The Oklahoma City Thunder has punished opponents all season with fast-paced scoring and athleticism.
The San Antonio Spurs has punished opponents all season with half-court execution and a bench that goes 10-deep.
A young and still rather inexperienced team, the Thunder hasn't faced a significant challenge in the playoffs before this series, so trying once again to run and gun its way to four more victories may seem logical. It just happens that this year nobody can out-execute the Spurs, which ranks first in the playoffs in 3-point field-goal percentage and overall field-goal percentage, after ranking first in both categories in the regular season as well.
OKC head coach Scott Brooks should notice two very disturbing things about his team's 120-111 Game 2 loss. First, his core three -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- combined for a healthy 88 points, becoming the first trio of teammates to score more than 25 points in a non-overtime playoff game since 1995. The three were brilliant and at times, utterly unstoppable, yet the Thunder trailed by 22 at one juncture and never threatened to actually win.
Secondly, and perhaps just as scary, was that the Thunder was beaten on a night when Tim Duncan went 2-11 from the floor. There were several factors at work here: Brooks' offense is overly stagnant at times; Derek Fisher played the final 17 minutes; and Westbrook too often deviates into isolation "hero ball;" but the bottom line is that San Antonio (yes, the Spurs) has become an offensive juggernaut.
This however, isn't your same old boring Spurs team anymore.
"They spread you out," Brooks said after the loss. "They put some tough decisions on the floor that you have to guard their bigs rolling, and you've got to protect their 40 percent 3-point shooters and you've got to handle the ball and looks and attack ... They pass the ball well. Very rarely do they take one extra dribble."
San Antonio shot 55 percent from the floor Tuesday night. Because of its remarkable floor spacing and ability to run non-traditional, high-ball screens for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, its offense quite literally leaves OKC with a cadre of defensive choices, none particularly good.
If it elects not to ultra hedge with Parker, he picks the Thunder apart (34 points on 16-21 shooting in Game 2). Meanwhile, over-rotating to help on drives typically results in: a) The open big rolling (i.e. Duncan; ) or b) the wide open 3-point kick-out to Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard or Matt Bonner, all of whom hover around 40 percent from distance.
Through two games in these Western Conference Finals, the Thunder failed to take something away from the Spurs' offense. Akin to the Celtics in the East, beating an opponent of this caliber requires a defensive game plan that not only offers resistance, but offers it in the right area. As the series now shifts back to Oklahoma City, Brooks has to decide precisely what he can take away from a team that averaged nearly 104 points in the regular season and that quite literally has no egos, no agenda and consistently executes on a single heartbeat. Otherwise, the Thunder -- for the second consecutive season -- will lose in the West finals to an older, wiser and far smarter team.
"It's not a good team," Brooks said of San Antonio -- winners of 20 straight -- after Game 2. "It's a great team."
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