Oklahoma City Thunder
Put Harden and Westbrook in a position to draw fouls. Harden and Westbrook uncharacteristically combined for two free throws in Game 1. The Spurs are one of the stingiest teams when it comes to fouling — they absolutely abhor “playoff fouls” and rather cede a couple of easier shot opportunities instead of racking up fouls. It’s pretty simple: over the course of a game, fouling a shooter, even the worst foul shooters, is a more inefficient way to play defense than just about any other alternative.
Not only will the offense score more points per possession on free throws, but they increase their opportunities to get the line later in the quarter, the defense is in foul trouble, putting them in a difficult bind. San Antonio intuitively knows this and, for the better part of the decade, their tendency to avoid fouls has been consistent. They averaged 17.3 personal fouls per game, the third lowest mark in the entire league. Westbrook’s annoying tendency to pull up on pick-and-rolls — it’s not that he doesn’t convert on enough mid-range jumpers to make it a sound play but that he could take advantage of a scrambling Spurs defense. That tendency plays directly into the Spurs’ hands. For the Thunder to expose their defense, they will need to find ways to get into the teeth of the defense and use their speed and quickness to their advantage.
San Antonio Spurs
Prevent turnovers. This one is obvious. Oklahoma City is one of the best teams in basketball in creating transition opportunities and finishing them. The Spurs’ sloppy first half — 14 turnovers — gave the Thunder the incentive, and opportunity, to run and utilize their athleticism in open space, the most deadly situation for opposing defenses. Back-pedaling backwards in a desperate attempt to impede their transition break is a tenuous preposition for any defense regardless of stature. Oklahoma City — ranked sixth in transition PPP (1.17) during the regular season — scored 1.37 PPP in transition, a crazy level of efficiency.
While some of their transition possessions stems from their elite athleticism, on some occasions Oklahoma City rebounded a miss and still held a man advantage on the break, a lot of also came from turnovers. Looking back at the game film, it wasn’t some fundamental mistake on San Antonio’s part. They did a good job spacing the floor and situating themselves around the perimeter to prevent potential breaks. Eliminating turnovers will decrease Oklahoma City’s proficiency, albeit slightly. They will always be able to create more transition breaks than most teams. Lowering their extremely favorable situations will be of utmost importance in Game 2.