Scouting WCF Game 3: Spurs must weather Thunder storm on road

There are four-winning streaks in play tonight, and one or three of those streaks will be broken by the time the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder complete game three of the Western Conference Finals.

For the Spurs, they have three winning streaks on the line tonight. First, they have their undefeated playoff record (10-0) at play. Second, they have their final 10-game winning regular season streak combined with their playoff win streak (20-0) on the line. And third, the Spurs as a complete team haven’t lost on the road this season since Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, and Patty Mills joined the team.

For the Thunder, they haven’t lost a home playoff game (5-0) thus far. Which winning streak or streaks might be snapped tonight? Will the Spurs get themselves five wins away from the title, or will the Thunder make this a series again with a victory at home?

Spurs vs. Thunder Playoff Statistics

  • 1. Points: Spurs (104.1) – Thunder (100.8) = Spurs
  • 2. Assists: Spurs (24.2) – Thunder (17.4) = Spurs
  • 3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (49.4%) – Thunder (45.6%) = Spurs
  • 4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (41.3%) – Thunder (36.8%) = Spurs
  • 5. Turnovers: Spurs (13.1) – Thunder (10.7) = Thunder
  • 6. Rebounds: Spurs (42.1) – Thunder (40.4) = Spurs
  • 7. Personal Fouls: Spurs (19.7) – Thunder (23.8) = Spurs
  • 8. Free Throw Attempts: Spurs (24) – Thunder (25.3) = Thunder
  • 9. Fast Break Points: Spurs (14.4) – Thunder (17.7) = Thunder
  • 10. Points in the Paint: Spurs (47.8) – Thunder (38) = Spurs
  • 11. Bench Points: Spurs (41.3) – Thunder (32.9) = Spurs
  • 12. Jumpers: Spurs (37.9) – Thunder (44.6) = Spurs
  • 13. Shots in Paint: Spurs (31.6) – Thunder (29.6) = Spurs

Statistical Leader: Spurs 10-3

Let’s look at some areas the Spurs will need to concentrate on that either worked or didn’t work in game two. The Spurs will have to make some adjustments in key areas as well.

Pace is essential: One thing the Spurs did well in game two was come out with a quick pace and a lot of energy right from the beginning. Tony Parker set the tempo for the game with his hard cuts to the basket when the Thunder tried to stop the pick-and-roll, and Parker either scored or found the open man. The Spurs’ fast pace gave the Thunder fits and they fell out of their offense and players started playing 1-on-1 basketball. The Spurs’ pace was rolling so much in the third quarter that Thunder coach Scott Brooks had to go with the “Hack-a-Tiago” strategy to slow the Spurs’ pace down.

Thunder have major issues with pick-and-roll: As the Spurs went on those major runs in the second and third quarters, Parker’s penetration with the Spurs’ pick-and-roll was the catalyst for the basketball clinic at the time. The Spurs will need to continue to execute sharply in the pick-and-roll, however they must be aware that the Thunder will play more energetic and aggressive defense like they did in the first quarter of game one, and the fourth quarter of game two, because they will have that extra gear of energy with the amount of home crowd energy motivating them through the game.

Parker must continue to captain the ship: It’s unlikely that Parker will shoot 16-of-21 on the road in Oklahoma City and score another 34 points, but it is possible for Parker to maintain success against the Thunder. The last time Parker was in Oklahoma City, he scored 25 points. The Thunder simply have no one that can guard him. Russell Westbrook is their best defender because of his speed and athleticism, but the Thunder need Westbrook’s offense in order to keep up with the Spurs’ scoring ability. So, that left Thabo Sefolosha in the first half having to defend Parker the majority of the time, which didn’t work well at all, or the Thunder had to let Derek Fisher, who is 37-years old, chase after Parker. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for the Thunder if they’re trying to stop an aggressive Parker. If they play one-on-one with him, he’ll have his way with any of their defenders. Then, if they decide to use the team approach and have the big men do the zone defense on screens, it opens up the Spurs’ shooters, roll men, and cutters to the basket.

Make Thunder play “selfish” ball: One of the easiest ways the Spurs were able to go on different runs in the game and push their lead into double-digits on different occasions was by taking the Thunder out of their offense. Kendrick Perkins especially showed a bad sign for the Thunder as he quickly tried to post Duncan n the first quarter and the move was unsuccessful. In the second half of game two, Durant and James Harden combined for just 12-shot attempts. How many did Russell Westbrook take? 16. If the Spurs continue to make the Thunder play one-on-one basketball, especially in momentum building moments, they might be able to keep the Thunder’s offense out of flux, and have a greater chance of winning on the road.

What to do about Hack-a-Tiago? Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is arguably the best coach in the business, you can be certain he’s going to have a counter strategy should the Thunder go back to the “Hack-a-Splitter.” What’s funny though is that at the end of the third quarter of game two, Rey Moralde of the No Look Pass tweeted something hilarious. He said that when the Thunder started fouling Splitter they were down 16-points, after the third quarter ended, they were still down 16-points. So, was hack-a-Tiago really that important? Possibly even though the score didn’t show it. The move stopped the Spurs’ pace on offense and from there; they started the difficult fourth quarter.

The Chronicles of Harden: As I wrote before the series started, Harden was going to have a great individual series. Harden’s scoring 24.5-points per game, shooting 57% from the field, and shooting 50% from three in this series, yet wins aren’t a result of his good games. Harden is a major weakness for the Spurs because he’s so good at using any type of screen. Even when Danny Green was guarding him, Harden would escape Green’s area by using the screen to either drive to the basket and finish, or hit the open mid-range jumper. Harden will continue to have a dominant series individually, but the chances of the Thunder winning four of the next five games will mean the Thunder will need a lot more help for Harden, outside of Durant and Westbrook.

The Spaniard and Durant on defense: In the fourth quarter, the Thunder started with a small lineup that featured Durant at power forward and Serge Ibaka as the center. The move worked momentarily because the both big men were quick and lengthy enough to keep Parker from penetrating, but if it the lineup is used tonight, the Spurs should have an adjustment to combat that lineup of big men in their favor.

Don’t turn the ball over: When the Thunder started making their run in the fourth quarter, four Spurs turnovers were key in that time frame. The Spurs know how dangerous turnovers on the road can be, as turnovers in Los Angeles in game three against the Clippers led to a 24-point deficit at one time. If the Spurs want any chance of winning tonight, ball control and passing with accuracy will be key.

Thunder on the glass: Overall in rebounding the Spurs still hold the edge. But boxing out will be have to be a main priority as the Thunder were able to grab 16 offensive rebounds in game two. This allowed the Thunder to play with multiple possessions and chip away at the Spurs’ lead.

The prediction

The Spurs will need to come out into the game and match the energy of the Thunder on the court, even though the crowd will be loud and energetic. The Spurs must be able to weather the Thunder storm as they’ve shown the ability to do in the past. There might be stretches where the Spurs go cold shooting from the floor or the Thunder start getting lucky bounces and hitting tough shots, but the Spurs will have to just fight through it should that be the situation.

I called the Spurs to win the series in five games, and depending on how aggressive Parker is, and how the team moves and takes care of the basketball will be key in them working toward a victory. I think the Spurs will be able to weather the storm, get a solid contribution from the bench and win by 5-8 points, with Parker, Ginobili, and Jackson leading the way.

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX and the 2013 NBA Finals.

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