Thunder vs Spurs 2012 Western Conference Finals: Game 3 Grades

The Thunder finally created a crack in the Spurs' seemingly unstoppable offensive attack and narrowed their series deficit to 2-1. The name of Game 3 was defense, and every single player committed to pursuing it, even at the cost of their own offense. While it has been frustrating at times to see OKC sometimes sleepwalk through games on the defensive end, it is encouraging to see how they are learning on the fly that their defense can enable them to beat just about anybody.

The grades I assign might look a bit high given the players' statistical production, but in Game 3, statistics were the least relevant part of the Thunder's win. They instituted a defensive game plan to deal with the Spurs' attack, and they executed it aggressively and beautifully. If even one guy was not on the same page, we would have seen numerous breakdowns occur throughout the night. For the most part, those breakdowns did not happen.

(Zorgon has been doing a lot of traveling as of late and for all I know, right now he's in a space capsule orbiting the moon. Hopefully he'll be back soon to offer up his own player grades)

***

THABO SEFOLOSHA

19 points on 7-16 shooting, 6 REB, 1 AST, 6 ST, 1 BL, 0 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_aplus_medium The man of the hour last night was Thabo Sefolosha, who was assigned the most difficult and critical defensive assignment on the court - to stay with and defend Tony Parker. Sefolosha responded with arguably his best performance as a pro. Sefolosha did a fantastic job staying in front of Parker and denying even the easiest of passing lanes that Parker likes to exploit. He corralled 4 steals within the first four minutes of the game, putting the entire Spurs offense on notice that the Thunder had a new game plan in store. With Sefolosha bottling up Parker, the rest of the Thunder D could play much more aggressively, deny all driving and passing lanes, and made the Spurs' offense look broken. For good measure, Sefolosha also scored 19 points and sank 4 of the teams' 6 3-pointers.

KEVIN DURANT

22 points on 8-17 shooting, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 ST, 3 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_aminus_medium
Kevin Durant was the high scorer on the night with his 22, and his offense was just enough to keep things running while the team defense did the dirty work. For me, his imprint on Game 3 was his one-handed dunk over Tim Duncan, and the ever-shifting help defense he provided as the team worked hard to keep Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili out of the lane. His offense could have theoretically been better, but because of his defensive focus it didn't need to be.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

10 points on 5-15 shooting, 7 REB, 9 AST, 4 ST, 2 BL, 2 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_aminus_medium

Russell Westbrook is going to be the kind of player who can never please all the people all of the time, but thankfully he is committed to working hard for his teammates when they need him the most. Despite a lackluster shooting performance, Westbrook was otherwise masterful on both ends of the court. He tallied his high assist mark for the series and did a much better job being patient against the Spurs defense, passing up a number of 'open' shots so that he could make the extra pass and find the better shot. Most importantly, Westbrook was locked up on Ginobili for much of the night, and Westbrook did the same thing to Ginobili that he did to Jason Terry in round 1. In short, he made Ginobili disappear (Manu managed only 8 points on 1-5 shooting) and still had energy to make defensive plays like this.

More grades after the jump.

JAMES HARDEN

15 points on 5-10 shooting, 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_b_medium James Harden had a much more pedestrian night after erupting for 30 points in Game 2. Instead of being the offensive thrust that he was prior, Harden did a solid if unspectacular job just keeping the 2nd unit moving forward as the team's defensive pressure put the clamps on. For a second game in a row he outplayed his 6th man counterpart in Ginobili, and his defensive focus was much improved as well.


SERGE IBAKA

14 points on 5-9 shooting, 3 REB, 1 AST, 2 ST, 3 BL, 0 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_b_medium Serge Ibaka finally found his jump shot in Game 3, knocking down some big shots that helped the Thunder offense stay on track. It is amazing what the threat of his perimeter game can do to the Spurs' defense. The Spurs want to funnel everything into Tim Duncan so he can deal with them at the rim; however when Ibaka and the other bigs can make these outside shots, it forces Duncan to move away from the rim, which allows the Thunder much more freedom to attack. Ibaka's defensive presence was sound as well. While he only blocked 3 shots, his defense was successful in the way he stuck to the team's defensive plan to keep Tony Parker out of the lane. Well played game all around but...only 3 rebounds?

DEREK FISHER

5 points on 2-7 shooting, 3 REB, 4 AST, 0 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_c_medium Derek Fisher was not able to replicate his hot shooting from Game 1, but fortunately he didn't hurt his team either like he did with his shooting performance in Game 2. Fisher's contribution is best when he is just on the floor and helping the team not make any bad decisions. Any time he goes above and beyond that, the Thunder run the risk of him trying to play beyond his means at age 37.


KENDRICK PERKINS

4 points, 8 REB, 3 BL, 1 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_bplus_medium Kendrick Perkins has been much maligned during this playoff series, as it appeared that he was ill-suited to keep up against the Spurs fast-paced attack. Perkins responded with a solid defensive effort, holding Tim Duncan to a miserable night on the court. Duncan only managed 11 points on 5-15 shooting and only grabbed 2 rebounds on the night. If that weren't enough, Perkins also took turns guarding both Parker and Ginobili in open space, and each time Perkins denied them the opportunity to score. His 3 offensive rebounds and 3 blocks didn't hurt, either.


NICK COLLISON

6 points on 3-3 shooting, 4 REB, 1 ST, 0 TO

Grade Comments
Grade_b_medium Nick Collison went a little bit unnoticed during the night, given that the Thunder defense stole the show. However, Nick quietly went about doing his standard job of looking for opportunistic ways to score, helped spring open James Harden, and was the team player that we all expect. Hopefully the team will continue to look for ways for Collison to provide more than just screens; just like Ibaka, his offense can really help open up the court for everyone.

The Rest of the Thunder Bench

Grade Comments
Grade_c_medium Given that the game turned into a rout and Gregg Popovich sat his stars in the 4th, we got to see a bit of run from the bench crew of Daequan Cook, Royal Ivey, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward. The group as a whole played with good energy, which helped keep the lead in the 20 point range. That said, every time I see Cook having to play with the end of bench guys, I weep a little inside.

SCOTT BROOKS

Grade Comments
Grade_a_medium Scott Brooks had a team whose backs were up against the wall and he had to figure out a way for them to overcome the Spurs' attack. Whatever you may think about Brooks as a tactician, personnel manager, or innovator, the bottom line is that he instilled in his team a defensive plan of attack. The team instituted that plan, and for the first time in these playoffs, the Spurs offense was humbled.
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