VIDEO: Thunder wax Spurs in Game 4
OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s deja vu all over again.
Can Obama win a second term? Can the Spurs win another game against the Thunder?
There was no need for postgame locker room fireworks this time. Things got explosive early in the third quarter when coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan went jaw-to-jaw over another uncertain pass that led to another sure-thing dunk at the other end.
It’s no longer just about the inspirational presence of Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup.
It’s about the entire energetic, athletic, run-til-the-cows-come-home Thunder lineup. And a Spurs lineup that, just as it did two years ago, suddenly looks like the morning after.
This is no longer a matter of simply asking Tony Parker to play better. It’s about finding a way for the Spurs to regain their poise and effectiveness against an OKC team that in the last two games has come at them like a rolling bundle of butcher knives.
There have been four games played now and four blowouts. But no matter what the series score sheet says, it doesn’t feel like the Western Conference finals are tied at 2-2.
You could say the Spurs have been put back on their heels, if it didn’t look like they were flat on their backs. It’s looking just like two years ago, when the Thunder spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead and then roared back for a reverse sweep.
Remember Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio when the Thunder front line of Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha put up just nine combined points? It pushed Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make a lineup change to get Reggie Jackson on the floor with the starters and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation.
Here was Duncan (nine points) Tiago Splitter (3) and Danny Green (3) managing to squeeze out just a few more drops and the solution is hardly to sound the trumpet for more of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and the Desperation Cavalry.
With the young arms and legs of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lamb and Jackson cutting off angles and jumping into passing lanes, the Thunder have smothered San Antonio’s offense.
With their driving, relentless aggressiveness, OKC has also overwhelmed the Spurs’ defense. Of Westbrook’s 40 points and Durant’s 31, a lion’s share came with them going to hoop and making the Spurs look helpless to do anything about it.
It ended up 21-0 in fast break points. What’s more, in the first half the Spurs did not even run a single transition play. That’s plays, not points.
While Parker came out determined to re-establish his attack mode in the paint, his constant challenging of Ibaka actually took the Spurs out of their offense.
“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench. They’d know who Serge was.
“(It was) really unwise basketball … instead of hitting open people that are out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots. We have seven turnovers in the first half, but really 14 because of seven blocks. You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error. You’d better be smart the way you play and you can’t afford to screw up as many times as we did.”
At this time of the season with a core of veterans, there are not Xs and Os to be rearranged on the chalkboard that will deliver a solution. That’s the reason why Popovich pulled Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard when the OKC reached 27 points and it was still the third quarter. He needs to conserve whatever is left in those worn tanks for what is left of the series and maybe the season.
“This has got nothing to do with adjustments,” Popovich said. “It’s about playing smarter and harder for more consistent minutes.”
Not doing that has turned Chesapeake Arena into the Spurs’ own house of horrors.
Since the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs have an NBA-best road record of 62-33 against 28 other teams. But they’re also 0-9 in OKC since then, too.
“I think we should not think like that,” Parker said. “Each game is different, each series, each year.”
So how come it feels like 2012 and we already know how the election and everything else turned out?