Game 6 Preview: Coaching adjustments define Thunder-Spurs matchup

Anyone up for a game of horsh? - William Bennett Berry

We take a look at two stretches that absolutely killed the Thunder in Game 5, and what Scott Brooks should have done to avoid them.

2014 NBA Playoffs, Western Conference Finals
Spurs_medium
@
Thunder_medium
62-20
11-7

59-23
10-9
May 31st, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Turner Network Television
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), NewsRadio 1200 WOAI
Injury Report: All players are expected to be ready to play.
Previous Matchups: Game 1 (L 105-122), Game 2 (L 77-112), Game 3 (W 106-97), Game 4 (W 105-92), Game 5 (L 89-117)
Probable Starters
Tony Parker PG Russell Westbrook
Manu Ginobili SG Reggie Jackson
Kawhi Leonard SF Kevin Durant
Matt Bonner PF Serge Ibaka
Tim Duncan C Kendrick Perkins

You can read Part 1 of this Game 5 analysis here. It has to do with the two moves Pop made to win, but isn't necessary in order to understand the preview below.

Terrible Second Quarter Start

The Thunder's downfall starts and ends with their bench. Simply put, the bench was awful. Of the four guys Brooks put out there in the first half, the only one I can say had a positive contribution was Steven Adams. Adams gets few offensive opportunities though, and did make some defensive errors.

On the other hand, Collison, Fisher, and Butler have no place in this series. I have absolutely no idea why any of these players got time over Lamb or Jones, nor do I understand why Brooks decided to let them play together to start the second. The bench only had Reggie Jackson helping them out, and Jackson was exhausted from hitting 5 shots and dealing with Ginobili's outburst at the end of the first. That fatal stint seriously killed the Thunder's athletic advantage defensively, and gave the Spurs a few easy shot attempts that could have put the game out of hand much earlier than it did, had the shots gone in. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder's bench basically wasted 5 possessions playing some really ugly basketball. Russ was subbed in after that, bu we still saw Caron Butler clank a jumper and turn the ball over. The Thunder's offense never really found its' groove until the starters were back in, and by then the Spurs had chipped their way into a lead.

Speaking of Jackson, his exhaustion was heavily exploited by Manu in the latter part of the second. RJ would end up playing nearly the entire first half, and was guarding a man whose confidence was ever-increasing. Manu did a great job of getting into the Thunder's interior defense early, and his ability to get to the rim routinely drew double-teams and traps. Manu was able to take complete advantage, going 4-4 and logging an assist during the last 6 minutes.

There's a simple solution to Brooks' woes. He could have played Jeremy Lamb in place of Nick Collison, who has yet to have any meaningful contribution in this series. Admittedly, Lamb was ineffective when he did enter the game in the third. Still, the game was almost gone by that point, and it's a lot harder for a player to enter an intense game in the mid-third than it is in the mid-first. Further still, Lamb would have been much more effective at generating live ball turnovers and grabbing boards, which the Thunder could have desperately used tonight.

Brooks could have done other things to stem the tide, as well. He could have played Butler at the four, where he would have been arguably more effective at getting shots off and spacing the floor. Brooks also could have returned Westbrook to the floor and subbed in the team's 9th man later in the second, simply so the unit doesn't have to play together. Heck, he could have even gone with 8 guys. Anything to keep the lineup, you know, doing what it successfully did in Games 3 and 4. Creating live ball turnovers, that sort of thing. Getting back on defense too, since the Thunder allowed the Spurs to get back on the break for ANY significant amount of points for the first time since Game 2.

Third quarter offensive collapse

Kevin Durant was a solid offensive rock throughout the first and second quarters. He wasn't the rebounding force that he was in Game 4, but he did a great job of carrying the team's offense and finding open opportunities. He wasn't drawing any double-teams though, and he was getting a ton of minutes. By the time the third quarter rolled around and the Thunder were starting to slip, KD lost his head. He took way too many predictable jumpers around screens or in the flow of a fast break/offensive board situation. Simply put, slower inferior defenders were able  to get to his spot and bother him. KD almost never attacked the basket during this period,  and wasn't nearly as interested in moving the ball with how few opportunities he was creating.

Russell Westbrook faded heavily during this quarter as well. Unlike Reggie and KD, he was running on ample rest. Also unlike Reggie and KD, he was taking good shots the entire time. But the Spurs had made their strategy against Russ clear from the moment the ball tipped off. They were going to put Kawhi Leonard on him, and there was no way Russ was getting to the rim.

In the first and second quarters, Russ took full advantage. He was getting open shots in the flow of the offense and effortlessly around screens. He finished the half with a ridiculously efficient 17 points on just 8 shots, along with 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and no turnovers. Yes, Russell was ballin'.

But the third quarter saw all that end. Simply put, Russ' shot left him at the worst possible time. Pop knows how streaky Westbrook is, and probably maniacally laughed to himself when he saw what happened. After Russ had missed a few pedestrian jumpers in the third quarter, the wheels fell off. He stopped attacking the basket, and his shots started getting farther and farther away. He became easier to trap. Before you knew it, he finished the period having sunk only one of four shots, and having turned the ball over twice. Russ would only end up converting one total field goal in the paint, during a rare moment when Leonard was out of the game.

Overall, the team was 2-12 outside of the paint during the third, which really says it all. The only two non-Durant or Westbrook jumpers were taken by Caron Butler, and they were cringe-worthy. One was a ill-advised corner three that hit the side of the backboard, and the other was a predictable mid-range pull-up that was well challenged by Tim Duncan.

Miscellany

  • Serge Ibaka needs to make his presence known during the second and third. He completely disappeared after his first quarter debacle/recovery. It's hard to blame him directly though, because he touches the ball so little.
  • The Spurs are continuing to find success from the corners, going 5-9 from there in Game 5. I mentioned in my Game 5 preview that the corner was the only area that the Spurs had actually shot well from in Games 3 and 4, and they've continued to shoot well there in success.
  • Jackson punished Parker heavily in the first quarter by going to the basket. After that, he missed four straight easy jumpers and completely went silent. Nothing really changed defensively, as Parker checked him for most of the game. He may still be dealing with ankle issues, but that's nothing more than speculation in my part.
  • Parker hit way too many contested twos, despite the Thunder keeping him out of the lane and off the three point line. I'm not taking anything away from him, but his talent was definitely a substantial part of the Spur victory.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 110, San Antonio Spurs 98.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

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