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Nasty Physicality; It's a Big Boy's Game

Just how physical are these guys willing to get with the Spurs?
Just how physical are these guys willing to get with the Spurs?

In my opinion, many analysts have missed the main reason that the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to cut into the Spurs lead last night. I don't think it was the "Hack a Splitter" and I don't think it was entirely due to the small ball lineup Scott Brooks went to. Rather, it's something that OKC's small ball team is able to do like no one else, and it has the potential to knock the Spurs' offense down to a mortal level.

In Game 1, I thought OKC overplayed the passing lanes. This resulted in those 14 first half turnovers for the Silver and Black. The Spurs responded with more aggression in the second half. Instead of kicking the ball, they held it for an extra dribble when driving to force the defense to commit. Instead of turnovers, the Spurs found wide open threes and layups. The blame on the OKC side was mistakenly placed on Brooks' choice to play small ball against the Spurs.

So, in Game 2, OKC came out with their big lineup of Perkins and Ibaka. Halfway through the third quarter, it was evident that this lineup was not going to be able to contain the Spurs' potent offense. Brooks went small and at the same time, intentionally fouled Tiago to slow the Spurs down. In my opinion, this is where a lot of analysts are misinterpreting the game. The "Hack a Splitter" move was not what went right for OKC. It actually served to cover up the vital game plan shift to go small. And it's not that OKC's small lineup is superior to the Spurs'. It's that it allows OKC to foul more effectively.

Yes, I've drank so much Kool-Aid that I actually believe that outrageous statement.

The only way teams can slow the Spurs' offense down is to foul the Silver and Black without being called for it. When OKC shifted to small ball, the physicality of the game increased. It's counter-intuitive, and I think that's why a lot of people missed it. I hear someone asking "So, OKC took Perkins out and replaced him with a guard and you're saying that OKC's physicality increase?" Yes, that's what I'm saying.

OKC's small lineup has the speed to switch pick and rolls; having their bigs show to give their guard time to recover defensively has been unsuccessful for the Thunder. Perkins is far too slow to impede the Spurs' guards and he was torched relentlessly by Tony and Manu. Ibaka has the athleticism to stay in front of Tony and Manu on the switch. More than that, he has the quickness to hand check or body bump our guards. It's an illegal play, or at least it's supposed to be.

But the officials have made it clear that the hand check and body bump will be allowed in the playoffs. The question is to what degree? Tony and Manu are finesse players. These fouls I speak of aren't overtly aggressive; they are more used to throw one's timing off. And timing is everything for our finesse players. Did you notice how many of Manu's passes were a foot or two off? He's getting bumped and it's throwing his rhythm off. Instead of a clean catch and a three, our players are having to play catcher and then make a move. OKC's small ball team is elite at fouling just enough to slow the Spurs down, yet not get called for it.

Game 1 was a relatively peaceful affair. For the first three quarters, Game 2 was fair. But in that fourth, OKC's most successful quarter to date, the uncalled hand checks and body checks slowed the Spurs. So what's the answer? It's always the same. It's what Pop has been preaching these first two games. We need 'nasty.' The Spurs offense needs to be more physical than their defense. The Spurs need to dribble through the hand checks and throw their bodies into the body checks. The answer is to force the officials to make the call or at least get your pound of flesh on the way. If we are meant to bleed, so should they.

I'm not worried about the physicality. This team can win a grind-it-out game just as easily as they can a shoot-out. It's all about offensive execution and as long as San Antonio's offense matches the Thunder's physicality, the Spurs will continue to produce victories. Pop's Game 3 adjustment should be to play 48 minutes of the most aggressive basketball of the season.