It’s a best of three, and both teams have one on the other’s home floor. You don’t need me to tell you this game is critical, but here are three things to watch for tonight:
1) Will the Spurs get back to moving the ball? The book on the Thunder defenders are that they are long and athletic, but if you can get them scrambling around with ball movement they get out of position, make mistakes, and that can be exploited for easy buckets (or at least easier buckets). Think back to Game 1 of this series, when the Spurs moved the ball and won handily.
But that has not been the case as the series has gone on — the Thunder defense has gotten better, and the Spurs have responded with more LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard in isolation (two players that like to work one-on-one). This chart sums up the Spurs ball movement through this series.
Put simply, the Spurs need to get back to making the extra pass, and with it get the Thunder defense rotating and on its heels a little. A one-on-one isolation matchup favors Oklahoma City and their ridiculous scorers.
2) The Spurs need to deal better with the Steven Adams/Enes Kanter Thunder front line. With Tim Duncan sitting on the sidelines a lot due to foul trouble, the Spurs “big” lineup of Adams and Kanter were +16 on the night, including playing the entire fourth quarter together when the Thunder pulled away and got the win. David West played that entire fourth for the Spurs and was exposed — when Adams started scoring by rolling to the rim after setting a pin-down screen for Kevin Durant, the Spurs countered that by switching on that pick. The problem was that left West on Durant too often, and KD can either shoot over or blow by West at his discretion. By the time the Spurs were adjusting Durant was in the zone and it was moot how they covered him. San Antonio has to do better against this lineup, and one way is to make sure they use Kanter’s man to set picks on offense — he’s improved a little as a defender, but he can still be exposed and the Spurs haven’t gone at him consistently enough this series.
3) Billy Donovan is not getting outcoached by Popovich this series. There are still adjustments to be made and tweaks to come, but about this point in a series there are no more real secrets. Billy Donovan and the Thunder have tilted this series so far more toward their style of play — up-tempo and isolation — than Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. That’s not a knock on Pop (who I would have had at the top of my Coach of the Year ballot) but rather a statement that Donovan is figuring it out and has his team defending as well as they have all season. Give the man his due.