Morning Rehash: Attack the Block

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bonner started. In the playoffs. In 2014. For the Spurs. In the Western Conference Finals. Against the Thunder. Nobody was hurt. The Spurs won. By a lot.

For all the sport's complexity, basketball games can hinge on very simple adjustments. The Spurs made two very simple decisions - one strategic, one mental - in Thursday night's rout of the Thunder that changed the dynamic of the series and erased the creeping doubts of series past. After two games of second-guessing and fearful hesitance, the Spurs found a way to breathe new life into their offense, finding the key contributions, large and small, that are so characteristic of the team at peak efficiency.

The first adjustment Gregg Popovich made was a change in his starting lineup, but where he has often gone to insert Manu Ginobili, he opted instead to replace Tiago Splitter with Matt Bonner. The move was a curious for one for many reasons, perhaps most notably that Bonner was the only Spur to not start a game this season. That's right. Nando De Colo, Austin Daye, Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes - every guy on the roster who isn't a ginger got an in-season rep as a starter. So it was certainly shocking to see everyone's favorite redhead finding his place at the opening tip.

The move didn't pay immediate dividends. Bonner struggled, and the Thunder seemed to greet the adjustment with an initial smirk, quickly erasing an early first quarter San Antonio lead. But as these things go when the Spurs tweak the dials, Popovich's adjustment was less about the player and more about the fallout. Bonner starting got the headline, but Splitter sitting (*ahem* Splitting?) was the real adjustment, as separating him from Duncan and inserting a floor spacer in his place allowed the offense to breathe again.

Popovich also enjoys stability in his bench lineups, so swapping Splitter with Bonner, instead of Boris Diaw, maintained the flexibility afforded by the main bench players. Perhaps relieved to avoid the start, Diaw honored the move by contributing 28 aggressive and efficient minutes. The shots that he couldn't hit in Oklahoma City were falling in San Antonio, and as the Thunder scrambled to keep up, the Spurs never let off the gas.

The two teams exchanged big shots and leads in an insane first quarter and entered the second period tied. From there, the benefits of Popovich's adjustment started to appear, although it was Boris Diaw's presence as the stretch four that proved to be the catalyst for what would become a blowout.

But perhaps more importantly, the move also gave the Spurs the confidence to make their second adjustment. From the start of the game, San Antonio attacked with abandon, forcing the issue in a way they hadn't in either of the games in Oklahoma City. Perhaps it was Cory Joseph's monster dunk late in Game 4. Whatever the savior, it was clear in the game that something killed the Spurs' bogeyman. Serge Ibaka, for his part, did appear more hobbled than he did in Oklahoma City, but the Spurs were intent on pushing him however he looked physically. And it was an attitude they extended to every player on the Thunder. For the first time since Game 2 and maybe the only time against a Thunder squad with Ibaka, the Spurs moved with certainty and full command of the flow of the game, attacking at every opportunity and forcing the opposition to adapt from places of extreme discomfort.

No lead is safe against a team as talented and as monstrously athletic as the Thunder, so even as the double-digit lead extended into the low 20s heading into the fourth quarter, the Spurs never let up. With memories of Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals blaring in their heads, many fans were expecting a down-to-the-wire nail biter, but it was because the Spurs players also had Game 5 in their heads that they denied everyone the excitement. Another game in the series, another blowout. Have fun guessing what's next.

Be sure to read Fred Silva's recap if you haven't already.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

"Personally, it felt like they were attacking me. Gregg Popovich himself could've thrown on a jersey."

Reggie Jackson, via Royce Young

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Tim Duncan got kicked in the, uh, er… yeah, I’ll just let him tell you.

  • Pretty solid night all around for hilarious Vines. Here’s cjzero’s remix of Manu’s Durant slap:

    And here’s SBNationGIF’s remix of Pop’s, um… defensive rotations:


  • My buddy Josh Medina pointed out that last night marked the 11-year anniversary of the "Steve Kerr" game. I’m glad the Spurs got to commemorate it with a win.

  • Gregg Popovich is annoyed by everything that doesn't immediately involve his job. If you're just now figuring that out, welcome to the NBA, glad you could join us. This still upsets people for some reason, but the truth is that everyone knows you rarely get a good soundbite after the game and the kind you do are usually the clips people wish they could take back. Popovich, the professional that he is, loathes everything else that presents a distraction. Isn't that kind of, well, admirable? Who doesn't want to boil down their job to its purest, most enjoyable state? Granted, Popovich's attempt to do so interferes with league mandated interviews, but since when has his recalcitrance prevented someone from writing about him or his team? Come on, guys.

GAME MVP

Manu

EMANUEL DAVID "MANU" GINOBILI

PTS

FGM/FGA

3PM/3PA

REB

AST

T0

+/-

MIN

19

7/9

3/4

4

6

0

+15

21:10


Several people on Twitter last night posed the "Who is the MVP of this series if the Spurs win?" question, and most people seemed to agree that Manu Ginobili is the one guy who’s separated himself from the rest of the team. There are other players whose contributions have been vital to the Spurs’ success in this series, but no player has had an impact on the games as immediate and as visceral as Ginobili. He’s playing with a level of confidence and poise that we haven’t witnessed since Game 5 of last year’s Finals, and with Tony Parker’s contributions being relatively uneven and below expectations, Ginobili’s creative chaos has helped the Spurs maintain the offensive dynamism they rode to the league’s best record. (And if this game featured Finals Game 5 Ginobili, here’s hoping the follow-up doesn’t feature Finals Game 6 Ginobili.)

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 4: Fast break points the Thunder scored in the entire game.
  • 4: Thunder blocks, just slightly less than the 8 they had last game.
  • +7: Rebounding differential for the Spurs.
  • +10: Free throw attempt differential for the Spurs, the second time this series they've shot more free throw attempts than the Thunder.
  • 2: Injuries to Tim Duncan.

BIRD IS THE WORD

THE GAME IN SONG

For Manu: "Superperformance," by David Lindup

GOING FORWARD

It kind of feels like this thing is going to go seven, and the Spurs' history in Oklahoma City would seem to suggest it will. But the Spurs might have found something here that works, and if the shots travel back with the team, who knows? Of all the games we've seen this series, Game 6 feels like it's going to be the close one. I mean... It has to be, right?

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