In preparation for the series to come this Sunday, I took the initiative of re-watching all three matchups against the Spurs from the regular season. I thought it'd be fun to get a fresh perspective, and consider what to expect from the matchup in the playoffs.
There are a few things to note about the games, however. Reggie Jackson was at backup point for the Thunder, as Derek Fisher hadn't been signed by the time of the last Spurs matchup. The Spurs had not yet traded for Stephen Jackson, and Manu Ginobili was injured during all three matchups.
Why We Will Beat the Spurs:
Tim Duncan is too old to compete with Perkins in the paint. Duncan is usually able to get to the spot he wants for his old school bank jumper, but he has difficulty doing it against Kendrick Perkins. Perk usually pushes him out beyond his comfort zone before Duncan gets the pass, and gives Duncan little more than a few inches on Duncan's backdown.
If there's a man in the corner on the weak side, the Spurs will forget about him when someone drives the lane. This play turned out to be a mainstay for the Thunder in all three games against the Spurs this season. Two man action or a drive to the lane manifests itself on one side of the floor, and a shooter is open on the other side of the floor. Simple, easy points.
Harden is the perfect man to combat the above strategy. He has excellent court vision, probably the best on the team. He's not afraid to make the risky pass when he's deep in the lane, and he did it a few times in this series for huge rewards. When he drives the lane, Spurs defenders are encouraged to stay put, and he'll beat a Spurs big man-to-man.
Nick Collison will destroy Matt Bonner inside. Bonner will often fall for a misdirection from Nick, trying to cover the ball handler when Nick sets a pick. This frees him up to roll to the lane, with awesome results. He'll also destroy Bonner on the boards every time.
Two out of three times, Kevin Durant was able to get his due. Kawhi Leonard was assigned to guard him and did a relatively good job in the third game, though I'd chalk up most of his misses to good Spurs pressure. However, Durant was able to basically score at will in limited minutes during the first two games.
Below: Why we won't beat the Spurs!
Why We Won't Beat the Spurs:
The Thunder don't set up their defense very well early in the shot clock. Gary Neal is especially good at exploiting this flaw. His range is pretty far and he's got a quick step, so he's able to get space for an open, high-percentage shot relatively easily.
The Spurs are a great passing team. This is a result of some ridiculously complex plays called by Gregg Popovich, which have the ball being passed 5 or 6 times during one possession. It's a huge contrast to Brooks, who usually runs really simplistic plays and lets the talent of his players do the rest. Because the team is so well versed in what they run and have so many passing options, they'll rarely fall prone to pressure, especially in the paint.
Tim Duncan can burn Perkins with his jumper every time. Matt Bonner can burn pretty much any Thunder big man with his jumper. As I've said a million times on this blog, Perk is too slow to seriously contest any mid-range jumper, and Ibaka is usually too concerned with help defense to defend the mid-range effectively. Collison is okay at doing it, but he's not amazing either.
Reggie Jackson did really well against the Spurs. Jackson was far from the perfect point guard, but his style of play seemed to work against that team. He was able to be enough of a passing threat to get a couple of looks in the lane, and he worked a few nice open jumpers. Derek Fisher's style of play is totally different, and it remains to be seen if it will work against the Spurs.
The Spurs will hustle while playing transition defense, which means the Thunder will get few to no opportunities via one of their usual offensive staples. The Spurs will play a quick game, sure, but it's not an unusual sight to see DeJuan Blair hustle down the court for a block, despite his big stature. They won't get a lot of offensive boards this way (they were 24th in the NBA in the regular season) but their offense is so potent that it usually won't matter.
Three point shooting in all of the right places. The Spurs have so many players who can shoot the three that it's ridiculous. Pretty much everybody except guys like Blair and Splitter has the green light to jack it up. And the Spurs don't jack up bad threes, either. They were 39% from beyond the arc this season, best in the NBA. You can't say much other than that the Spurs are a great passing team, and they're good at catching Thunder defenders with their pants down. They know the Thunder like to protect the paint at all costs, so there will usually be two or three guys down there. That means it's easy for an outside defender to get caught up in a screen or pressure, leaving a Spur wide open.
Tony Parker will straight up beat Russell Westbrook every time. He's quicker, and his court vision is better. He's not as athletic, can't attack the rim as well, and they both come out about even when it comes to mid-range jumpers. But Parker gives Westbrook absolute fits on defense. He'll keep up with Westbrook when he goes into the lane, and Westbrook will usually then get tangled up with the bigs, who almost never foul. When it comes to mid-range jumpers, Westbrook usually doesn't look for a pick because of Parker's size, but Parker can nudge Westbrook's shot just enough to make it a bad percentage look. Of course, Westbrook can have bursts of offensive brilliance, like in the fourth quarter of the most recent Thunder-Spurs matchup, but in general Tony Parker has the upper hand.
The Spurs always get their defensive boards. This is something that's hard to glean by just looking at the game itself, and I'll admit that I pretty much saw this problem statistically rather than on the floor itself. But a good portion of any team's offense comes off of getting those second chance opportunities, and the Spurs destroy that. The Thunder averaged 9.7 rebounds against the Spurs this season, and they normally averaged 11. Not too significant, but it could play a factor.
So, in summary....it's looking pretty hopeless at this point. Take all of the above into consideration....and then consider that Ginobili and Jackson haven't played against the Thunder at all this season. Yikes. But maybe I'm wrong! Leave your thoughts below!