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Game 3 Analysis: Same 'ol Thunder sink to relentless Spurs, 96-100

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A little bit more passing, some smarter lineup management....and this one could have been ours.

Ice cold from the field, extremely warm under that coat.
Ice cold from the field, extremely warm under that coat.
W. Bennett Berry

After a wild and closely contested finish, the Oklahoma City Thunder came up just short to the San Antonio Spurs, 96-100. The Spurs were mostly dominant throughout, but OKC had a couple of shots to win it down the stretch. The most dominant moment for the Spurs was with 1:19 to go, when David West drove to the basket to put San Antonio up 7. But OKC hung onto dear life.

After a couple of missed threes, Westbrook majestically swooped in for a rebound dunk.

The dunk was also a foul, and Westbrook made the ensuing free throw. Thunder down 4. Then KD stole a Leonard post up, and Westbrook drew a foul in transition. Two free throws later, and the Thunder were only down 2. 46 seconds to go.

The Spurs drew up a play for LaMarcus Aldridge on the wing, and his rushed fadeaway was no good. But Kawhi Leonard got the offensive rebound, and the Thunder took a few seconds to foul Tony Parker. This play effectively ended the game.

Parker sank both free throws, putting San Antonio up four. There was enough time for Dion to make a highly banking runner, Leonard to make another couple free throws, and Westbrook try a desperation three. But OKC's fate was sealed.

Box ScoreShot Chart/Play-by-PlayPopcorn MachineKevin Durant 26 Pts Full HighlightsRussell Westbrook 10-31 Shooting LowlightsSerge Ibaka 15 Pts HighlightsKawhi Leonard 31 Pts HighlightsLaMarcus Aldridge 24 Pts HighlightsTony Parker 19 Pts HighlightsTony Parker Postgame InterviewKawhi Leonard PostgameRussell Westbrook and Kevin Durant Press ConferenceFull Postgame Press Conferences with Pop, Billy D, Parker, Westbrook, and Durant

Why did the Thunder lose this game?

The Spurs shot 10 of 19 from three, while the Thunder shot 10 of 30. How can the Thunder settle for so many bad three attempts? And how does Billy Donovan think that going big is going to protect the three point line? The added offensive rebounding really isn't an advantage. The Thunder need to get back to their offensive roots of efficient twos, combined with the occasional three to make things honest. When the Thunder normally average 23 attempts a game, going for 30 in a playoff match against the Spurs is simply unwise.

Matchup Chess

Billy Donovan went with his "twin towers" lineup as soon as the starters were done playing. In the first half, it was a complete disaster. The Thunder went -9 over the course of five and a half minutes between the first and second quarters. Having two big men at the center and power forward position really wasn't conducive to ball movement, nor was it conducive to getting back in transition. By the way, OKC had five turnovers during that five minute span.

But Donovan persisted, playing Kanter and Adams together again for five and a half minutes between the third and fourth quarters. This worked out better, as the Thunder went +5. But the run didn't come because of the two bigs. The Thunder's guards were making plays independently of the bigs, and Aldridge and West still managed to score. Really, the only reason the two big lineup is useful is because of offensive rebounds. Kanter rebounded two missed threes, and the Thunder scored on both of those rebounds.

So at the end of the day, this lineup is -4. I admire Donovan for trying something different. I'm also glad that this lineup was tested periodically throughout the season. In principle, I understand the lineup. It's seen as a way for Kanter to play without having to guard the paint by himself. But putting Kanter at power forward is just stranding him between positions. You want Kanter to stand far from the basket, so you can space the floor well. But that just negates all of Kanter's rebounding advantages.

I'm also dismayed that Westbrook got so little time with Kanter. The only real stint came in the third quarter, when the Thunder went -5 with a lineup of Westbrook, Waiters, Roberson, Ibaka, and Kanter. But when you look at it, Westbrook never really used Kanter's screen properly. Westbrook just took a few reckless shots in the face of good defense and didn't read the play. A couple of possessions went to Dion. And defensively, a lot of the woes were caused by bad offense. So I really don't see that negative outcome as justification for playing less Kanter and Westbrook. We need more Kanter and Westbrook, less Twin Towers.

Also, the duo of Adams and Ibaka kept LaMarcus Aldridge to 8 of 21 shooting overall. I guess we don't really need Collison as much as I thought....

Hustle Stats

thunderhustlestatsspursgame3

Steven Adams easily earns the Thunder Hustler award, contesting 15 shots and screening for three scores. Serge Ibaka was right behind him as an elite defender, contesting 13 shots. Most of those were from Aldridge, assumedly. KD was also on point, with 10 contested shots, 1 screen assist, and two deflections. Westbrook had the team high for deflections with four. I'd trade all of those deflections for twice as many shot contests though. There's no reason at all that you can be on the floor for 39 minutes and only contest two shots.

Also notable was OKC's points in the paint. The Thunder average 47 points in the paint on the year, but were only able to get 40 tonight and 38 during Game 2. I'd credit this to Kanter's lack of involvement.

Derek Fisher's Postgame Thoughts

Former Thunder point guard Derek Fisher was an analyst on NBATV last night, as they broke down the game. I find Fisher's perspective especially intriguing because he is retired as a player and not currently a coach. This allows Fisher to speak at least somewhat candidly about the Thunder. If you're unfamiliar with Fisher, he got major minutes during the Thunder's playoff runs in 2012, 2013, and 2014. That means Fisher has shared a locker room with Adams, Roberson, Collison, Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Mohammed.

Why did the Thunder lose this game?

"1. Mindset and mentality of players. Level of focus going into these situations.

2. Overall style of play offensively. Over the course of 48 minutes, particularly when you're in the playoffs against the best teams in the league, it's tough to run pick and rolls, isolation basketball. To ask Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to make the hero plays down the stretch every single night. .... "

It's kind of grounding to see this type of chatter come from someone who actually had to run the Thunder's playbook at one point. And Fisher has had to coach against Donovan's offense directly, so he understands it. OKC's offense is built entirely around the Superstars. If Durant and Westbrook can't create shots off of simple plays, OKC's offense just isn't going to work. But most of the time, at least one of OKC's superstars is scoring at an acceptable rate.

"[The Spurs] were more aggressive to Westbrook penetration, and Durant penetration. Both of those guys have to be ready to pass the ball right away. But you also need the rest of those guys to take on the burden. .... To step into those moments, step into those opportunities. Go make plays for your team."

I completely agree with this statement. Most plays where Westbrook had the ball, the Spurs would just load up the paint. And putting Kawhi Leonard on Westbrook certainly shuts down huge parts of his game. I'd argue that Leonard's defense successfully egged Westbrook into taking 10 threes. 3 of 10 isn't horrible, but a missed three can be such a devastating play defensively. I'd rather Westbrook go 1 of 3 and try to take the other 7 shots from two.

KD was getting double-teamed a lot. Danny Green can't really contain KD on his own, and KD was generally able to find his shot. But KD's 5 turnovers tell the whole story.

Slammin' Notes

  • 7:54 to go in the fourth: Ibaka makes a three point jumper to bring the Thunder within one. Ibaka is 5 of 6 from three at this point. Yet, we never saw Ibaka take another shot throughout the rest of the game. Ibaka fading out of the offense has been an issue all year, so it's not like this is a surprise.
  • Cameron Payne got 9 minutes tonight, shooting 2 of 7 with 2 turnovers. I'll admit, Payne's makes were impressive and got me really hype. Payne's floater has so much finesse! But his turnovers were really bad, a couple of his shots were ill-advised, and the Spur defense wasn't afraid to leave him open. I saw some improvement defensively, as Payne drew no fouls this time. Payne's alright at this point I guess. Just waiting for that breakout game....
  • Anthony Morrow got 3 minutes of action during the second quarter, and shot 0 of 1. The pass to Morrow was really low, so I see why he missed it. Morrow was part of a +4 lineup, but saw no time during the second half.
  • Dion Waiters was 2 of 6 in 25 minutes, with 2 turnovers and 4 fouls. Waiters also had an assist and a steal. I really like Waiters in this defensive, utilitarian role. Waiters gets possessions here and there to mix things up, but is also available as a spot shooter. The only complaint I have is that Dion ran over Ginobili twice tonight. Waiters just needs to be more aware. But his defense was good. Leonard was largely shut down, and Ginobili was only 1 of 4.
  • Andre Roberson was 2 of 4, with a missed three. I'm glad Roberson was able to do his surprise baseline drive twice. Roberson's defense of Kawhi was invaluable as well.
  • Steven Adams, 0-1 in 41 minutes. That's a testament to how ineffective Westbrook was tonight.
  • "50/50. Pop called some plays for me, and some of them....they just left me wide open." *shrug* -Tony Parker

Marina's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, took ample advantage of Danny Green

Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 5 of 6 from three

Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, too many threes, not enough mids

Thunder Plunderer: Kawhi Leonard, the transition fiend

Next Game: Versus the San Antonio Spurs, Sunday, May 8th, 7 PM Central Daylight Time.

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