Thunder (8-6, 4-3 road) vs. Spurs (9-4, 7-2 home)
Know this: The series isn’t over if the Thunder lose tonight. You’re probably going to feel like it is, but it isn’t. We’ve seen this story before, and there’s still a positive ending. But, there’s no question a Game 2 loss puts them in a deep hole, not just filled with an 0-2 deficit, but one that has doubts and worries in there as well.
The Spurs shredded the Thunder in Game 1, just affirming the concerns of playing without Serge Ibaka. Their 66 paint points was something that illustrated an inability to not just protecting the rim, but keep the Spurs from shooting anywhere but there.
Ibaka is no question an important, critical piece to the defensive puzzle for OKC, but he’s not everything. The Mavericks didn’t have overwhelming issues with the Spurs in the first round, and they played 6-foot-6 DeJuan Blair at center for most of the series. It’s not just about protecting the rim; it’s about keeping the Spurs away. Stop the man in front of you. There’s no doubt that the Thunder have developed bad habits in their on-ball defense because of the safety blanket Ibaka provides, but it’s time to shed that thinking. Otherwise, you’re going to watch the Spurs race to the bucket all night again.
Scott Brooks said today at shootaround it’s the same starting five for the Thunder and while that obviously upset a lot of people — because like a president, there’s a partisan side that won’t ever agree with Brooks at this point — it’s probably the right move. Yes, the offense is basically a two-man show entirely, but when that two-man show is Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, you may be able to survive. The starting five was the Thunder’s best defensive lineup in Game 1 (105.4 points per 100) and their third quarter was the most positive stretch of the game. There’s reason to believe they can build on that.
The question is how long Brooks sticks with it, and what his second lineup looks like. Is it smallball with the first sub, or will he try and remain big against the Spurs? We never saw the Collison-Adams pairing in Game 1, which felt like a massive oversight, and I would expect plenty of floortime for them tonight.
The Thunder aren’t in some must-win situation, yet. Splitting in San Antonio is obviously an important factor in having a chance in this series, but the Thunder just have to find one win at the AT&T Center. The problem with a loss here is that it turns Game 3 into a semi-legit must-win, otherwise they face the prospect of a sweep.
So, go ahead and win this one, OK?
Five Big Things
1. PTP. Protect the paint. Like Jon Snow begging Alliser Thorne to seal off the tunnels, Brooks needs to plead with his team to just keep the Spurs out. Wall it off. Force jumpers. If you’re going to lose, let it be because San Antonio made 14 3-pointers, not because you let them pile up almost 70 points in the paint.
2. Smallballing. The Thunder fell in love with it a bit in Game 1, playing to the Spurs’ strength of being able to expose mismatches. Smallball has its place for the Thunder, but maybe not for quite the extended run it got in Game 1.
3. PJIII? Will Brooks use him? Fans all over are calling for him, but remember, you’re basically asking for a second-year player without any actual playoff experience to step up and perform in Game 2 of the Western Finals. I think Jones has a role to play as well — I might consider him starting at shooting guard — but be careful what you wish for. Perry Jones is most definitely not Serge Ibaka, so don’t expect him to be.
4. Bench. The Thunder actually got decent production from the second unit in Game 1. I wouldn’t anticipate Derek Fisher popping in 16 points again, so Reggie Jackson needs to have a bit more impact.
5. Adams. Only 17 minutes in Game 1. He has to play more. Would the Thunder dare try him and Perk together at once to go super big? If the Spurs are attacking at will again, might be worth a thought.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Please.