But one that’s verrrrrrrrrrrrrry big. Super big. So big it deserves it’s own NBA BIG commercial.
With the series on the brink, the Thunder responded by completely smoking the Spurs 102-82 to crawl back into the series. It was the kind of Thunder performance we all knew they were capable of. And one they put together for 36 minutes in Game 1. Suffocating defense, relentless transition attacks, smart execution and outstanding individual play from primetime performers.
It was really the only way the Thunder could probably resurrect themselves in this series. When you’re playing a team that’s seemingly invincible like the Spurs, blowing them out is the best way to go. Especially when you’re one loss away from seeing your season basically die. Avoiding crucial halfcourt possessions trying to stop Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan was very wise.
Obviously the defensive adjustment to play Thabo Sefolosha on Tony Parker proved to be important, but I like what Scott Brooks said after the game.
“I thought the biggest adjustment was we played better.”
Simple, succinct, straightforward. And true.
The Thunder have had this game in them all along, and were close to it at different points during Games 1 and 2. They just put it all together and transformed into the monster they can become. They’re capable of this on any given night. And the truth is, they’re going to need this, or something close to this, three more times.
“Defensively that was as well as you can play against the best team in basketball,” Brooks said. “Everybody did it throughout every possession.”
There’s no doubt about it that Thabo was the player of the game with six steals, 79 deflections (estimated), one block, six rebounds and 19 points. And his defense was inspiring as he cut the head off the San Antonio snake by eliminating Parker’s midrange game completely while also keeping him from the rim. But more than that, the Thunder became themselves again. They played fast, smart and tough. They ran, they defended, they passed, they rebounded. They turned it over only seven times, they shot 45 percent from the floor. They got balanced scoring, but their best players also played well. It all rounded into a near perfect 48 minutes of basketball when the Thunder absolutely had to have it.
There was no room for second-guessing or regrets after this one. The transgressions of Games 1 and 2 put the Thunder in a hole and have made it extremely difficult. But there’s no changing it now. It was now or never and the Thunder had a whole lot of now in them tonight.
I’ve felt for a while that the Thunder just needed to win once just as a mental boost to prove to themselves it could be done. They’ve had so many struggles against the Spurs the last three years and with San Antonio having this incredible run, I’m sure it weighed on the Thunder mentally that it seemed they couldn’t be beat. Maybe it opens the floodgates, maybe not. But in terms of finally feeling good about the team they’re playing, the Thunder can look across at the Spurs and not feel like that team is invincible.
“We’re human,” Stephen Jackson said. Which I think is an important thing to note. They are human. They do bleed if you cut them. They aren’t some Terminator sent from space that won’t die.
“We never thought these guys had an advantage over us even though we lost a few,” Durant said. “It was just good we took it to 2-1. We didn’t want to go down 0-3. We wanted to protect our home court. We weren’t worried about previous games between us. We were just worried about tonight.”
It’s a series again, at least until Saturday. The Spurs are dealing with a feeling they haven’t had in almost two months. But while Game 3 was the biggest game ever in Thunder history, Game 4 is even bigger. Either the Thunder even up and make this thing real interesting, or it’s back to being pushed into a corner. The adjustments and better play in Game 3 were huge, but points don’t carry over. Just because it clicked tonight doesn’t mean it will again Saturday. And it’s pretty unlikely the Thunder find a 20-point cushion again in this series.
But they’re good enough to win this thing. They proved it, and proved it loudly, tonight. They can not only hang with the Spurs, they can kick their asses too. The Thunder live on and give themselves a chance. Which is really all they might need.
- Credit where it’s due. It was two games too late, but Brooks made the necessary changes in Game 3 and the adjustments paid off big time. It’s not the first time the Thunder have used Thabo on Parker in history, but it was the first time in this series it was the opening matchup. But it wasn’t just Thabo. There was a minor tweak in the middle of the defensive shell where OKC pinched everything, forcing the Spurs to the wings. And instead of slow rotations to contest, the Thunder fired out to challenge shooters. The Thunder bigs were excellent in showing and recovering in the pick-and-roll. About as good as Perk, Ibaka and Collison have ever done it, I think.
- If Gregg Popovich wasn’t Gregg Popovich, I think a lot of people might be blasting him for this game. I thought he coached it horribly. As OKC made major adjustments, the Spurs seemed lost in their own system. Pop waited way too long to insert Manu Ginobili in the second half, dusted off James Anderson really randomly and didn’t pull the trigger on anything. Granted, he’s Pop and you get away with stuff when you have four shiny things on your fingers, but I don’t think Game 3 was his finest 48.
- Perk shut up some people — including me — for a night. He played an outstanding defensive game, challenging Duncan, showing well in the pick-and-roll and playing big. When he got caught in a mismatch on Parker and got into a stance clapping as if to say “Let’s go little man,” I got chills. Same thing happened a few possessions later only with Perk on Ginobili, and he stuffed him. Perk was energetic, emotional and involved and showed that maybe he does have a value in this series.
- Scott Brooks on Perk: “Perk didn’t play well last game. The decision wasn’t to not play him. The guy has won so many games for us. I just needed him to play better.”
- KD had The Look in this one. He didn’t finish with an unbelievable line or anything, but he had a look to him like there was no way he was going down quietly. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. You could tell this morning that KD was ready for this game and with it being the biggest in his life, he more than showed up.
- As good as Brooks coached this game, he was equally good in his postgame media session. Great answers, good insight and smart thoughts.
- Thabo on the switch to Parker: “That was Scott [Brooks]’s idea. But I think the whole time we were thinking about it and we made the adjustment tonight and it worked out good.”
- Parker on Thabo guarding him: “They did that in the past. OKC put Thabo on me last year or two years ago. Nothing different for me. I just have to choose my spots and keep being aggressive.”
- Stat via @ThunderStats: Thabo played the first 15 minutes of Game 3. He played 15 total in Game 2.
- Points in the paint by game for the Spurs: 50, 42, 24.
- I have to single out a defensive possession for Westbrook: He denied Manu Ginobili three times, nearly baiting the ballhandler into a bad pass. He then recovered to block Tony Parker’s shot on the baseline and after the ball fell to Stephen Jackson in the corner and was passed back to Parker, Westbrook contested Parker again. He made the shot, but it was an absolutely incredible individual effort.
- One thing OKC did was put the Spurs offense in Duncan’s hands. In the first 15 minutes of the game, Duncan had attempted 12 shots to Parker’s four. The Thunder were trying to funnel the ball to Duncan and let him shoot from midrange, or see if he could beat Perk in the post. Great strategy that obviously worked well.
- Thabo picked up a really weird flagrant foul. OKC had a foul to give and he reached out to take it on Ginobili, but smacked him in the face. Odd play.
- The officiating was spotty early on and after an iffy call went against OKC, KD picked up a technical… from the bench.
- I can’t stop thinking about Game 1. I’m sorry, I can’t.
- I mean, it’s hard not to wonder where these adjustments were in Games 1 and 2. The Thabo on Parker thing was always there and like Parker acknowledged, has happened in the past. Which is why I think Brooks made a quality point in saying the biggest adjustment was that they played better. The Thunder executed a lot of the same gameplan, but just really did it well.
- Westbrook: “Just do what we do, Thunder basketball.” That’s either an awesome quote, or a really boring one. I can’t tell.
- Look at those defensive stats. Nine blocks. Eleven steals. Twenty-one turnovers for the Spurs and 39.5 percent shooting. What an effort.
- Tony Parker does this kind of annoying thing where he interrupts the reporter’s question before they finish it. I kind of like it, but I kind of hate it too.
Next up: Game 4 Saturday in OKC.