Making Sense of Why the San Antonio Spurs Lost Game 2

By Ian Smith
May 2, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich argues a call with referee Sean Corbin (33) in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich argues a call with referee Sean Corbin (33) in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

Controversial calls aside, the biggest reason the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to tie up their series with the San Antonio Spurs was because not only did they get back to their formula for playing winning basketball, but the rejuvenation of their superstar duo coincided with an unusually bad shooting performance from the Spurs.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are 2 of the top players in the league, and having multiple superstars is something that not many other teams in the league can match. As such, they can both put up gigantic numbers when the offense primarily flows through them and they’re able to make their shots.

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Game 1 and Game 2 had vastly different outcomes for the Thunder, and the key difference was how Durant and Westbrook were able to not only assert themselves in the offense more so in game 2 than game 1, but that they bounced back from their lackluster performances in game 1.

As obvious as it sounds, a team is going to live and die by the performances of players who eat up so much of the offensive shot attempts. Durant and Westbrook realistically weren’t going to be held down for an entire series. The Thunder’s primary key for success is ensuring that Durant and Westbrook both play like the superstars they’re capable of being.

In game 1, Durant and Westbrook played a combined 63 minutes. They took 40% of their team’s shots and made about 32% of those. The game eventually devolved into garbage time starting late in the 3rd quarter, freeing up more Thunder shots to be taken by normal reserves receiving increased playing time.

However, the telling statistic that illustrates the lack of assertiveness of their star players (particularly Durant) is that Serge Ibaka played less minutes than Durant and attempted just as many shots. That shouldn’t happen if the Thunder want to be successful.

Game 2 improved on these glaring numbers from game 1. Durant and Westbrook played a combined 79 minutes, and ended up taking about 56% of their team’s shots. Of that 56% chunk, Durant and Westbrook made 50% of them. This is a team that thrives when they put trust in their superstars to carry the offense and score the hefty point totals.

This is just the first (but most important) step to ensuring that the Thunder are competitive, though. Durant and Westbrook need decent contributions from Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Dion Waiters. In game 1, these 4 crucial role players combined for 45 points, which is what the Thunder need from them to give them a good chance to win the game. However, this relatively impressive point total amongst the 4 of them falls short of being influential if Durant and Westbrook have bad games, which is exactly what happened in game 1.

In game 2, the 4 role players were held to 39 points combined, which should have bode well for the Spurs. Ibaka, Kanter, and Adams all did their part, but Waiters was held to a paltry 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting.

In game 1, it was Kanter who primarily underachieved with 6 points. He went 3 of 7 shooting for about 43%, which is well below his season average of about 9 shot attempts and about 58% shooting. Credit the Spurs interior defense in game 1 for limiting Kanter.

The Spurs defensive game plan seemed to fall right into place for game 2 by limiting the impact of the Thunder’s role players. Durant and Westbrook went off, but the team only combined for 98 points, which is about 12 points below what the Thunder averaged per game during the regular season, and about 5 more than the Spurs’ defense allowed on average during the regular season.

The Spurs’ defense should pat themselves on the back by holding the 2nd highest scoring team per 100 possessions to under 100 points. The Thunder were able to shoot about 48% from the field, but only 5-19 from 3 point range. The Spurs also forced the Thunder into 18 turnovers.

Why did the Spurs lose game 2 after such an impressive defensive performance then? The statistic that jumps out the most is their uncharacteristically bad 3 point shooting. During the regular season, the Spurs shot about 38% from behind the arc, which was good for 2nd best in the league.

In game 2, however, they only shot about 26% from deep, going 6 for 23. Just one more of those 3 pointers going in would have reversed the outcome of this game, and put the Spurs in powerful command of the series.

Next: Referees Admit Missing Late Call in Spurs-Thunder Finish

Analyzing the numbers from game 2 should put the Spurs more at ease, because they played a solid defensive game against a fantastic offense, but let the game slip away due to some uncharacteristically poor shooting that is sure to improve over the course of the series.