We can sometimes overanalyze what happened in a regular season game when trying to look at a playoff matchp. It’s like comparing Suzanne Collins and José Saramago novels, technically they are the same art form but one of these things is not like the other.
However, the Feb. 4 meeting of the Spurs and Thunder provides some interesting insights into what we might see starting Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals — specifically how the Thunder try to deal with Tony Parker.
In that game, on orders from coach Gregg Popovich to attack Russell Westbrook, Parker had 42 points on 29 shots, had 9 assists, got to the line a dozen times and carved up the Thunder defense like your dad on a Thanksgiving turkey. The Spurs won. Then this week Parker added this:
“We’re definitely going to go at (Westbrook). It’s not going to be like Dallas or the Lakers,” Parker said. “Their point guards are not as aggressive. It’s going to be a little bit different. We’re going to go at him.”
Westbrook told the Oklahoman he remembered that February game.
“It was a bad game,” Westbrook said when asked what he remembers about that night. “It was a bad game for our team. We got out sluggish, kind of let them do what they wanted to do, especially Tony Parker.”
That’s a tad short on details for my taste. Fortunately, Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated has more details and information than you’ll know what to do with in his breakdown of the Thunder and Parker.
Westbrook, however, can be jumpy against the pick-and-roll, and the Spurs know this… In pick-and-r0lls involving Westbrook, Parker often waits an extra beat as the screen is set to see if the Thunder point guard will try to get a jump on the play by lunging in the direction he thinks Parker will go — usually in the direction of the pick. Parker had great success waiting for that lunge and then going against the pick, leaving Westbrook hopelessly behind. Or, if Westbrook’s aggressive sliding took him far above the pick, Parker would dribble at him, cross over and split defenders on his way into the paint.
The Thunder’s standard defense against Parker offered a second way for him to attack: by going full speed at the big man helping against the pick-and-roll. The cliché about Parker is that he is a shaky long-range shooter, and that opponents should go under picks, daring him to shoot jumpers. But the Thunder did not defend Parker this way. They mostly had Westbrook chase Parker over the pick, while the man defending the screener slid over to contain Parker’s dribble penetration….
The strategy concedes the pick-and-pop jumper, and Duncan get several wide-open looks at jump shots against the Thunder. But having Duncan shoot 20-footers — some of which the Thunder could contest by crashing from the wing — is a better outcome for Oklahoma City than having Parker get into the paint, break down the defense and find a layup or wide-open shooter.
Go read Lowe’s entire post.I’ll wait.
This starts to explain why I think San Antonio will win this series — the Thunder can’t really stop them, the Spurs are too efficent. Right now the Spurs’ ball movement in situations like that is incredible. Duncan may hit that 20 footer, or he may make a pass to the next guy to hit a corner three or drain another shot of choice. The Spurs are getting and incredible 1.18 points per possession on spot up jumpers in the playoffs because they are getting the jumpers they want. If they do that against Oklahoma City, the Thunder will struggle to keep up with the scoring.
Which comes back to why I think Westbrook is the key to the series — he has to dent Parkers’ efficiency on one end and create a lot of offense on the other end.
It’s a big task. Spurs are relentless on offense. As athletic and talented as the Spurs are, I’m not sure they can keep up. I just keep flashing back to the original Terminaor movie and seeing the Spurs offense.
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Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.