Scouting the Thunder: Limiting the blunders


May 27, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) has his shot blocked by San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the first half in game one of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT

Tuesday the Western Conference’s top two teams return to the hardwood for Game 2 of the Conference Finals. Tip is set for 8 PM inside the AT&T Center, and a lot is riding for both the Spurs and Thunder. Oklahoma City desperately needs to steal one in the Alamo City if they want to make this a series, and San Antonio has a win streak they would love to keep alive to late June. We saw a back-and-forth battle Sunday, but what should we expect to see before the series heads north to the Sooner State.

Take care of the rock. A very un-San Antonio thing to do is to turn the ball over. They move the rock as well as any other team, but Sunday was a different story. Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden harassed the Spurs guards for 36 minutes, before Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili took over in the fourth. San Antonio has to make the better passes and not let the Thunder poke at the ball and take it coast-to-coast. Also, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant used their length to reject just about anything that came in the paint. San Antonio should not avoid going down low, and it’s key for them to make as many passes as possible, they just can not get lazy. They are three wins away from a NBA Finals bid, and they can not blow it by becoming complacent with the defense that was good enough to beat the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.

Take advantage of shot opportunities. Whether it be at the free throw line or beyond the arc, if the Spurs have a wide-open shot, it’d best to take it. San Antonio only made 8-of-24 three-pointers, and on multiple occasions it was because one guy gave up the ball to make an extra pass or hesitated and it was too late. Like Coach Popovich said, the Spurs have to play with confidence. Not just in the fourth, but for the course of the game. Free throws will be essential as well. Some of the young guys like Tiago Splitter can not be air-balling free points. Whether it is the pressure or lack of preparation, San Antonio has to take every point the Thunder will give them. This is a team that shoots relatively well against Oklahoma City, but they did not show that Sunday night.

Manu Back. Maybe he was conserving his energy for this series, because Game 1 was the type of night Ginobili needed to make himself relevant in the postseason again. It was clear as day the Spurs needed a scorer to take over this ball game, and Manu being about as fearless as anyone, took the steering wheel and drove it home for San Antonio. James Harden is a respectable match-up for Manu, and Harden is going to get his points. The difference is that Oklahoma City does not have multiple guys off the bench that can go off, and thankfully, Ginobili stepped up at the right time. Whether it be him, or Danny Green, or Gary Neal, the Spurs will have a chance to put the Thunder in a 2-0 hole with a big night from one of their guards.

Final Verdict: Spurs by ten. I thought this might be the case Sunday night, but with bad shooting (and a late surge by the Thunder), the Spurs only won the game by three. If San Antonio can get out to a better start and get more stops in the early going, then San Antonio could potentially have a comfortable lead, almost blow it in the third, and then regain it in the fourth like old times.