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Are the San Antonio Spurs worried about the defense of the Oklahoma City Thunder?

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As the Thunder have surged ahead, it has been largely due to their defense. Are teams like the Spurs getting nervous?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Over at SB Nation's San Antonio Spurs site, Pounding the Rock, Cameron Adamczyk put up a great analytic piece discussing the Thunder's improved defense. More specifically, he looked at how the Spurs could attack it, as he acknowledged that OKC's defense is now good enough to give the Spurs consistent issues. As the current top dog in the Western Conference with the fourth highest defensive rating in the league (102.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), the Thunder definitely are a defense to game-plan against even for a team as offensively prolifict as the Spurs


The Thunder have players with ridiculous wingspans. Reggie Jackson has a 7'0" wingspan despite only standing at 6'3", Jeremy Lamb's measured at 6'11", and Kevin Durant's is 7'4.5". Though their measurements aren't listed, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha also possess some serious length.

Brooks utilizes this length by employing a swarm-and-trap defense, beginning with the Thunder forcing the ball into the corners. They consistently trap any player who is near a sideline or baseline, often leading to turnovers which then fuel their offense. Over 14 percent of the Thunder's points come via fast break -- most of those come off perimeter turnovers -- and it all starts with the perimeter length of guys like Westbrook, Jackson and Sefolosha.

That's an apt description of what the Thunder like to do. Athleticism and wingspan are the keys to the Thunder's defense, and Scott Brooks likes to take advantage by trapping towards the sideline as well as packing the paint. Serge Ibaka anchors the paint, and the rest of the roster includes a number of good-to-great one-on-one defenders.

Adamczyk brought up the idea of running the offense through Tim Duncan to a) take the Thunder's bigs out of the paint, which negates some of Ibaka's shot-blocking threat and exposes the liability that is Kendrick Perkins, and b) to reduce the threat of the Thunder's perimeter defenders forcing turnovers in one-on-one situations. It makes sense, and the off-ball movement that happens can force the Thunder to pay attention and play smart defense instead of relying on their great one-on-one defenders and athleticism.

The side pick-and-roll of the Spurs that leads with a Tony Parker/Tim Duncan attack while also freeing up multiple shooters on the weak side could also find success against the Thunder, as Adamczyk discusses. The Thunder generally contain pick-and-rolls well, but they will trap on the side while bringing over a third defender and zoning up the weak side. For a team with multiple shooters like the Spurs (Marco Belinelli, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili among them), there will be space on the weak side that will be awfully difficult for just one man to contain. We've seen teams pick apart the Thunder with open weak side threes, and the Spurs have the talent pool to do that too.

Couple that with the Spurs' strong ball movement and off-ball motion under Gregg Popovich's creative sets, and this is a matchup in which the Thunder could find themselves pressured in. Of course, you'd expect nothing less against a team like the Spurs.