After 20 consecutive games, the San Antonio Spurs were handed their first loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday evening. Though the Thunder won by 20-points on Thursday, the game had already been decided midway through the third quarter, which meant the Spurs players had time to begin thinking about game four.
The Spurs will need to bounce back tonight or they’ll be coming back to San Antonio on Tuesday with a best of three series on their hands. The Thunder will use what worked in game three to hold their home court position.
Spurs vs. Thunder Playoff Statistics
- 1. Points: Spurs (102.1) – Thunder (100.9) = Spurs
- 2. Assists: Spurs (23.6) – Thunder (17.8) = Spurs
- 3. Shooting percentage: Spurs (48.5%) – Thunder (45.6%) = Spurs
- 4. Three point shooting percentage: Spurs (41.4%) – Thunder (35.8%) = Spurs
- 5. Turnovers: Spurs (13.8) – Thunder (10.4) = Thunder
- 6. Rebounds: Spurs (42) – Thunder (40.7) = Spurs
- 7. Personal Fouls: Spurs (19.6) – Thunder (23.2) = Spurs
- 8. Free Throw Attempts: Spurs (23.2) – Thunder (24.6) = Thunder
Statistical Leader: Spurs 6-2
There are four main areas where the Spurs must show major improvement in order to end Oklahoma City’s undefeated win streak in the playoffs at home.
Parker needs to set the tone: As Utah Jazz head coach Ty Corbin said in the first round when his team was defeated by the Spurs, “the Spurs go, as Parker goes.” Of point guards left in the playoffs right now, Parker is considered the best right now. He has to be the aggressor and set the tone for his team. He has more speed than Thabo Sefolosha and needs to find a way to make the Thunder pay for being over aggressive in their pick-and-roll defense. The way you could tell Parker didn’t have one of his usual games was because he was deferring to Tim Duncan in the post and the Spurs only attacked the paint 19 times in game three. When Parker can’t set the flow of the game with his drive-and-kick ability, then the ball movement becomes stale and the Spurs as a team lose one of their major advantages on opponents, the ability to find the best shots on the floor with ball movement.
Figure out the Thunder pick-and-roll defense: Sefolosha was a great adjustment by Thunder coach Scott Brooks. He was long enough to bother Parker by getting his hands involved when Parker would try to use the screen, and he also made Parker pass the ball with little accuracy with those awkward “jump” passes. The Thunder big men also did a great job of going into that zone position like in game one when they knew a Spurs screen was coming. For the Spurs, if the Thunder are going to do this again, Parker needs to cut harder off the screen and if he’s forced to pass, the shooters have to make the wide open threes, they just have to.
Take care of the ball: 21 turnovers, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich mentioned that number in his post game press conference as one of the key reasons why the Spurs lost game three. It was a combination of the Thunder’s aggressive defense, but also a mixture of the Spurs playing too casual, especially on the road. Passes were late or weren’t thrown with a lot of accuracy, and when players were dribbling they were exposing the ball to the Thunder defenders who used those turnovers on the other end for quick fast break points. If the Spurs continue to turn the ball over more than 15 times tonight, the result is probably going to be a loss.
Don’t let the other Thunder players get involved: It’s a doable task to beat the Thunder when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden all score over 20 points, so long as none of their teammates also have a big game. In game three, the Thunder became impossible to defeat because they got the entire team effort. Sefolosha had a big game, Serge Ibaka was hitting outside jumpers and finishing crowd pleasing dunks, and even Kendrick Perkins had a few field goals in the paint. If the Spurs let the other Thunder players start to bring production to the floor tonight, then they could be heading back to San Antonio with a 2-2 series on their hands.
The Spurs are a veteran group and know that a majority of the reason they lost game three was on their end. I expect they’ll take better care of the ball tonight and you’ll see a much more aggressive Parker. So long as Parker leads the team, the Spurs share the ball, and the team limits their turnovers, then I see them winning a tough close game by three to five points.