HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — Returning to the comforts of home might be the only thing that relaxes the Oklahoma City Thunder, because nothing they tried in Texas seemed to work.
They had what seemed like a commanding second half lead in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals and got popped down the stretch. Their three best players played lights out in Game 2, yet they still trailed by as many as 22 points before falling again to what is clearly a superior team.
If Thunder can’t stop the Spurs from rumbling like this, there is little hope outside of Oklahoma City that they can do more than just make this a series by winning a game or two … the Spurs haven’t lost in nearly two months, folks!
Against anyone else, a combined 88 points from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden (who rebounded nicely from his Game 1 struggles to lead the Thunder with 30 points) would have been enough for an OKC win. But against the Spurs, the deepest, most balanced and polished team we’ve seen in this postseason, the Thunder’s effort was valiant but futile.
The Spurs don’t need virtuoso performances from their Big Three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. That group was outscored 88-65 by their Thunder counterparts in Game 2. But they can afford that discrepancy when San Antonio’s supporting cast plays the way it did in Game 2. (Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard had perhaps the most impressive night of anyone, finishing with a 18 points and 11 rebounds while also making Durant work for everything he got).
What the Spurs have in surplus — skilled players with length in the frontcourt — the Thunder lack. The offensive deficiencies of both Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are being exposed in this series. Neither of them is the “stretch four” the Thunder need to help extend the floor and play pick and roll with Westbrook the way Parker can with Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Leonard and, when need be, Matt Bonner.
Scott Brooks and that Thunder coaching staff won’t throw their hands up in the film room and declare there is nothing that can be done to stop these Spurs. They’re going to make whatever adjustments they deem necessary and make sure their crew comes out swinging Thursday night in Game 3 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But the feeling of inevitability you had watching the Thunder take apart the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals is the same feeling we have for Oklahoma City in this series. The pressure on the Thunder’s role players to play above and beyond their means will be heightened by the circumstances.
Anyone who watched the first two games of either one of those previous series recognized the advantages the Thunder had over the Mavericks and Lakers. You knew it would take an otherworldly effort for OKC to falter. The Lakers broke through and took one game, but that was it.
There’s a reason the Spurs are undefeated this postseason and haven’t lost a game since you were wearing your Easter suit (check the calendar, it’s almost June.)
For every move you make, Gregg Popovich and his staff are two steps ahead of you. Subtle tweaks like shifting Danny Green over to guard Westbrook freed up Parker to do his thing. And those complaints about the Spurs being a bore and the team no one outside of Spurs Nation wants to watch? Well, go back and watch Games 1 and 2 again and realize how ridiculous that sounds.
Speaking of that, the Thunder would be wise to hold on to the film from this series. In a couple of years, they might want to use this series as training tool for what they could be like when their young stars are properly seasoned and the supporting cast is hopefully fleshed out in ways that make OKC impossible to stop.
Through two games (and, yes, it’s only two games) they’ve been on the receiving end of a basketball lesson only one team could teach them.