Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spurs - Thunder Game Two: Can We End This In Less Than Four Games?

Spurs = Tanks, Thunder = Grass
Tonight in San Antonio, the Spurs did something more than beat the Thunder. They more or less ended their will to compete as a team.

Oh, the Thunder still tried; they didn't just flat out quit on this one. But they stopped setting crisp screens, closing out on three point shooters, making multiple passes on offensive possessions, and doing all of the little things that show you that a team is really into the contest, trusting in their teammates to do the right thing, or doing much other than padding their own numbers.

By the end of the third quarter, OKC was running hero drives to nowhere, barking at the refs, spiking the basketball, and more or less doing everything possible to get a technical to show they cared. Their play wasn't doing it, and neither was their coaching.

How bad was it? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 13 for 40, with 7 assists and 5 turnovers. They couldn't buy a make from the three point arc, or do anything but keep belching them up. It was a 14 point game at the half, and then the Spurs shot something like 80% from the floor in the third, all while actually running plays and clock. It was, in short, an evisceration, and like any of those in hoop, it was work to watch. Hard work. That I'm not terribly interested in doing again, and I picked the Spurs to win this series. And I wrote and filed all of this while the game was going on. With a lot of time on the clock.

This is the second straight series in which the Spurs have made watching basketball about as dramatic as watching tanks against corn stalks. TNT's analysts were reduced to discussing the Eastern Conference Finals; you know, the one that isn't on their network. And it's hard not to start to resent the Spurs, even though they are playing beautiful, back-cutting, unselfish and optimal basketball, just because it looks so elemental and inevitable.

It's rare that you get to the Final Four stage of the NBA playoffs and look as hopeless as the Thunder have so far in this series. Remember, they were 4-0 against the Spurs this year, and it's not as if this is their first trip to the post-season; the best parts of this team tested the Heat in the Finals a couple of years ago. Garbage time started with 14 minutes left, and the Spurs up 27. And it didn't even look like the Spurs were trying all that hard.

At this point, despite the fact that we're only going to get 9 to 14 more NBA games before Halloween, I'm ready to just root for the Spurs to sweep and get this bad ball off my television. There's just not much in the way of fun in blowouts, and talented players who aren't playing as a team.

Game Three is on Sunday. It'll be closer than this, because, well, math. But if you'd rather skip it and mow the grass, or clean the gutters, or check out the first round games on your DVR, I won't argue with your priorities.


snd_dsgnr said...

The Spurs are one of the few teams that I can enjoy watching even in a blowout, just because they're good for at least 3 or 4 plays a game where their offense from a scheme and ball movement perspective is just breathtaking. Anyone who coaches kids should make them watch their games.

Anyway, you think there's any chance that if/when the Thunder lose that it costs Brooks his job? Seems harsh with him making the WCF and playing without Ibaka, but he also still has (probably) the best two players in the series and it's kind of hard to not notice how much better coached the Spurs are. What with them actually having offensive sets and all.

DMtShooter said...

Depends how they go out. If they make a fight of it, with adjustments and better play, and force a very deep series, no. If they get swept with no adjustments, or Durant or Westbrook throw him shade, he's gone before the end of the month.

Serge Ibaka is a very good player, but he's not 20 points of difference per game good. And it's the big boy West, where Doug Moe, Lionel Hollins and Mark Jackson all got run in the last 14 months. Gregg Popovich: the source of all hires and fires...

snd_dsgnr said...

I actually kind of think that Ibaka may be worth 20 ppg in this particular series, just because of the matchup issues not having him presents.

If the Thunder go small without him then there's no one to protect the rim, Durant gets worn down trying to defend Duncan/Splitter/Diaw, and the Spurs just eat them alive in the paint. If they go with a more defensive lineup without his midrange jumper as a threat to help keep the Spurs honest then their offensive spacing, which isn't exactly great to begin with, just completely falls apart.

A good coach might be able to devise a way to cover those deficiencies, but I can't really think of how they'd go about it with the Thunder's roster. Of course a better coach would probably have an offensive scheme that didn't completely fall apart without Ibaka.

I think the Thunder win one of two in OKC on the backs of Durant/Westbrook heroics, and the Spurs take the series in 5.

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