|2013-2014 NBA Season
|December 21st, 2013
|The American Telephone and Telegraph Center, San Antonio, Texas
|7:30 PM CST
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, KENS 5 San Antonio
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), WOAI 1200 AM
|Injury Report: Tony Parker (Questionable)
|Previous Matchups: Nov 27 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
|2013/14 Advanced Stats
Last time the Thunder faced the Spurs, Popovich's gameplan was to completely shut down Durant and Westbrook. Once you do that, the Thunder are an easy team to beat. Right?
Wrong. While Popovich was successful in holding Westbrook to 2-16 shooting and limiting Durant's overall effectiveness, he still couldn't account for the dynamo play of the Thunder's bench. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb became the heroes against the Spurs tough bench unit, sending the Thunder on two separate runs that pretty much decided the game.
A game like that is where Brooks' system of splitting the Thunder into two different teams really works. The Spurs were wholly prepared for the Thunder's quick-fire starting lineup, protecting the rim and pressuring Durant and Westbrook. But they were unprepared for the cool, calculated play of the bench unit and suffered accordingly. High-pressure defense does not work against Reggie Jackson, nor does it do you any favors against the weak-side mastery of Jeremy Lamb.
But, of course, Gregg Popovich is the master of game-to-game adjustments, and it's hard to imagine him falling for the same trap twice. I'd imagine his strategy against the starters will remain much the same, but I also think that he'll be more careful about who matches up with who. It's hard to say what exactly he'll do, but I do think that the Spurs won't be registering any "DNP-Old"s tonight.
Despite that, Tony Parker has a legitimate injury on his hands, and it's uncertain as to whether he'll play tonight. Historically he's been up and down against Russell Westbrook, but Cory Joseph has struggled in the starting point guard role. Patty Mills did an admirable job against the Warriors with Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker out, but regardless of Parker's status tonight, he'll probably get the majority of the time with the bench unit.
On the Thunder's side of things, the whole team is absolutely rolling. They weren't offensively perfect against the rattled Bulls on Thursday night, but they've rarely threatened to lose a game since their December 4th defeat at the hands of the Trail Blazers. Defensively, the squad has made an unprecedented commitment to protect the rim with their bigs while trapping on the perimeter. This has worked wonders so far, and really only leaves them susceptible to teams that love to pick and pop or space the floor out with shooters.
Seeing the Thunder lose tonight is a feasible proposition, given how closely these two teams can play. But if the Spurs are to win, they're going to need better production out of Tim Duncan. He's not having a terrible season, but he's been known to put up below-average offensive performances against good opponents, and he was a definite weak link in the two team's last matchup. The Spurs will also have to consistently shoot well from three, as it's the one defensive area where opposing teams can really burn Oklahoma City.
In any case, I'm predicting a Thunder victory because of Tony Parker's injury, Duncan's decline, and the excellent basketball they've been playing lately. But you've got to feel like they're going to hit a wall at some point, and tonight could very well be that night.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 105, San Antonio Spurs 102.
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