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.

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

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