Game 9 Results: Spurs Crush Thunder in Second Half
November 15, 2010
Posted by on
Final Score: Spurs 117, Thunder 104
Points: Tony Parker with 24
Rebounds: DeJuan Blair with 11
Assists: Westbrook with 8
The Spurs have been a very good team for a very long time. They came into this game winners of six in a row, and three in a row in the Thunder’s own building. Their leader Tim Duncan has four championship rings. The Spurs are a team, like the Celtics, by which you measure yourself. Despite the loss tonight, I’d probably still give the Thunder a B- for their performance.
Unlike their losses to the Clippers and Jazz, there were some things from which we can take away that bode well for the future. Let’s start with the positives.
- The team’s offensive flow in the first half was remarkable. It is quite an accomplishment to hang 66 points against an extremely cerebral and detailed Spurs team. Led by Westbrook, they had tallied 15 assists up to that point, so it was not merely an extended period of hot shooting. Rather, their offense had found a powerful rhythm. When they have this kind of offensive focus, they can keep pace with anyone.
- Nick Collison and Jeff Green are back and played meaningful minutes, which helped the Thunder to get off to such a great start.
- The sight of Collison has to have the coaching staff breathing a little bit easier, because he provides a good point of interior defense that did a commendable job against the Spurs’ pivot men. Working alongside Ibaka, Collison helped limit Tim Duncan to only six points on 2-7 shooting. Duncan is almost at the end of his offensively dominant days and he doesn’t have the active energy that a Pau Gasol does, but he can still control the half-court offensive sets with his passing and post play. The Thunder did a very good job on their internal defense.
- Green got started off quickly, getting a quick 12 points in the first half. As good as Westbrook is, I think for long term success it is still imperative that Green be a second scoring option. I wish though that he were not so perimeter-oriented.
- James Harden got extended minutes for the first time this season, booking 37 minutes and getting lots of playing time in the 4th quarter. His offense wasn’t astronomically better, but I think it suits him in a role that he could make as sort of a “little things” kind of guy. If Harden can commit to good on the ball defense, it seems like he’s strong enough and quick enough to stay with most perimeter players. His potential reminds me a little bit of a guy like the Pistons’ Tayshaun Prince. They both have a physical skillset to offer a lot of things to the team’s list of priorities. I think the Thunder will be better the longer Harden is on the court.
- One of the hallmarks of great coaches is how successful they are in changing their team’s fortunes on the fly, especially in timeouts and during halftime. Coach Popovich again demonstrated his acumen by completely reversing the flow of the game in the third quarter. He knew that if the Spurs allowed the Thunder to continue playing at their hot pace, they would eventually be able to close it out. So rather than try to run with the Thunder, the Spurs invested a majority of their 3rd quarter energy in defensive stops. As a result, the Spurs only scored 21 in the 3rd, but they also limited the Thunder to 14 points on 4-15 shooting. The Spurs absorbed all of the Thunder’s momentum, taking the game from a five point half-time deficit to a two point lead entering the fourth.
- Mirrors of the Celtics game – just like the Celtics knew when to make their runs in the first half, the Spurs knew their opportunity to close out the game would happen right at the beginning of the fourth. They knew that they had the Thunder on the ropes, and a quick burst of intensive offensive focus would greatly reduce their chances to get out of their 3rd quarter funk. To wit:
- Beginning of 4th: 82-80, Spurs.
- Spurs hit two quick 3-pointers.
- Westbrook picks up a technical (which Spurs’ George Hill converts)
- Thunder start the quarter by shooting 1-5 with two missed 3-pointers.
- Durant has zero shot attempts.
- Coming out of a time out, the Spurs’ Matt Bonner hits his second 3-pointer of the quarter.
- End result: 3 and a half minutes into the quarter, the Spurs are now up 95-83, and the game is effectively over. The Thunder never get closer than eight points.
- While the Thunder did a good job in their interior defense, their perimeter defense was terrible. Without Duncan producing in the post, the Spurs, with Parker, Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, and the indomitable Matt Bonner, are mostly a perimeter team. The Thunder gave up 84 points to that group. It cannot be overstated how badly their defensive focus was in this game.
- With Tony Parker in particular, he’s not even that accurate an outside shooter. Rather, he got to the front of the rim at will, scoring most of his points in the paint.
- Matt Bonner went 7-7 from 3-point range. If Matt Bonner is killing you, you’re just not focused.
I feel like there should be some sort of inverse relationship between how often a team like the Thunder talk about playing good defense, versus how well they actually play defense. I bet it would be a sight to see. Let’s look at their ineptitude:
- Points Allowed: Thunder are giving up an average of 103.9 per. (rank= 22/30)
- Assists against: 22.9 per (rank=23/30)
- FG shooting allowed: 47.9% (rank=only Sacramento is worse)
- 3-point FG allowed: 43.4% (rank= worst in the league)
The net result of their offensive prowess paired with their matador defense is that we get to see a lot of high scoring games and little to show for it in the end. Their ceiling is the Phoenix Suns of the past few years, a Conference Finals appearance at best.
The Thunder have the tools to deal with this; they don’t have to be in the bottom third in every defensive category. They don’t have to become the Celtics overnight. The issues though are clear. Let’s get this fixed, one piece at a time.
Next game: Tonight against the Jazz at 9:00PM