May 31, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) handles the ball while defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) during the first half in game three of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE

A Thunder storm is brewing: How do the Spurs stop it?

May 31, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (20) waits to play defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half in game three of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City won 102-82. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

“We thought about some things, which I’m not going to tell you guys,” Manu Ginobili said.

Oh, the secrecy. This gem of a quote courtesy of Pounding the Rock.

What are those things that we might see in Game 4, you ask? Here’s what I am thinking although delving into the mind of one Gregg Popovich is fruitless.


- Oklahoma City countered Tony Parker’s quickness with Thabo Sefolosha, which stifled Parker and the Spurs’ offense. His 6’7″ frame and quickness allowed the Thunder to defense to exhale a little bit.

- Oklahoma City defended the Spurs’ pick-and-roll incredibly well. San Antonio ran a pick-and-roll in 26.9% of their possessions in Game 3 but they scored 0.43 PPP, an abominable number that would easily be the worst in the league over the course of the season.

- But they didn’t cover the pick-and-roll uniformly. On Parker pick-and-rolls, the Thunder kept Thabo as close as humanly possible to Parker’s hip and whenever Sefolosha fell into a “land mine”, leaving too much space in between him and Parker, they trusted in their big men, generally Serge Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins, to allow Thabo to recover. This strategy worked admirably as Parker wasn’t able to find his safety valve or get to the basket with any regularity.

- On Manu pick-and-rolls, Oklahoma City switched, hoping that the disadvantage on the perimeter would entice Manu to create 1-on-1, a much more favorable preposition than ball movement. Manu obliged and for the first time in a while, the Spurs shooters were spotting up, motionless, aimless without any sense of purpose. With 2:16 left in the second quarter, Perkins was stranded on an island against Manu and recorded a block shot on a 3-pointer and helped force a Thunder turnover on Manu’s ensuing recovery. It was indicative of the Spurs’ offensive showing in Game 3.

- In addition to their different defensive coverages, the Thunder dedicated much more attention to the pick-and-rolls. Their weak-side defenders, tasked with defending the proficient corner 3-pointer, cheated in a little more. Parker and Ginobili weren’t allowed to collect a head of steam as they were always confronted with two, three, sometimes four Thunder defenders in the paint. As a result, San Antonio only scored 24 points in the paint.

- Enough about their adjustments. How do the Spurs possibly combat their athleticism and newfound defensive girth? Well, some have suggested that playing Duncan and Splitter would make switching pick-and-rolls less favorable because of the mismatches it would create on the low block. It could be something worth trying out.

- Or how about cutting baseline more often to take advantage to the Thunder defense, engrossed with the pick-and-roll action?

- Running Parker off screens away from the ball worked tremendously in Game 2 and it could be something Popovich revisits again in Game 4. It opens up the misdirection on the opposite side of the floor because the defense is so preoccupied in containing Parker.

- There is some chatter on the merits of inserting DeJuan Blair into the rotation. I am not one of those people. I feel that his one-dimensional offensive game plays into the Thunders hands, especially now that they are comfortable switching screens. What’s going to deter them from switching when Blair can’t really create for himself?

- Dictate tempo. To put it simply, a frenetic pace favors the Spurs exponentially. For more in-depth analysis on tempo, check out Aaron McGuire’s excellent work on the subject for Gothic Ginobili.

- And lastly, continue to adhere to the offense that got you here. You know, the offense predicated on systemic precision, floor spacing and trust. None of this creating 1-on-1 nonsense. Ginobili and Parker are capable of scoring for themselves but that is playing into the Thunder’s hands. They want this to happen. Yes, their adjustments ensure that moving the ball will be slightly harder. But it can be done. Attacking their self-imposed disadvantages with pure brute force isn’t Spurs basketball.

Tags: Manu Ginobili NBA Playoffs 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder San Antonio Spurs Thabo Sefolosha Tony Parker Western Conference Finals

  • rtesoro440

    Sefolosha will NOT repeat. He succeeded guarding TP last night, he won’t do it again. The coaching staff will make the necessary adjustments. The Spurs will win game #4 and take the series in 5 in San Antonio. Go Spurs!

  • AirAlamo1

     @rtesoro440 We will see. Thabo’s size and quickness really seemed to bother Parker though.

  • mpasse

    Four days ago, everyone was burying OKC. Now they’re burying the Spurs. C’mon, we all should have known going in this was a 6 or 7 game series. One would expect a young team like OKC to play much better in their place, feeding off the home court energy as young teams do. When this series started I picked SA in 6 and I still think so. There is one concern though. The Spurs defense is shaky; OKC got way too many open shots down the stretch last night. People don’t seem to realize what a key piece Bowen was to the dynasty teams, and they have no shut-down defender of his caliber right now. The Spurs will close it out if they tighten up their D, especially the way this series (and Miami-Boston) are being officiated, which seems to be, “mugging is allowed, even encouraged.” As always in very close match-ups like this, Game 5 is the swing game. OKC still must win in San Antonio. They won’t do it in a game 7; if SA wins Monday, I think they close it out in 6. The Spurs are still a deeper, smarter, more experienced team, but this is a very even series in terms of talent.

  • LWM_sucks

    @mpasse You are spot on. While I am incredibly frustrated with the way we played in OKC (especially in Game 3), technically, nothing happened out of the ordinary. The home team won both games. The thing that worries me, though, is how OKC used Durant at the tail end of Game 4. San Antonio was helpless against a relatively simple brush screen set. Let’s wait until Game 5 before we make any rash conclusions.

  • mpasse

     @LWM_sucks  @mpasse Yeah, Pop is struggling to find a lineup that will fight through those screens and block out better. But yet you don’t want to sit Tim too much because the offense still runs through him and he needs to play his way into the game these days. And we MUST block out better. If the Spurs make the finals but don’t block out any better, Miami or Boston will eat them alive on the boards. Still, I expected OKC to win these two games. Monday is the big one; if OKC steals one on the road it will be this one. If they don’t, I think the Spurs are okay.

  • LWM_sucks

    @mpasse I’m also a tad worried about how OKC’s defensive adjustments turned San Antonio into an isolation heavy team. Over time, the Spurs offense won’t be able to reach their offensive potential when the offense is stagnated. OKC can get away with it because of their talent but the Spurs need cohesion to succeed.

  • mpasse

     @LWM_sucks  @mpasse In the first 2 games the Spurs had OKC spread out on D, and as we all saw, Parker and Ginobli had success penetrating down the stretch. Now they’re collapsing more. They seem determined to not let the penetration (or Timmy) beat them over these past couple games. I remember when New Jersey collapsed on the Spurs in the finals awhile back. Pop put in Steve Kerr to hit some jumpers and he made them pay for over-playing Tim. True, that was a better defensive team than this one. I think Splitter will play better at home, he seemed in over his head in their place. But you’re right, it’s a concern, and OKC is very quick on the switches. They’ll drop those short jumpers all day if SA can’t fight through the screens, but SA can at least take away all those tip-ins and put-backs. Maybe we need to spread them back out, with someone other than Ginobli (Neal?) hitting a few treys. Ginobli is so valuable penetrating in this series, and he will hit his free throws if he can just get to the basket. Of course if Pop can’t figure it out, I’m sure not going to, lol!

  • mpasse

     @LWM_sucks Or Bonner! He needs to get going. He can make OKC pay for leaving jump shooters open, but he seems tentative right now.

  • AirAlamo1

     @mpasse  @LWM_sucks Yeah, I’ve noticed that OKC has sent more guys to defend the pick-and-roll than usual, leaving our shooters open. Their athleticism allows them to get back to guys like Bonner, though, and his tentativeness isn’t helping matters either. 

  • mpasse

     @AirAlamo1  @LWM_sucks  Yup, that’s true. It won’t be easy, OKC is the fastest of the four teams still standing and it causes problems for everyone that plays them. I’m just trying to think of a Plan B, and Bonner is one of a few jump shooters that come to mind because we’ve all seen what he can do when he’s on, and if he gets going he can force them to make adjustments. Right now, we’re having to adjust to them. But I guess that’s what you get with 2 evenly matched teams like this. If SA does get past OKC and plays Miami, this series should help them prepare, because Miami does some of the same stuff, over-playing the passing lanes, pounding the boards and constantly looking for outlet passes. Anyway, I’m thinking maybe this series has an epic game coming!

  • LWM_sucks

    @mpasse @AirAlamo1 I’m just hoping I’ll be mentally prepared for an “epic” game.

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