As the Western Conference Finals moves to Oklahoma City and the Thunder are digging for solutions on how to counterpunch against the Spurs, we fans too are hunting for some hope. Clips Nation's Steve Perrin has served as a great objective voice during these playoffs, and he has the added 'benefit' (poor word choice...possibly) of having watched his Clippers get swept by these Spurs. He offered his insights before the series started, so I saw fit to check in with him again and get his take on where he thinks the series is headed.
1. Give me hope. A glimmer of hope. A trope, a rope, some scope, so I don't feel like a dope. What must OKC do to win Game 3?
Can I give you much hope? Nope. Dude, it doesn't look good. Bear in mind that a part of me is a little relieved at what's happening, because to some extent it vindicates the Clippers' own struggles against this team, you know what I'm saying? It's not just "Wow, the Clippers defense made those guys look unstoppable." It's "Wow, those guys really are unstoppable."
As I mentioned going into the series, once they get you rotating, you're dead. The first three quarters of Game 1, it looked like maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe the Thunder were long and athletic enough, maybe they could do it. But the last five quarters paint the picture I was expecting, and I have to assume that the Spurs just weren't as sharp in those first three quarters as they have been for most of the past two months or so. Which is a massive missed opportunity for the Thunder -- they actually played a beatable Spurs team on Monday, which few teams can say lately.
What to do?
Stop hedging the screen and roll -- I don't know what the winning strategy is, but I know that's a loser (Zach Lowe makes this case well at SI, though like me, he's not sure what the right answer is). I kind of like the idea of running stretches with a lineup of RW, Thabo, Harden, KD and Ibaka and switching everything. Sure, you'll end up with Westbrook, especially when Duncan is out. Is there a Spurs post player, other than Duncan, who is scarier in a mismatch with Westbrook than Parker the Spurs have been against the rotations? Even with Duncan in, give it a go and see. And I still maintain that the most sustainable long term strategy is to do anything you can to fight through screens -- go under them if you have to. If Parker is shooting like he did in Game 2, you're dead no matter what you do, but he won't shoot like that every game.
The shame for OKC is that Game 1 they saw a less than completely sharp Spurs team and lost, and in Game 2 the Thunder Big Three were awesome, yet they lost. Before the series I felt the only way for OKC to win was for the stars to play great -- well, they did that, and it wasn't enough.
But here's your hope -- those were road games for you. The Spurs have only held service so far. Can the energy from a home crowd push the Thunder defense to find that extra edge? To win a seven game series without home court advantage, you have to win all your home games and steal one on the road. Neither looks likely at this point of course, but first things first, win Game 3. If home cooking can get the Thunder on a roll, then they've got too more chances to steal one in Texas. It's not a plan per se, but that's where your hope lies.
2. After two games, what do you think is the best way to slow down the Spurs' attack?
Prayer? Do you know any shamans, gypsies and/or voodoo priestesses? A curse or hex of some sort might be your best strategy at this point.
See above. It's definitely pick-your-poison time with these guys. No matter what you do defensively, the offense has a ready counter. It's all Basketball 101 -- but they're teaching the course, and the rest of us are just auditing. Switching everything is worth a try, but probably not sustainable. Fighting through screens is the best strategy -- but easier said than done.
3. Could you compare what we're seeing with the Spurs in this round with what you saw in the Clips' series?
Frankly, it looks pretty familiar. The Thunder stars are freakishly good and are capable of making some ridiculous shots, which has allowed them to stay closer in the road games, but the outcome has felt pretty inevitable.
For the Clippers, especially early in the series, it was particularly sad because Paul and Griffin clearly weren't 100%. So it was inevitable that the Spurs would win, because they were the better team and the Clippers clearly couldn't stop them from scoring when they needed to, but it became that much more obviously since the Clipper stars weren't going to be pulling off any miracles.
Stopping the Spurs is the obvious similarity -- the Clippers couldn't, and the Thunder can't. I don't think anyone can right now. This team is in an offensive groove the likes of which we've rarely seen in the NBA.
Still, for about 16 minutes of Game 3 in L.A. I watched as the Clippers manhandled the Spurs. For that brief time, I was trying to explain the difference, to justify why it was going to be a close series after, to rationalize why for two games the series had seemed like such mismatch. Of course, it didn't last, and it turned out the series was a mismatch. But strange things happen. If OKC gets off to a great start in their Game 3, and then maintains it, the momentum shift could be real. Are the Spurs so good that they will never lose again? It seems unlikely -- teams go through ups and downs, it can't be all ups, can it? Even if they just suddenly go cold from deep (it happens) it would make a huge difference in their overall efficiency. They've won 20 in a row -- how might they react to a loss? We all assume they'll be fine, just like they were fine when they were down 24 to the Clippers. But you never know.
Er, thanks Steve.
Be sure to check out his great site Clips Nation to get the lowdown on the next steps the Clippers will be taking to continue their emergence to respectability.