Oklahoma City Thunder Lack Defensive Intensity in Game 1
By Ian Smith
Spectators find themselves prisoner of the moment far too often, drawing drastic conclusions based on a limited sample size.
Any observer who says the series between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder is over after one lopsided game needs to hold their hyperbolic prognosis and let the rest of this series play out. There’s a reason that it’s a best of 7 series and not a “1 and done.”
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The old adage with playoff series is that there’s no cause for alarm until the home team loses. If the status quo remains throughout a series, the higher ranked team will advance in 7 games. It’s a good reminder of the importance of staying calm and collected in a series that’s bound to have ups and downs for both teams.
Having said that, the Thunder looked bizarrely apathetic in game 1. A team so talented should not lose by such a gigantic margin, even against another elite team. The Thunder played lazy defense and allowed the Spurs to score basically at will. The biggest adjustment in game 2 for them will be defensive persistence.
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were making everything they launched at the basket, but many of the shots weren’t aggressively contested. Effective closeouts on perimeter shots were nonexistent, and it seemed like the Spurs’ scorching start to the game completely demoralized the Thunder defensively, and the Spurs fed on that combination of intimidation and lethargy from their opponent.
The Thunder’s pick-and-roll defense looked amateurish and overmatched, unable to stop the Spurs from scoring at will. It was puzzling to see a performance like it at this stage of the playoffs from a team so rooted in success.
Aldridge, Leonard, and Danny Green shot a combined 34-43 against the Thunder defense. That’s 79% shooting for a group of 3 players that took over half of the Spurs’ shots on offense. These players are capable of prolific scoring performances, but those numbers are unrealistically high, and aided by utterly blase defensive presence.
Conversely, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant shot a combined 11-34 for about 32% from the field for the Thunder. When 40% of your team’s shots are coming from two sources, they’re going to need to be more accurate than that if there’s any chance for you to win.
This is a superstar league, and teams are going to win or lose at the hands of their best players. Nobody is faulting Durant and Westbrook for taking the quantity of shots that they did considering the type of players they are, but there’s going to be consequences for the rest of the team if those shots don’t fall.
Dion Waiters had an effective game off the bench, scoring 11 points, and Serge Ibaka ended up having the most efficient offensive performance on the team, shooting 8-15 from the field and 3-6 from 3 point range for 19 points.
The complementary bloc of Waiters, Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams exceeded their expected quota of points needed to give the Thunder a decent chance at winning, combining for 45 points.
Westbrook and Durant, however, only produced 30 points between the two, which is normally what just one of those guys can get during a relatively typical game. It seems unlikely that two superstars on their talent level will replicate such a poor performance in consecutive games.
Credit the Spurs’ defense for containing two of the most offensively gifted players in the NBA. The story of this game was the juxtaposition of the degrees of defensive tenacity on the court. The Spurs were active and authoritative on defense while the Thunder were passive and listless.
Next: San Antonio Spurs Demolish OKC Thunder in Game 1
This series is far from over, and Durant and Westbrook have way too much pride to let their team get humiliated 2 games in a row. The Spurs will have to maintain their discipline for game 2 if they want to take a commanding series lead as the games shift to Oklahoma City.