Tony Parker. Parker dismantled the Thunder defense to the tune of 34 points and eight assists in Game 2 while shooting 16-of-21 from the field. He wasn’t getting to the rim as often as he usually does but, as Henry Abbott noted at TrueHoop, he excelled in creating space for his mid-range jumper off pick-and-rolls and screens away from the ball. Parker converted on 11-of-15 shots from past 10 feet with the majority of his attempts coming off the dribble, which has been proven to be less efficient than shooting off the catch. But that’s irrelevant.
Why? Because the Spurs have figured out something. They ran Westbrook ragged, forcing him to chase desperately off screens, sometimes successive screens spanning the entire court. While Westbrook has elite agility and quickness, he did look completely over matched defensively. San Antonio will always have Parker pick-and-rolls as a last resort. Putting him off the ball and utilizing San Antonio’s big men, who generally set solid, space creating screens, makes the Spurs offense that much more damaging. Oklahoma City, sans Serge Ibaka who can’t afford to help off Parker too much because he is expected to cover a lot of ground, doesn’t have the quickness on the interior to help Westbrook on the perimeter.
Oklahoma City’s home-court advantage. The college environment that dominates the arena gives the Thunder a distinct advantage over the opposition. Over the last three years, Oklahoma City has won 72% of their home games. Make a mistake and the crowd will torment you. If the Thunder make a run, they will continue to torment you. For lesser teams, the sheer pressure that the fans exert is enough to make them crack. The Spurs are not one of those teams. They won 22 road games this year, second behind Chicago. In San Antonio’s last 10 road games (nine wins), they won by an average of 12 points per game indicating that no environment is too difficult to conquer.
Playing under pressure. Now, while this also applies to the Spurs by virtue of their appearance in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have immense pressure to keep the series alive. They haven’t been up against the metaphorical wall this entire postseason and with a third consecutive loss they will have little chance in reclaiming confidence and hope. A victory is imperative for the Thunder cause.
Final verdict. Thunder by four. I haven’t picked against the Spurs in a long time. This feels weird.