Jun 4, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) dunks during the first half in game five of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE
The Thunder are back at home tonight to attempt their first close-out game of the Western Conference Finals. If we hadn't spotted enough symmetrical lines between this version of the Thunder and past versions, here is one more. The Thunder as they currently exist burst onto the map in 2010 by playing a tough series against the Lakers. In that series, the Lakers were up 3-2 and OKC was desperately trying to hang on to even the series in Game 6. Despite leading the Lakers late, OKC was done in by a mixture of factors including some poor possessions, poor play by Kevin Durant, and a fortunate tip-in by Pau Gasol that decided the game. Tonight the Thunder are in their own stadium, in Game 6, and they have a chance to undo that failed Game 6 from 2010. We are waiting, watching.
It is of course unfair to even begin to try and boil down this series to singular talking points, but if I had to try, I'd do it this way:
These two points seem overly simplistic, but as the past 3 games have laid out, if the Thunder can do both of those things in each game, they can overcome all of their own missteps and win.
Both the Thunder and the Spurs have played uneven offense these past two games. To be sure the Spurs had their Game 2 and the Thunder had their Game 3, but those types of offensive onslaughts are and will be the exception. Most of the time, the offense has started and stopped and started again. One of the reasons why the Spurs have been so efficient for so long this season is that they minimized those starts and stops, mostly by having their first unit flow through Tony Parker and their second unit flow through Manu Ginobili. They are both adept playmakers who can shoot or pass, but most importantly, they have intricate knowledge on how to accomplish the Spurs' offensive goals. One of those men has done a very good job. The other has not. The Spurs offense has flowed when one has performed and stagnated when the other has not. If you look at the box scores from the past three games, you know who is who.
The Thunder decided, correctly, that Tony Parker is the key to everything. He starts the game, he has played better this year than he ever has before, and if you give him space to work, he will carve you up like a surgeon. If he cannot do his work, then Ginobili has no set-up man to position him and the 2nd unit to continue the offensive flow. Ergo, the offense starts and stops and starts again.
There is a reason why the Thunder have not been hurt badly in this series by the likes of Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, and Danny Green, and the reason is because those guys, the secondary finishers in the Spurs offense, don't shoot as well when they're not wide open. They are not as wide open because Parker cannot get them the ball in open spots, and Parker cannot get them the ball in open spots because the Thunder decided that Parker - not Ginobili, not Duncan, not anybody else but Parker - must not play the game he wants to play.
The great community at the Spurs site Pounding the Rock have a favorite malaprop that they use for every game: "Tony needs to dominate Fisher." It is a rallying cry of sorts that they use, but there is truth grounded in it because they too understand how important Parker has become. Parker has to have a good game tonight if the Spurs are to have a shot at returning home for a Game 7.
If the Thunder control Parker defensively tonight, they will be able to match any run the Spurs have because there will always be gaps in the Spurs' offensive continuity. If the Thunder control Parker tonight, the Thunder will win.
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