By Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
If you know my allegiances, and know my background, then this will probably come off as being irrational.
Irrational is the only way I’m going to be able to get through this, so let me live for about 700 words or so, okay? Okay.
The San Antonio Spurs have hoodwinked and bamboozled the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. There are many that feel like the Spurs are unbeatable at this point. Their passing at a remarkable rate, their low-post scoring has been top notch, shooting the lights out from three-point range and then they’ve got Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan as well.
What’s been crazy to watch has been the Spurs ability to nullify a Thunder defense that relies heavily on man-to-man defense, a defense that doesn’t switch off of the ball and defends the rim like armed guards at Ft. Knox. A Spurs extra pass here, a Spurs extra pass there, cut left, cut right, and it seems like an open three or a layup awaits Gregg Poppovich’s ball club.
Yet, I still fundamentally believe that the Oklahoma City Thunder can win this series for five reasons.
1. The Thunder Can Go Small: When Scott Brooks finally made the adjustment to play just one main big man, preferrably Serge Ibaka at center, The Thunder outscored the Spurs by 15 points. Prior to in game 2, when Thunder head coach Scott Brooks played a traditional two big man lineup, they were outscored by 24 points. (h/t to DailyThunder)
2. The Thunder Can Actually Defend The Spurs Offense: Late in the third quarter, when Brooks finally went small, he also made a shift in his defensive philosophy. Instead of playing his traditional man-to-man defense, with his guys flying around like mad men trying to recover on open threes and layups, Brooks had his defense shift on every hand-off and screen. Ibaka can’t defend Duncan as well as Kendrick Perkins, but he can still do the job. With Ibaka and the smaller lineup switching off each other against a similarly small Spurs lineup, the Thunder prevented many open looks. Of course, Ibaka isn’t the only personnel move that Brooks should focus on…
3. The Thunder Must Use More Of Their Bench: Playing Ibaka for Perkins at center is one thing, but playing Derek Fisher for an insane amount of minutes in the fourth quarter is another. The Thunder are going to go small, but do you have to go THAT small? Its a luxury to have ball handlers on the floor at all times, but isn’t it overkill to have Russell Westbrook, James Harden AND Derek Fisher all on the floor? Thabo Sefolosha is the best wing defender on the team. Daequan Cook is the best perimeter shooter not named Kevin Durant on the team. Playing them in the small lineup can assist on defense and in spacing offensively.
Moreover, playing Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed at the center could be of some help for the Thunder in spelling Ibaka. Perkins inability to finish at the rim has been putrid, and although Collison and Mohammed aren’t much better, they’re better than Perkins, period.
4. The Thunder Still Have Kevin Durant: In two games this series, Kevin Durant’s averaging 29 points per contest. Yet, it seems that Durant could be doing even more. The Spurs have defended Durant decently, but they still don’t have anyone who can check him. Coming back to Oklahoma City, look for Durant to be huge at home.
5. The Thunder Only Have To Win One Road Game: At the end of the day, the Spurs did exactly what they were supposed to do. They won their first two games at home. If the Thunder win their next two home games, everyone will say this is a series again. You’re supposed to win your home games, but the series gets real when you can win on the road. If the Spurs win on the road at OKC, then yes…the series is over. If the Thunder can take care of business at home, then steal a game in San Antonio…
…well, lets just take this one game at a time.