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WCF Game 3: Fool Me Twice

By Jeff Koch on May 27, 2014.

San Antonio 92, Oklahoma City 105
Series tied 2-2

Turnabout is fair play, and we have ourselves a series.

And if you want to start making 2012 comparisons, by all means, do. Because this is a lot like 2012. Sure, the Spurs won their 2 games at home easier this year than in 2012, but the same things seemed to happen in Games 3 and 4, with the Thunder suddenly turning into an athletic, fast, and unstoppable super-team fueled by two All-World players and a rim protector so frightening he affects shots even when he’s not on the court.

If you want to look on the bright side, Durant just had his best game of the series and Westbrook may have just played the best game of his career. I doubt that will be replicated in Game 5. Sometimes freakish things happen, even with freakishly good players.

On the dark side: the Thunder are just owning every facet of the game right now. The Spurs got ZERO fast break points on ZERO attempts. The Spurs only had 13 TOs, but 12 of them were because of Thunder steals, which means fast break points. The Thunder were the more aggressive team on offense, getting 45 points off of TOs and FTs. They were also more aggressive on defense, completely flummoxing the Spurs offense into uncharacteristic play and, for lack of any better word, fear.

The Thunder are like this unsolvable equation for the Spurs machine. They break all laws of logic and reason in the basketball world, and San Antonio just gets “Syntax error: does not compute” messages back in return. This is best exemplified in Westbrook, who is so reckless and fearless and without system that it’s just impossible to plan for him. And in Durant, who is un-guardable with his shooting range. And Brooks, who basically lucked into getting Serge back, and then turned the tide of the series by benching 2 of his starters. Is that smart coaching or just dumb luck? Does it matter? The Spurs can’t counter the Thunder because they operate outside of logic or reason.

So what can the Spurs try? I think they have to try and find a way to use OKC’s aggression against them: back cuts, pump fakes, shot fakes and drives. More passing and cutting, driving to the rim. More team play, less individual play. The Thunder bother the Spurs so much with their length and their ability to close on shooters. I think the move isn’t more shooting on the floor, but more speed, more cutting, more movement. When Pop benched his starters early in the 3rd and put in the end of the bench, I think they really showed him something. Cory Joseph, in particular, who played fearlessly in attacking the rim and cutting against the Thunder defense. Joseph has always been an underrated slasher, and I think he has shown that that might be the most effective counter against this team. Mills and Belinelli can be the world’s greatest shooters; it matters naught if they can’t get a clean look off.

Cory also defends, so I think he has earned key minutes in Game 5. I think he’ll be Tony’s primary back up, jumping Patty and Marco; I doubt Marco gets meaningful court time again in this series.

I also think it’s time to adjust the starting line-up. The obvious move is Boris in with the starters to spread the floor offensively from the start, and pull either Serge or Perkins away from the rim (Boris could conceivably be a mismatch offensively against either of them) and put a defender on Serge who is comfortable roaming away from the paint. Diaw seemed to find his offensive game in ‘garbage time’, so let’s hope that carries over. This also maximizes Manu and Tiago court time, and they’ve proven to be a deadly duo, particularly against team’s second units. You’re not telling me they couldn’t torch Adams and Fisher or Jackson?

We  could also see a lot more time with Kawhi at the 4, forcing both teams to go small and to really open up the game. Remember, the Spurs want to play with pace, up and down, clean possessions. The Thunder want to play quick, lots of TOs leading to fast break points, drives to the rim leading to FTs. The Spurs want to play in half court offensive and defensive sets; the Thunder don’t. In Games 3 and 4 the Thunder have been able to dictate the terms of the fight; the Spurs need to regain that edge.

Home court matters greatly in this regard. We can also hope and expect that the likes of Kawhi, Danny, and Tiago will all play better at home. For all the praise we heap on him, we forget that Kawhi is still a kid. He hasn’t played very well in these two games in OKC, but a strong outing at home, in Game 5, can erase that.

So now we turn to Game 5, back at the friendly confines of the AT&T Center. Game 5 of 2012 was the game that swung it all, OKC coming into the Spurs’ home and seizing control of the series and, seemingly, the Western Conference. Two years later, here we are again. One team holding on to their power, another trying to usurp it. We’re still on serve. OKC looks as unbeatable after two games as San Antonio did after two games. Things aren’t as bad as they seem; things might be much worse than they seem.

It’s not supposed to be easy. To be the best, you must beat the best. If the Spurs want another chance at the Finals, they must prove they are the best team in the West. What better way to prove it than beating the only other team with a rightful claim to that title?

Game 5 on Thursday is going to be great.

Go Spurs Go.

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