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Game 3 Preview: Thunder try to take control of series with Spurs

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Will the Thunder's new defensive strategy help them out tonight?

If anyone can take it, it's KD!
If anyone can take it, it's KD!
W. Bennett Berry

We now sit with the series tied 1-1. With the Thunder being the underdog and on the road, it's easy to think that Oklahoma City sits in a good position. But this is probably the most tenuous a 1-1 tie can ever get. The first game saw the Thunder get absolutely smashed, while Game 2's Thunder victory was extremely controversial.

How to make the Thunder's offense work

The one option that seemed consistently open throughout Game 1 was Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was getting open shots, and even successfully navigated around a defender on the weak side. The Spurs seem willing to give Ibaka room, so the Thunder need to look for him on every possession. The Thunder certainly looked for Ibaka in Game 2, as he scored 12 points on 50% shooting.

Westbrook and Durant were having problems in Game 1. The Spurs used a rather unique strategy. You see, early on, Green guarded Westbrook, and Leonard guarded Durant. But at some point, Coach Popovich flipped the matchups. Leonard guarded Westbrook, and Green guarded Durant. Both situations seemed to give Westbrook and Durant problems. Leonard could effectively shut down whomever he was playing. And whomever Green was playing would get immediately double-teamed.

The Spurs were willing to give Westbrook and Durant mismatches, but they just couldn't take advantage of them. The San Antonio bigs hunted Westbrook's mid-range shot, and KD just got pressured or doubled.

In Game 2, it was a different story. Durant went to his outside shot more often, and it worked well against smaller defenders. Westbrook was able to more effectively shake San Antonio big men in mismatches, by threatening the drive. My thought here is that Westbrook and Durant were lured into bad shots during Game 1, because they had specific ideas in mind. But during Game 2, Westbrook and Durant seemed to read the situation at hand much better.

In any case, I wish all of Westbrook's pull-up threes would go to Durant.

How to make the Thunder's defense work

You can't trap the Spurs. That's the biggest lesson to take away from Game 1. The Thunder frequently tried to force turnovers by pressuring around screens and trapping in the paint. But the Spurs are an excellent passing team. In the regular season, the Spurs had the NBA's third most assists, and fourth lowest turnovers. The Thunder aren't especially good at forcing turnovers, so why even try? Donovan made a big adjustment in Game 2 by telling Thunder players to switch around screens and stick to their man.

The effect was a 41 point night from LaMarcus Aldridge. Truth is, nobody on the Thunder could come close to containing Aldridge individually. But only two other Spurs were in double figures. And Kawhi Leonard was held to 14 points, well below his average of 21 PPG.

Rotational Differences

In Game 2, Billy Donovan gave minutes to Waiters, Kanter, Morrow, and Payne off of the bench. Waiters and Kanter are obvious staples of the rotation, and turned in good performances. But Morrow and Payne left at lot to be desired. Anthony Morrow can't really cover Manu Ginobili on defense. Cameron Payne is missing frustratingly open shots on offense, while fouling way too much on defense. Both of these are verdicts from just one game, but Morrow and Payne haven't been regular parts of the rotation for the most part. So it was really strange to see Donovan go this route.

Personally, I think Nick Collison should definitely get some opportunities at defending Aldridge 1 on 1. If the Thunder aren't going to pressure the ball for the rest of the series, Collison is their most effective post defender. Morrow and Payne don't score half the time anyway, so I think Collison is worth a shot.

It's a toss up at this point whether Randy Foye or Kyle Singler will get time. The only advantages they'd bring are slightly better defense. Don't get me wrong, any of these guys can have a breakout game. But normally, they provide little impact on the final result.

I'm going on record saying that Billy Donovan NEEDS to get more time for Enes Kanter and Russell Westbrook to be on the floor together. I understand that the nature of this series means that Adams will get most of the minutes at center. But when Kanter is out there, we need Westbrook's athleticism and passing ability to amplify Kanter's effectiveness. Westbrook and Kanter got a bunch of time together during the first round and regular season, so I see no reason why that shouldn't continue now.

How tonight will go

Expect Coach Pop to draw up plays that specifically break down the Thunder's commitment to 1 to 1 defense. Spur players will be constantly hunting for mismatches and trying to exploit them. It's important for the Thunder to commit to taking away each player's area of expertise. For example, there's no need to go out and pressure Tim Duncan, because his jumper isn't that deadly. But Kawhi Leonard is most effective from mid-range, so he needs to be pressured once inside the arc.

Offensively, the Thunder's plan will be the same as always. Westbrook and Durant run the show, Ibaka makes jumpers, Kanter and Adams make dunks. Hoping to see more KD off of screens and in transition, as well as more KD from three. Westbrook needs to continue to shoot from all areas of the floor, and keep the Spurs guessing. Their defense is no joke.

Anyway, tonight's game will probably come down to the absolute wire. I see OKC squeezing out a victory as long as they stick to their Game 2 defensive gameplan.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, San Antonio Spurs 106.

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

2015-16 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semi-Finals Game 3
(Series Tied 1-1)
(Series Tied 1-0)
May 5th, 2016
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
8:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network
Injury Report: A Clean Bill of Health!
The Series so far: Game 1 (L 92-124), Game 2 (W 98-97)
Probable Starters
Tony Parker PG Russell Westbrook
Danny Green SG Andre Roberson
Kawhi Leonard SF Kevin Durant
LaMarcus Aldridge PF Serge Ibaka
Tim Duncan C Steven Adams


Who's going to win tonight?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    The Oklahoma City Thunder
    (181 votes)
  • 45%
    The San Antonio Spurs
    (149 votes)
330 votes total Vote Now