Some observations on Game 4

Jun 2, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half in game four of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Davis did a really fantastic job recapping the game and I'm not sure most people really want to relive what happened last night, but for those masochistic brave souls I put together some notes after watching the game a couple of times. Go read the recap first if you didn't because I'll expand on some of the same points.

We need more from you, Danny Green

Danny is not shooting well against OKC and without being a threat to score, he hurts the team's offense and spacing. Shooters go through slumps, so I'm not that worried about that; what really worries me is that Green is letting his offense dictate how well he plays on defense. Green missed an open 3 and then on the next play failed to rotate on defense, resulting in a dunk for Thabo Sefolosha. That can't happen, Danny. You have to keep shooting but if you miss, you still have to bring it on D.

Speaking of bad rotations...

I noticed late rotations by most of the Spurs perimeter players. Manu, Jax, Green and even Leonard failed to rotate quickly, leading directly to Thunder buckets. It usually happened after a Durant dribble-drive. Kawhi and Jackson are trying to force Durant to his left so Duncan can help, but then nobody rotates to Duncan (or Diaw's) man. That's simple stuff that depends on focus and execution and the Spurs are not getting it done.

"If you don't shoot, I'll bench you...

I liked how Pop dealt with Bonner not shooting: he simply never brought him back after his short stint in the first quarter when he failed to take an open 3-pointer. Up until this game, I thought Bonner was being smart about his shot selection: he was not forcing shots but he was pulling the trigger when he was open. He failed to do that in this game and as a result he lost his minutes. When Collison (who is not a shot blocker but guards the pick and roll expertly and cuts off angles on passing lanes) is in, there's no reason for Bonner to be out there. OKC decided after a couple of games that playing the Spurs the way most experts predicted would give them the best chance to win (playing the ball handlers straight up and staying home on shooters) was not the way to go and have since switched to packing the paint and daring shooters to fire away with a hand in their face; if our shooters (and I don't mean just Bonner) don't take those shots, the defense wins.

...for DeJuan Blair"

Blair played well on the time he was in, especially when Ibaka was out. That could be a key development on this series. If Bonner forces Ibaka to go to the bench for Collison, maybe Pop should counter by sending in Blair. DeJuan didn't really do anything in particular to change the game other than being his energetic self. In short stints, he just has an uncanny ability to make plays. He scored on a pick and roll assisted by Jackson and got a block on Fisher that helped the team on the third quarter surge. He didn't really have an active role on most of the plays that allowed the Spurs to shorten the deficit, but he proved to be up for the task of playing the role of energizer, potentially earning a couple more minutes in the process.

Our role players have to be aggressive

When Stephen Jackson is overly aggressive, the team he plays for usually suffers. Not in this series. Jack is mostly taking his shots within the flow of the offense but with OKC worried about stopping Manu and Tony, some lanes to the basket are open and he's taking advantage of them. So are Neal and Leonard. If the shots are there, the role players have to take them and if a lane is open they have to drive to the hoop. Diaw is starting to do it, too and the Spurs are better off for it.

Less Duncan?

This might be all the talk about Duncan being old getting to me, but in my eyes, Duncan looks tired. He's played over 35 minute in three of the four games of the series and the team might benefit from giving Duncan breathers early on by playing Splitter or even Blair a little more. Tiago has been underwhelming so far, with OKC focusing on stopping the pick and roll by switching and packing the paint when he's the screener, but he's still a good interior defender and could exploit the mismatches on the post. He's confidence is shot, but a couple of makes could change that, fast.

So that's why people like Hero Ball...

Davis did a great job of noting Durant's fantastic 4th quarter. The guy single-handedly won the game for them in the clutch but an underrated part of his work was feeding the bigs early on the game. Like I mentioned, Durant responded to help defense by threading the needle with pinpoint passes to Ibaka and Perkins. If the Spurs denied those passes, he found open shooters. Two of his eight assists led to shots at the rim and two led to 3-pointers. That's good passing from a guy that is mostly known as a scorer.

For game 5 I want to see:

  • Manu taking more than 7 shots. Ginobili has not been able to break down the Thunder defense with his passing, so he needs to look for his own shot more. A good way to do that might be to work without a screen. OKC is trapping the ball handler or at least hedging hard on the pick and roll, which makes it really difficult for Manu to turn the corner and attack. The same goes for Parker. Instead of forcing passes after a screen, attacking without one and then kicking it out if the defense collapses might help limit turnovers and make it easier for officials to call all those hand-check fouls they are missing now.
  • Crisper ball movement. Even in the first quarter, when the Spurs were executing on offense, the ball movement was not as good as it has been in the past. Part of it might be a conscious effort to avoid turnovers, but OKC is taking advantage of that extra second to overload the strong side and then still recover to contest shots. Being careful is one thing; being tentative is another. I'm all for limiting TOs, but if a guy is open, hit him fast so that he's still open when the ball gets to him.
  • Better rotations on D. The Thunder had two defensive-minded role players explode for 20+ points and that happens sometimes. After Sefolosha's barrage from 3, came Ibaka's jump shooting explosion. Those guys are open because the Spurs' defense wants them to take shots, but there needs to be more order when helping on the Thunder's stars.
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