San Antonio Spurs
Continue to execute. San Antonio is playing near perfect basketball. Their third quarter outburst in Game 2 and fourth quarter 39-point performance were about the closest you will ever get to picture perfect basketball, the kind of basketball that coaches crave and rarely receive. San Antonio have confounded the Thunder defense by forcing them into multiple rotations on each possession. A good amount of these rotations have been either late or the lack of communication resulted in two guys running towards the same shooter. The Spurs shooters are intelligent enough to make the right decision: A) take a sprinting, flat-footed defender off the dribble, B) pull up for the shot or C) make the next pass to another shooter, forcing the Thunder defense to withstand more pressure. It’s simple: Keep executing and the Spurs will be able to dictate tempo and limit Oklahoma City’s transition opportunities.
Oklahoma City Thunder
More Serge Ibaka, less Kendrick Perkins. Scott Brooks probably realizes this by now. Ibaka’s athleticism and burgeoning midrange game — Ibaka converted on 43% of his mid-range shots this year — will pose a much bigger threat to San Antonio, both offensively and defensively, than Perkins’ interior defense and woefully deficient offensive game. When the Spurs are operating with the kind of precision that makes the SSOL (Seven Seconds Or Less) Suns’ offensive accomplishments look relatively dubious and the ball is swinging from side to side and the possibilities, besides a missed shot, are endless, Perkins’ skill set becomes that less valuable. The Spurs offense predicates on space and when your primary big man is unable to cover sufficient ground then that makes him a liability.
Perkins’ primary goal is to make Tim Duncan’s life absolutely miserable. Duncan is at a stage of his career where the alternative of banging with Perkins consistently isn’t just unfavorable but unsustainable. Instead, Duncan is gliding freely on the perimeter, knocking down 16-footers from the elbows and initiating the offense when Oklahoma City traps Tony Parker on pick-and-rolls. Why keep Perkins on the floor for, on average, four post-up possessions a game? Why sacrifice offensive efficiency for an outcome that will probably not make that much of a difference in the end?
The numbers back up this claim. With Perkins on the court, the Spurs have a +9.6 net rating compared to a -2.3 net rating with Perkins sidelines. While San Antonio still scores at an above-average 102.4 points per 48 minutes with Ibaka on the floor, they do so at a significantly lower shooting percentage. San Antonio also turns the ball over more often (16.8 turnovers per 48 minutes) and they shoot the 3-pointer at non Spurs-like rate (34.5%). You can’t attribute all these numbers to Ibaka’s presence but the Thunder can’t afford to rely extensively on one-dimensional players in this series.