Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili

Thunder’s long, athletic defense has Spurs’ beautiful offense looking ugly


When the San Antonio offense is clicking, they play the beautiful game. The extra pass to the open man, the movement off the ball, the trust, the smart cuts, the open shots that fall. We saw that in opening two games of the Western Conference Finals.

However, for the last two games Oklahoma City has blown that up and made the Spurs offense look ugly.

The length, the athleticism, the physicality of Oklahoma City just blows up what the Spurs want to do because of how fast Thunder players can recover.

“When we use our athleticism, use our size, use our strength, we are in a good position,” Russell Westbrook said in his post game press conference.

“We used our length and athleticism to disrupt their flow,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks added.

It was ugly Tuesday night for San Antonio in a blowout Game 4 loss that evened the series.

The Spurs shot 39.8 percent in Game 4, with an offensive rating of 97.2 points per 100 possessions (more than 14 off their playoff average coming into the game). The Thunder’s length led them to contest 47.6 percent of the Spurs shot attempts (well above the Thunder’s season average) and San Antonio shot just 30 percent on those contested. Tim Duncan was 1-of-7 on contested shots. That doesn’t even take into account the turnovers and blocked shots, many of which became fast break points the other way for the Thunder (OKC had 21 fast break points to zero for the Spurs). The Spurs are used to whipping the ball around the perimeter, but the Thunder defenders (knowing Serge Ibaka is behind them to clean up mistakes) can pressure those passes and make them less crisp and accurate (if not outright get a steal).

When the Spurs would conncect on the extra pass but you could see them hesitate as they checked where Ibaka was standing before they shot.

San Antonio actually got off to a quick start in Game 4, an 8-0 lead, Tony Parker looked sharp  and attacking. However then but the Spurs got away from what worked if you ask coach Gregg Popovich (Parker did stop attacking by the middle of the second quarter).

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge (Ibaka) could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench so they’d know who Serge was. Really unwise basketball all of a sudden. Rather than hitting open people we started attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots and turnovers.

“You got to play smarter against such great athletes,” he continued. “They’re talented, obviously, but their athleticism and length gives you a smaller margin for error and you better be smart the way you play. And you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.

“And I think we have to play harder. I think they’re playing more physically than we are, they are getting more 50/50 balls, and playing with more determination than we have the last two games.”

The Spurs likely will do those things once they get home.

But the Oklahoma City won four straight over San Antonio in the 2012 in the Western Conference Finals and six of eight since then because the Spurs ball movement can’t outrun the length and athleticism of the Thunder defense. It has changed completely since Serge Ibaka re-entered the series.

And when the Thunder walk off the plane in San Antonio, they are still going to be long and athletic. That could be real trouble for the Spurs.

Looks like Donovan to keep Andre Roberson, Steven Adams as starters

Los Angeles Clippers v Oklahoma City Thunder
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Billy Donovan was given the head coaching job in Oklahoma City to bring their offense into modern times — and it seems to be working, Russell Westbrook said he feels a lot more space in the system.

But if the Thunder are going to contend for a title, they need a top 10 defense as well — and to do that Donovan is going to keep a Scott Brooks move and continue to start  Andre Roberson and Steven Adams. Check out the starting lineup for their first preseason game Wednesday.

There also was this report via Anthony Slater in the Oklahoman yesterday about a scrimmage at practice.

Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson all started for the White team. Nick Collison joined them, but that was only because Steven Adams sat out with back soreness….

Donovan said the teams weren’t split by accident. That’s how they’ve been divided in practice. So at this point, it seems Roberson is this team’s starting shooting guard and Adams is the team’s starting center.

This is the smart move. Last season the lineup of Westbrook, Roberson, Durant, Ibaka and Adams was +13.4 points per 100 possessions over their opponents. Roberson and Adams are there for defense — neither brings much offensive game to the floor, but when you have Westbrook and Durant and only one ball between them, you don’t need more offensive threats. You’re going to get plenty of points.

If they can just stay healthy, Oklahoma City is a team to be feared.

Knicks’ legend Harry Gallatin passes away at age 88

Harry Gallatin
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The Hall of Fame player behind the original iron man streak is with us no more.

Knicks’ legend Harry Gallatin passes away at age 88, the team confirmed Wednesday.

Gallatin led the Knicks of the late 1940s and into the 1950s, when he set a then record playing in 610 consecutive games. Nicknamed “The Horse,” he was a beast on the boards who averaged 15.3 rebounds a game one season and averaged 11.9 boards and 13 points per game over the course of his 10-year career. He’s still fourth all time in total rebounds in Knicks franchise history.

Gallatin was a seven-time All-Star and twice All-NBA selection. After his playing days, he spent many years as the athletic director at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.