, and some random role player (or two, or three) has the night of their life. We all remember Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals with Ibaka and Perkins. Reggie Jackson, a fine player, morphs into a budding superstar against us. Derek Fisher is really only capable of playing decently against us. Tonight, Westbrook had a great game against us and we saw the results: the Thunder were just too much for us, even though we competed hard and kept it close. The Spurs can’t rely on Westbrook continuing to shoot like crap in these games, so we need to get a handle elsewhere if we’re going to compete in the playoffs against this team.

A few more broader thoughts:

–That 40-point quarter really sticks in the mind. It’s no mistake that it happened in the second quarter, in which we saw very little Tiago, and no Tiago with Timmy. The first quarter was a 21-point quarter, the 3rd quarter a 24-point quarter, the two quarters they start together and play the majority of their minutes together. The team needs to find a way to sustain defensive effort and efficiency throughout the entire game.

–Belinelli is playing so great right now. Still, I prefer him as a bench player. The combination of Marco, Manu, Patty, and Boris is special, and missing one of those pieces really throws a wrench in the thing. Of course, this is kind of a roundabout way of saying that Danny Green is in a major slump and is hurting the team wherever his minutes fall.

–I’m also curious to see more time with those 4 and Splitter on the floor together, to see if Tiago can anchor the second unit defense. The long-term big man rotation to me looks like this: Duncan and Splitter start; Boris comes in for Tiago about midway through the quarter; Tiago comes back in to spell Duncan near the end of the first/beginning of the second.

–Missing Kawhi was obviously a big factor, particularly on defense. It’s not in missing his defense against Durant (though that’s huge), it’s the holes the defense leaves as everybody shifts over. Particularly, if Green moves over to Durant, that leaves nobody with great defensive skill to guard Westbrook. Usually, Green starts on Westbrook and Parker starts on Thabo. (It’s not all random chance that Westbrook often has bad games against us.) Tonight we saw what Westbrook can do to Parker one-on-one.

–Parker usually has his way on the other end of the court against Russell. Tonight he was getting to the rim but missing, as covered above. Some of it appeared to be rust, as well. Still, Parker doesn’t look right to me, and I wonder if something bigger is going on. He usually owns the match-ups against opposing elite PGs (the ones always rated higher than him), but this season he is just average (average for him, which is still great). For the Spurs to go anywhere, they need near-MVP Parker of last year come playoff time.

–Manu looked particularly disengaged tonight.

–Boris might be our best interior scorer against the Thunder. The way he uses his size and, ahem, butt to basically get anywhere he wants for what becomes essentially a lay-up is so much fun to watch. You can just imagine the thoughts of opposing big men: “Look at this fat guy; no way he’s beating me. Ouch. Stop bumping your butt into me. Wait, how’d we get right under the rim? How did he just score?”

–Still, with so much going wrong tonight, the Spurs were right there most of the second half, and had a few chances in the 4th quarter to tie it up, to get over that proverbial hump. They were just never quite able to do it. I simultaneously (and perhaps contradictorily) believe that this is our toughest match-up in the West, and that we’re a lot closer to ‘solving’ it than it appears from these first two games.

The Spurs finally get two games at home in a row, as the Raptors come a-knockin’ on Monday night.

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