Game 1 went exactly as planned, right until it didn’t. The Thunder let one get away, but the series is just getting started. Falling behind 1-0 isn’t a death sentence, but it does raise the pressure level for Game 2.
1. After Game 1, rate your confidence level (1 being a sweep is coming, 10 being four straight wins for OKC).
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 6. I’m a bit shaken, no doubt, but that happens with a postseason loss. Each game is so important and the series is so fragile that a lone loss feels like the walls are starting to crumble. You go from riding high to wondering how in the world the team got this far in the first place. But the series is game to game and the goal was to get one of two in San Antonio. And even if the Thunder fail at that, it’s still not over. Do early to think about that though. A complete game and the Thunder should get back on track.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: 4. That’s about the same place it was before Game 1 as well. The Thunder’s best chance of winning the series, of course, would include a split of the first two games, but that’s still in play. OKC looked poised for a long series, at the least, with a rebound Game 2 win against Dallas this year, and I mean … the Spurs are going to lose again someday, right? Right? The Thunder has responded well after losses all season, including tough ones like Game 3 in Los Angeles. The Spurs are the juggernaut and a favorite for a reason, but the Thunder have already tested them about as much as they have been since it was cold outside, so this thing doesn’t feel over just yet.
J.A. Sherman, Welcome to Loud City: 6. I think we saw enough of the Thunder in Game 1 to know that they can be competitive in this series. Their defense might get burned for some stretches like in the first half of the 4th quarter, but they are willing to battle possession after possession and they have the talent to do it. The big question mark however is whether James Harden and Russell Westbrook can find a better offensive groove. Those two have to be able to produce points; otherwise the Spurs will be much more likely to start pressuring Durant far from the rim without fear that someone else can hurt them. I think Westbrook and Harden both got caught a bit off balance as for where to attack the Spurs defense, and as a result passed up some open looks and instead made the game harder than it had to be by always attacking Tim Duncan at the rim.
Young: Go big. Not necessarily in terms of staying big, but don’t fall into smallball lineups too consistently. The Spurs are a team that can match smallball and match it really well. The Thunder’s bread and butter has been small lineups, but you can’t fall in love with it. OKC might have more of an advantage with a Perk-Ibaka or Ibaka-Collison frontcourt late in games because it takes one other Spurs ballhander and shooter off the floor.
James: Do something, anything, to keep the Spurs out of the lane. If that’s even possible. San Antonio has used patient and superior passing, cutting and decision-making to get easy slashing layup after easy slashing layup game after game. It’s maddening, and beautiful to watch. Brooks has to find a way to free up Serge Ibaka to be at his paint-roaming best, blocking and altering shots as a help defender. The Thunder has to cheat a little and rely on the rangy, long perimeter players to recover on open jump shooters in order to keep the Spurs out of the paint. If Ibaka has to let go of a post player headed to the perimeter in order to stay free in the paint, OKC should try living with it and scrambling to contest enough jump shots to make it work out.
Sherman: My biggest adjustment would be on the offensive end, where the Thunder did not make full use of the league’s best scorer in the game. The reality is this – no matter how well OKC plays defense for much of the game, the Spurs are going to go on big runs. When that happens, Brooks has to be ready to offset offense with offense. Durant is the purest scorer in the game, but he is effectively marginalized if OKC is going to set him up 30 feet away from the rim with a Spurs defender already blanketed over him. The Spurs defenders are a little quicker than Metta World Peace, so Durant’s face-up game is not going to work as well. Durant still has a height advantage though, and I would like to see Brooks setting Durant up on the free throw line and the left block, two spots where he can be very effective. That positioning should produce more good looks, generate more foul calls in Durant’s favor, and force the Spurs defense to adjust accordingly. Sometimes “Durant, playmaker” has to give way to “Durant, 3 time scoring champ.”
3. Fact or Fiction: Game 2 is must-win.
Young: Fiction. Mainly because I don’t like calling anything other than an elimination game a “must-win.” Obviously it’s huge. It’s massive. It’s very, very important. But you can rebound from an 0-2 hole, especially when you’re going home. It puts the pressure on and makes Game 3 all-important, but a loss in Game 2 doesn’t end things.
James: Fiction. It’s an almost must-win, but Game 3 is really the one the Thunder have to get, no matter the outcome of Game 2. Yes, the statistics of teams going down 2-0 recovering to win the series are ugly. But that’s inflated by the long list of early-round matchups where one superior team could have gone up 2-0 no matter who had home court. It’s when teams are more evenly matched that someone can stay in a series by winning home games. The Thunder are good enough to catch fire and end it in six games somehow. But managing even to only win at home at least gets you to a one-off Game 7. Anything could happen. Kevin Durant could go 16-21 from the field and 14-14 at the line and win it by himself, or combine with Russell Westbrook and James Harden to score 90 points or whatever. The Thunder’s best chance to advance comes with a win in Game 2, but nothing is out of the question with a win in Game 3.
Sherman: Fact. If it were any other team in the league (including OKC themselves) I would say ‘fiction.’ However, given the winning streak that the Spurs are on right now, the thought of OKC being down 0-2 and needing to win 4 out of the next 5 games is too tall an order. I think the most important thing right now is that OKC has to show everyone in both locker rooms that they can beat the Spurs. Once that momentum shifts, the complexion of the series changes completely.