Thunder-Spurs Game 3: The best defense is… well, a good defense for OKC

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You have to fight the Spurs with defense.

OK, I get that sounds remarkably stupid in its obviousness. Please try and hear me out. In Games 1 and 2, Scott Brooks, for reason beyond understanding, chose to go with offensive lineups. Particularly in the fourth quarter of both losses, he went with lineups featuring Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Derek Fisher. The focus on trying to score with San Antonio was a critical mistake, and one he wouldn’t replicate in Game 3, and it resulted in not needing fourth quarter lineups at all as the Thunder blew out the Spurs 102-82.

It was a critical adjustment for Brooks, who went to extended minutes for Thabo Sefolosha, using him to switch onto Tony Parker to contain the All-Star point guard. The Spurs starters scored just .77 points per possession Thursday night, and the more the Spurs’ offense unraveled, the more the Thunder got out and ran for scores, which allowed their defense to reset.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The Thunder decided to pick another poison Thursday night, instead of letting Tony Parker loose, they packed the paint to prevent perimeter penetration, surrendering fifteen shots to Tim Duncan. But on a night where Duncan became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots, the future Hall-of-Famer only hit five for eleven points. With Manu Ginobili and Parker held to just 17 shots total, the Thunder let the supporting cast try and shot their way back into it. They could not.

It’s a considerable adjustment and reflects a development that began in Game 1. The Thunder defended well until the fourth quarter of Game 1, where the Spurs shot a blistering 75 percent effective field goal percentage. In Game 3, their game-long eFG% was just 46.7.

The Spurs won’t be affected by the loss much, even if they know that it wasn’t just an off shooting night but a legitimate counter punch from their Conference Final foe. They’ll have time to make adjustments before Game 4. But the inherent advantages that OKC has in terms of length and athleticism are not easily solved. All this sets up a monster Game 4, with the series on the line. A Spurs counter-attack ends the series, effectively, while a Thunder win resets everything. The big question will be if the Spurs’ offense can get that edge back in front of a hostile crowd. This is the first time they’ve really faced a team with confidence on the road, and a team that can defend.

Because the Spurs aren’t doing it this series. After holding both the Clippers and Jazz to less than one point per possession, the Spurs are now surrendering 108.6 points per 100 possessions in this series. It’s a tiny sample size, but it’s a trend that’s held. Their defense is not good enough to win this series. Their offense is. Which means that it’s the Thunder who have the control here. The Spurs are not going to defend OKC. If OKC can’t keep up this defensive efficiency, they’re going to lose. If they can, they will. It’s in their hands. Granted, the Spurs can counter-adjust offensively, but two things have stabilized. The Thunder can score, the Spurs can’t stop them. It’s all on the Spurs’ offense vs. Thunder D. Last year, this exact situation played out in the conference finals with another team from Texas.

The Thunder tried to outscore the Mavericks last year. Game 3 seems to indicate that they’ve figured out that’s not the approach to take.

In an all-offense series, it’s become about defense.

Status woe: Cavaliers not planning changes lineup amid slump

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue isn’t changing his starting lineup or rotations despite Cleveland’s current troubling state.

A day after the Cavs gave up 148 points – tying a franchise record that stood since 1972 – in an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma City, Lue said he’s not making any major moves to snap his team from its mid-season doldrums (and as they head into a tough stretch of the schedule).

The Cavs have lost 10 of 14 and have been blown out three times in the past week.

Lue decided not to show his players video on Sunday as the team practiced in advance of Tuesday’s game in San Antonio. Lue explained his reasoning for not making any changes as the Cavs are the same team that won 13 straight and 18 of 19 earlier this season.

Cavs forward Kyle Korver said the only way to fix things is “to look yourself in the mirror and say how can I help the team? It’s really simple but it really is true.”

 

Three Things to Know: Tony Parker out as starter, Dejounte Murray in for Spurs

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Tony Parker loses starting job to Dejounte Murray, Spurs lose anyway to Pacers. Since getting back into the lineup after off-season quad surgery, future Hall of Famer Tony Parker has started all 21 games he has played in. He has started all but 13 games in a 17-year NBA career and hasn’t come off the bench for a game since 2010.

Until Sunday. Dejounte Murray got the call and that is how it’s going to be for a while in San Antonio. Parker told Tom Osborn of the Express-News he’s good with it because Popovich wants it.

“Pop told me,” Parker said. “He told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘No problem.’ Just like Manu (Ginobili), just like Pau (Gasol), you know that day is going to come. If Pop sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best…I will support Pop’s decision, and I will try to help DJ as best as I can and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu and Patty (Mills).”

Especially with Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay both out injured, the second unit could use some more shot creation, which Parker can provide. More importantly, Parker has said he isn’t right yet this season after surgery, and he had lost a step the last couple of seasons when he was healthy. Still, we will see how long this change sticks, every time the Spurs go away from Parker, they return. Before this game, the four regular Spurs starters this season — Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Paul Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge — plus Parker were outscoring teams by 29 points per 100 possessions. With Murray those four are -3.1 per 100 (Stats via Cleaning the Glass, which removes garbage time). (I need to add here that due to injuries, none of these lineups has played even 200 minutes together yet this season).

There is a statistical reason for the move, however — the Spurs have won this season despite having no Kawhi Leonard to speak of because of their second best defense in the NBA, and with Murray on the court this season San Antonio has been 11 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

Sunday, Popovich and the Spurs got the up-and-down, roller coaster game we have come to expect from Murray — he does a lot of good things, and he makes some plays like a young player. The defense was stingy, as expected, but the offense generated just 88.4 points per 100 possessions, and the Spurs lost to the Pacers 94-86. The starting five were -4 in their 15+ minutes.

Victor Oladipo had 19 points and led a balanced Pacers attack in the win.

2) Kyrie Irving returns, drops 40, but Celtics lose to lowly Magic anyway, their third straight defeat. If the Celtics were going to have a stinker of a game, Sunday was the time to do it because everyone in New England was focused on the Patriots and nobody was going to notice what they did.

After missing one game, Kyrie Irving returned with a vengeance Sunday scoring 40 points on 23 shots and hitting 5-of-7 from three. None of that mattered after the game, where the Celtics struggled at home and lost to the Orlando Magic, the formerly last-place team in the East, 103-95 (Orlando moved ahead of Atlanta with the win).

The struggle in those three games has been on the offensive end (the defense, best in the NBA for the season, has still been good). The Celtics are approaching the trade deadline looking for more shooting if they can find the right deal (what team isn’t?), and for a few games it has looked like they needed it because Jaylen Brown can’t make this between-the-legs move on every possession.

@fchwpo goes through his legs to get to the bucket!

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Boston is still two-games up in the East on Toronto, but they head now out of a four-game road trip in the West. We’ll see if the offense finds itself against the Lakers (who have played better the past couple of weeks and are no easy win).

3) Lakers’ fan drains $100K halfcourt shot. This was the shot of the day — and was worth $100,000 to a bounty hunter and Lakers’ fan.

Mayhem in LA as he uses the window for $100K!

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Lakers fan hits halfcourt shot to win $100,000 (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Lakers are having a pretty good January.

The team has a losing record overall but is 6-5 in 2018, despite the noise from the Ball family and the need for public confidence for Luke Walton as coach.

Still, I’m not sure they’re having as good a time as the guy who won $100,000 by banking in a halfcourt shot on Sunday.

Via Twitter:

The fan’s name is apparently Suni Strong, and he’s from Palmdale. He played high school basketball, works at Space-X, and was on a canceled A&E show about bounty hunting.

Seriously.

Via OC Register:

“When I first walked in I said have my check ready,” he said. “I knew I was going to make it. I had to.”

Asked if he called “bank,” Strong replied, “Why would I do that? I called money.”

That’s some serious scratch.

Spencer Dinwiddie hits game-winner for Nets over former team (VIDEO)

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Spencer Dinwiddie was once a member of the Detroit Pistons. They traded him to the Chicago Bulls back in 2016 for Cameron Bairstow, and the Bulls promptly waived him less than a month later. That same day, Bairstow was waived by the Pistons.

On Sunday, Dinwiddie got his revenge on Detroit by ending their matinee matchup with a step-through jumper that two Pistons failed to defend.

The play came with 4.7 seconds left and the Brooklyn Nets trailing, 100-99. Dinwiddie ran across the far side of the floor to receive the ball from the sideline, then to the near elbow before putting on a series of moves to get his shot off.

The play gave Detroit just 0.09 seconds left, and they couldn’t get an attempt off.

Brooklyn beat the Pistons, 101-100.

Meanwhile, Dinwiddie continues to have the best season of his career. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per-game, all career-highs. He’s also boosted his VORP to 1.1, another personal best.