Scouting the Thunder: Is Oklahoma City’s performance sustainable?


May 31, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) handles the ball while being guarded by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Derek Fisher (37) 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

Oklahoma City’s Game 3 performance. While Oklahoma City is certainly a worthy opponent for the Spurs and one that can easily defeat San Antonio in a seven-game series, there are some positives to gleam from Game 3’s debacle. San Antonio still shot pretty well from the perimeter (42.3%). The Thunder didn’t get to the line as proficiently as they usually do, getting to the line 17 times, their fourth lowest figure of the entire year. It is also highly unlikely that Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha will combine for 33 points on 48% shooting. Even less likely is expecting Kendrick Perkins to stay in front of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker on the perimeter.

And, while Oklahoma City’s defensive adjustments certainly disrupted the pick-and-roll to the point where San Antonio ran considerably more isolations as a result of the lack of space, the Spurs’ 0.43 points per possession off pick-and-rolls is abnormally low.

The Spurs will make adjustments. They pay too much attention to minute details not to have a solid gameplan in place to combat the Thunder attack. Whether that be through playing Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter more often to make switching screens more difficult, running Tony Parker off screens away from the ball, paying more attention to cutters when the Thunder defense collapses on ball handlers or some other zany adjustment that I must be missing; the fact remains … San Antonio will do something. Gregg Popovich is simply too adept at making adjustments not to conjure something brilliant to prevent the Thunder from completely dictating the tempo of the game.

Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha’s defense and perimeter shooting was instrumental in their Game 3 victory. His voracious defense caused Parker to be flustered on pick-and-rolls, unable to sufficiently create space for his jump shot or forays to the rim. He did get a little help from Ibaka and Perkins but there was a noticeable difference in his defense, obviously, compared to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook tends to take some interesting angles, to say the least, and that’s something Sefolosha doesn’t tend to do. Thabo remained connected to Parker’s hip, forcing him to create against a defense keyed on his every move rather than an unbalanced defense on their heels against Parker with a full head of steam. I don’t think Thabo will make as big an impact on Game 4 but, at the very least, Oklahoma City shaved some points off Parker’s point total. They finally trusted their best perimeter defender to guard the opposing teams best perimeter scorer. (Innovative strategy, right?)

DeJuan Blair or Matt Bonner? Please. None of this nonsense. I understand that Bonner is shooting at a dismal 34.8% from behind the arc in the playoffs and perimeter shooting being his greatest asset, he has drastically decreased his value to the Spurs. I understand that it is pretty difficult to justify playing a largely one-dimensional player (although his post defense is wildly underrated but that won’t matter against Oklahoma City) a ton of minutes. But, on the same token, do you really think trusting an 11-game sample size where he shot an average rate over a 65-game sample size where he shot 42% from 3-point land is justifiable? Nope. And, if I were coaching the Spurs (thankfully, I am not), I would continue to trust the percentages with Bonner. Blair isn’t going to suddenly solve the Spurs’ offensive ineptitude in Game 3. In fact, he may muddle up their floor spacing even further by virtue of his lack of shooting range. Another thing in Bonner’s favor? The Thunder will probably continue to make a concerted effort to wall off penetration at the point of attack — they had three, sometimes four eyes on the ball — making it a lot easier for Bonner to operate on the perimeter.

Final verdict. Spurs by six. I am sticking with my series prediction here although I didn’t quite expect Oklahoma City to dominate the Spurs in the manner they did. I am very worried.