OKLAHOMA CITY – Don’t bother telling Stephen Jackson that the Spurs played hard.
“We shouldn’t get any credit for playing hard,” said Capt. Jack. “It’s the Western Conference finals. You’re supposed to play hard. I mean, if you’re scared, go to church … You have to be ready to play. Pop shouldn’t have to come in and scream at us and tell somebody to play hard. A lot of people would die to be in this position. Go out there and give it all and whatever happens, happens.”
Jackson also has a simple solution to Spurs’ problems: Hit first.
“We’re taking too long to get into these games,” he said. “It’s like we’re taking the first quarter to get loose and get adjusted to what’s happening and those guys are jumping on us.
“This is the Western Conference finals. You can’t be having no time to find out what’s going on. You got to come out there and hit them first.”
In the past two games, the Thunder have definitely put some bodies and some bumping on the Spurs’ fire-starter guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
After burning OKC on 16-for-21 shooting for 34 points and eight assists in Game 2 of the series, Parker hit just 11 of 27 in Games 3 and 4 for a combined total of 28 points and eight assists. Ginobili scored just 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting in Game 4 and did not have any of his typical dynamic impact.
The Thunder big men continued to jump out early in Game 4 and blew up any chances of Parker getting into the lane on the pick and roll and Russell Westbrook did a solid job bumping Ginobili and throwing him off his game.
“Pick and roll defense is a five-minute defense,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It’s physical effort and mental effort because you have to see it every time and you might see two, three or four on any given possession. It’s not like you can cover it one time on a possession over and over. You just have to wait for the next 12 seconds on the shot clock and they’re going to come back for one or two more.”
Ginobili says he thought the Spurs moved the ball better in Game 4, but they were still not effective enough in running the offense that had made them look like a steamroller through the first two rounds of the playoffs. After running off a historic string of 20 straight victories, the Spurs have now lost two in a row for the first time in more than two months and are stuck in the mire because Parker and Ginobili can’t gain traction.
Everything that worked a week ago has been gummed by the Thunder defense. All of the precision passing and cutting and scoring and making the game look so easy has jumped off the tracks.
It’s not just about playing hard. It’s about playing smart and the chess match now has the Spurs backed into a corner.
“You have to re-think, re-group and maybe make some kind of adjustment to get us back to playing our game,” said Ginobili. “We can’t win by continuing to play like this.”