Thunder vs Spurs: Repeat Performance? (2012 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals Game 4 Preview)

May 31, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha (2) attempts a 3 point shot while being defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal (14) during the second half in game three of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Game Thread at 7:30 PM CST

Records: The San Antonio Spurs (#1) vs The Oklahoma City Thunder (#2)

Time: 8:00 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Turner Network Television

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KSPN 710 Los Angeles

Enemy Blog(s): Pounding the Rock, 48 Minutes of Hell

Previous Meetings: Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 (Spurs Lead Series 2-1)

***

Game 3 was a revelation for Thunder fans, as OKC completely turned the tables on the Spurs, winning by 20. It is important now to note that...Game 3 is OVER. The Thunder did their job in recapturing the energy, focus, and intensity that they needed to compete with the Spurs, but now an almost equally daunting challenge comes forth. Can OKC do it again?

In Game 3, the Thunder took some calculated risks on defense to attack the Spurs offense, rather than wait to see what it did. The result was that they completely threw the Spurs off-balance, and San Antonio was never able to capitalize on some of the openings that were apparent. I don't think the Spurs will be caught off guard this time around, and the challenge for the Thunder defense will be to maintain the same aggression and energy while closing up some of the holes that the Spurs will be looking for.

Thabo Sefolosha was the big revelation, and now we all wonder if he can duplicate his defensive performance on Tony Parker. I think he can, but that really isn't the point; the point is that the Spurs are going to make it much more difficult for him to even get close to Parker, just like they did to Russell Westbrook in Game 2. The defense will continue to communicate well, call out the switches when necessary, and be prepared to improvise as the Spurs look through their catalogue of plays to find a better mix.

So far, the Thunder 'big three' of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden have had a solid series, but it has not been their scoring that has carried the team. The one game where they did score a bunch, the team was dominated from the outset. I think tonight's game is going to be much closer than the first three, and for the first time it is going to come down to how these three perform offensively at the end of the game.

Tonight's game is big. Huge. And it mirrors a bit the turning point from last season's playoffs against the Mavericks. Challenges in sports tend to come full circle, so that the same obstacles recur again and again until a team finally figures it out. A season ago, the Thunder essentially lost the series in heartbreaking fashion and took away some hard lessons about competition and about life. Tonight, I think, they make amends.

***

Prediction: Thunder 103, Spurs 101

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