By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO – When the passes are crisp, the ball is moving and the shots are falling, it is easy to become hypnotized and think the Spurs are all about a smooth offense that should be set to waltz music.
But there’s a little head-banging defense that helps them rock and roll, too.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may have finished Game 2 with their playoff low of 15 points apiece because they sat out the entire fourth quarter. But when they were part of the 112-77 massacre in the Western Conference finals, the Thunder top guns were a combined 13-for-40 from the field shooting.
Through the first two games, OKC has connected on just 14-of-47 shots (29.8 percent) from behind the 3-point line and hasn’t been able to develop any kind of offensive rhythm that isn’t just Durant or Westbrook going 1-on-1.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t professing to have solved the dilemma of stopping the Thunder permanently.
“I’m sure at times we guarded them well and I’m sure that at times they had open shots that they didn’t make,” he said.
Knowing that OKC doesn’t have Serge Ibaka as a third option in its offense, the Spurs have been able to play more aggressively on Durant and Westbrook, closing out faster on jump shots and contesting drives to the basket.
After Kawhi Leonard handled the lion’s share of the defensive assignment on Durant in the series opener, he got into early foul trouble and played just under 16 minutes in Game 2.
Danny Green and Manu Ginobili stepped into the breach for the most part, while Marco Belinelli also got a few trips down the floor on Durant.
“First Marco took Durant, then I came in,” Ginobili said. “Of course, we got worried because Kawhi is our designated defender on him. Besides that, even if he wasn’t our designated, he’s a huge part of what we do and we need him on the court.”
It certainly helps when the Thunder are starting games with a lineup that might as well be the equivalent of a one-armed juggler. The combination of Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison scored just five points in Game 1 and came back with a worse output in Game 2 (four points).
“You’re not going to stop (Durant and Westbrook),” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker. “We know they’re going to keep being aggressive and they’re going to score some points. So far, we’re doing a pretty good job. I think we can do better. It’s going to be harder to stop them at home.”
The Spurs had the No. 3-rated defense in the league during the regular season, giving up just 102.4 points per 100 possessions. But Green said the Spurs still needed to turn up the level of energy and aggressiveness after built a 36-33 lead about four minutes deep into the second quarter of Game 2.
“They were doing pretty much everything they wanted, the things that we didn’t want them to do in the first quarter,” Green said. “We changed some things, tried to show them different looks and they started missing shots.
“We started contesting harder, being more aggressive and trying to limit them to one shot, not to let them get second chances and offensive rebounds.”
Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan also ramped up their protection of the basket, blocking five shots in Game 2 and going over others.
In two games, the Thunder have made only 72-of-169 shots (42.6 percent) in the series.
“Those guys can score the ball so easily,” Leonard said. “So holding them under 50 percent is a great job.”