It’s not that the Spurs don’t know what they have to do to win — this is a smart, veteran team with the best coach in the land. Intellectually, they know what they need to do.
But there comes a point where athleticism trumps that plan, and for three games in a row now the Thunder have had that advantage. It’s not that simple — the Thunder also have executed well enough, got their role players to step up and used the long arms of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka to disrupt what the Spurs are doing. But the more athletic team is winning this series because of their advantage.
San Antonio will figure out how to deal with it Wednesday night, on the road, or they will be golfing on Thursday. Well, except for Gregg Popovich, he’ll go back to drinking fine wine.
Popovich has to come up with a scheme — and the Spurs have to execute — a game plan that gets Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into the paint breaking down the Thunder defense. Ever since the Thunder started trapping the ball handler off the pick in Game 3 (and not letting them reuse that pick) the Spurs have struggled to score efficiently enough to win. San Antonio hasn’t made the Thunder pay with the pick-and-pop, their ball movement has been stagnated, and then it becomes a matter of isolations.
Part of that is Duncan himself — he cannot hesitate to shoot on the pick-and-pop. Same is true for the Spurs role players, who seem to hesitate before taking their jumpers against the Thunder, and that give’s OKC’s long athletes time to recover.
And with all that the Spurs still score. They put 103 points (104 points per 100 possessions pace) in Game 5. That would be the seventh best in the NBA last season, but is 4.5 points per 100 worse than what they did in the regular season.
The Spurs have to score and score big because they cannot stop the Thunder. San Antonio can play better defense on the pick-and-roll, they can slow the Thunder, but they have nobody who can stop Kevin Durant, they are not able to shut off Russell Westbrook. With Ibaka knocking down midrange jumpers and James Harden doing his thing the Spurs are not going to clamp down on the Thunder like they did the Clippers.
If San Antonio is going to push this to a Game 7 they will do it with their offense.
I just don’t know if they can because we’ve seen such growth from the Thunder these playoffs. They make their mistakes, but their ball movement is better, their effort level consistently higher — they are playing like we expect a veteran contender to do. They have been amazing.
And at home, in front of that crowd, they will be incredibly difficult to beat.