Spurs 120, Thunder 111: Spurs Control Pace, Take 2-0 Lead (2012 Western Conference Finals Game 2 Recap)

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 29: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs goes up for a shot over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth quarter in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 29, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Box Score

What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?

The Spurs play Spurs basketball better than the Thunder play Spurs basketball.

This might be a self-evident tautology, but I think it was the deciding factor in tonight's game which was not as close as the score indicated. For all of the strategy that we have discussed, different offensive methodology that might produce more points, and defensive rotations that would protect the rim, the most important thing in trying to deal with the Spurs' hydra-like attack is that a team has to control Tony Parker. A defense cannot let him get to the spots he wants, cannot let him shoot the shots he likes, or get to the rim without him hitting the deck. It is Parker, not Tim Duncan, not Manu Ginobili, and not any of their outstanding bench, that turn the Spurs from a very good team into an offensive wrecking ball - that is the new Spurs basketball. When Parker is given the room he wants to operate, new Spurs basketball cannot be matched. OKC tried to play Spurs basketball, and they found themselves down by 22 in the 3rd.

In Game 1, OKC did a good job controlling Parker, and the Thunder were in a position to win. In Game 2 they did not control Parker at all, and the game was essentially decided 4 minutes into the 3rd quarter.

What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?

If Tony Parker is the man that makes the machine go, the word 'fast pace' is what it reads on the Spurs' speedometer.

While the game was played competitively throughout, I felt like the Thunder really ceded the battlefield early in the 2nd quarter. Kevin Durant had got off to a solid start in the game and was keeping OKC within 2-3 possessions early on, but when the Thunder bench came in they did not do a good job in playing at a pace to their liking. Instead, OKC's bench, specifically James Harden, Daequan Cook, and Derek Fisher, attempted to play at the same pace that the Spurs reserves were playing, and that is a heartburn strategy if there ever was one. It is not that the Spurs bench players individually are necessarily that much better than OKC's, but they have the ability to play at a much faster pace; in fact, I don't think there's any drop in pace at all when Parker and Duncan go to the bench and yield offensive duties to Manu Ginobili. Once the Thunder seemed to get locked into an up-and-down game I knew they were in trouble.

OKC's only hope was to go into the halftime while still within striking distance and retool their offensive strategy. They HAD to slow the game down, because if they continued to play too fast they were just going to trade baskets with the Spurs at best. Unfortunately, the Spurs came out of halftime and never relented. They hit their first 5 shots of the half, the lead ballooned to 16, and the Thunder ship was about to get capsized.

To their everlasting credit, OKC did not give up, but the ending to this game was similar to the game the two teams played on March 16. When a team falls behind by so much, there are precious few chances to ever turn the tables - one play perhaps, and maybe two if they're lucky.

OKC managed to produce two solid opportunities in the closing moments. Russell Westbrook hit four consecutive free throws to narrow the lead to six, but Duncan responded by drawing a foul and hitting two free throws. OKC then missed its next three shots, and after a Serge Ibaka goal-tend, the lead was back to 10. A minute later, Westbrook drilled a 3-pointer and the Thunder forced a miss, but Duncan out-hustled Ibaka and secured the offensive rebound. Ginobili converted two free throws, and then Westbrook missed a lay-up. Parker's jumper did not miss, and that was the end of it. The chances, however small, were there. The Spurs made the winning plays. OKC did not.

What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?

The Spurs shot 55.1% from the field and 42.3% from the 3-point line. The Spurs did not make every shot they took, but at times it sure felt like it. The reason why it feels that way is because their shooters, be they Parker, Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, or Matt Bonner, are often wide open with plenty of time to shoot. The way this is accomplished is by the other key stat - the Spurs had 27 assists on 43 made baskets. Parker had 8, which is not surprising, and Ginobili had 4, which is also not surprising. Duncan though had six of his own, and for a guy who is only a shadow of his former offensively dominant self, that is a pretty tremendous feat. Duncan is not a threat to score the ball anymore in the way someone like LaMarcus Aldridge is, but because of how Duncan plays the game, the Thunder were forced to guard him tightly. The result was those assists as well as 10 trips to the free throw line.

What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?

What little momentum the Thunder might have had after playing solidly in Game 1 was erased in Game 2, when OKC (hopefully) realized that the fast offensive strategy that worked so well against the Mavericks and Lakers cannot work against the Spurs. If they take the same approach in Game 3, we will see a similar result.

Instead, the Thunder need to flip the script and play a slower game if they want to have any chance at getting back into this series. One of the reasons why I keep touting Durant's play in the post is because when a team plays inside-out, it has the effect of slowing the game down. The Spurs do not play an inside-out game anymore, and thus can play a fast pace even when Duncan is on the floor.

The moment of truth is nigh; either OKC makes adjustments in the next 48 hours and muscles out a win to challenge the series outcome, or else we will begin thinking about what the Spurs might possibly do to another offensively top-heavy team in the Finals.

***

Thunder Wonder: James Harden, 30 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals

Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, 31 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks

Thunder Blunder: Derek Fisher, 10 points on 2-11 shooting

Thunder Plunderer: Tony Parker, 34 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds

***

Next Game: Thursday, May 31st, 8:00PM Central Standard Time

Tune in for the WTLC Spreecast an hour before Game 3!

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