OKLAHOMA CITY – Guess who needs to get nasty again.
None of the Spurs are reprising the famous timeout call to arms from coach Gregg Popovich during Game 2, but they are noting that an attitude change is necessary heading into Game 4 of the Western Conference final tonight against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, a rally cry from a team that has a 2-1 lead in the series and wins in 20 of its last 21 games.
It’s not strange, it’s the Spurs. They have achieved a rare level of greatness – consistent success, sometimes championship success, through years of roster alterations and change in style of play – by refusing to settle for one loss every seven weeks or so. They are also historically stable, though, in a way that going back as the enemy into arguably the best home-court advantage in the league, as the Thunder try to tie the series, does not cause alarms.
The setting is not a concern. But the approach is, with the Spurs knowing they have to bring a different attitude tonight as part of the admission that Oklahoma City was more aggressive Thursday in Game 3.
“They were hitting first,” said Stephen Jackson, a reserve swingman acquired at the trade deadline specifically because he would bring more of that edge to the locker room. “They were way more aggressive, they were way more physical. They flat out wanted the game more than we did, and it was obvious from the jump of the game. We’ve got to match their intensity from the jump and be ready to play and we can’t expect our three stars (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) just to bail us out every time.”
Which brings the Spurs to Game 4 and the chance for a better showing.
“Just continue to do what we’ve been doing,” Jackson said. “We’re human. That’s what I told Tim the other night. He was upset that he didn’t play as well. I was like, ‘Tim, you’re human. You can’t save us every day.’ That’s part of a team. We’ve got to be guys that pick each other up. We’ll be ready to play tonight. We took a nice little butt-whipping the other night. I think everybody’s kind of sour about that, so we’ll be ready to play tonight.”
Other thoughts a few hours before the showdown:
- For all the attention the Thunder received for the adjustment of 6-foot-7 Thabo Sefolosha defending 6-2 Parker more than usual, the Spurs believe the bigger move by coach Scott Brooks was the unusual amount of time 6-10 Serge Ibaka spent on 6-6 Ginobili on switches. It was another reminder of Oklahoma City’s abilities on defense despite the image of offense-first with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but it also put attention on the San Antonio backcourt to counter in Game 4.
- Ginobili, when asked what he needs to do better if the same matchup comes tonight: “Attack better. When they collapse in the paint, try to find the open teammate. Basic basketball. It’s not something Xs-and-Os wise that is crazy. But I’ve got to be sharper. More decisive. The spacing has got to be better.”
- Still no sign of a real role for DeJuan Blair, who has gone from averaging 21.3 minutes and starting at center in 62 of 66 games for the Spurs during the regular season to getting what has become a permanent seat somewhere near the parking lot. Blair is getting 8.4 minutes in the playoffs. Popovich was asked the other night if he could explain the diminished role and replied: “No.”