First of all, you must (MUST, I tell you!) read Zach Lowe's piece on the changes that the Thunder made in how they defended the Spurs in Game 3. Seriously, unless you're completely disinterested in how the Spurs went from league-decimating buzzsaw to blowout victim, you've got to head over there and get yourself educated by one of the best in the biz at breaking down film in a way that it's easy to understand, even for those who don't spend a lot of time concentrating on X's and O's. After you're done over there, then you can feel free to come back and read the rest of this.
To say that the current San Antonio Spurs team is a creation of Gregg Popovich would be a massive understatement. He served as the team's general manager, chose R.C. Buford as the current general manager, and as Vice President of Basketball operations, he has a say in every personnel move the club makes. All of this is true before we even begin to discuss the way he handles the team in his position as Head Coach.
As far as his coaching is concerned, there can be no doubt about about either pedigree or effectiveness. By any measurement, he's been wildly successful throughout the last 15 years, with or without reference to his roster and the two first-ballot Hall of Fame big men that he's coached. And this season has been even more exceptional, as Popovich has taken what was commonly regarded as a team on the decline, with a number of young, unproven players, and crafted them into the team that, until Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, was regarded as the odds-on favorite to with the Championship.
This is the man who is responsible for reacting to the events of Thursday night, when the juggernaut he'd led through a 20 game winning streak, half of them playoff games, was beaten by 20 points. This is the man who will dismiss his own role whenever asked about it and refer to the game of basketball in the simplest possible terms. This is the man whose offense was turned from filet mignon to chopped beef by a Thunder team that two days before had looked as lost as a 3 year old at a mega-mall.
Here's where I'm assuming that you've read Lowe's piece and have at least skimmed over the pictures and videos. The changes that Scott Brooks has implemented in the Thunder's defense are not mere tweaks. They are significant adjustments that have been made both in the players he uses, where they're stationed, and how they react to the threat of the Spurs attack. These are differences that represent a wholesale change in the approach to dealing with the pick and roll, to covering shooters, and to putting the Spurs in unfamiliar situations. A place they haven't been since probably their last loss against the Lakers on April 11th, which was the last time San Antonio looked like they were completely outclassed, and without a hope of being able to compete. I think we all remember how they reacted to the challenge presented by that loss.
But this time may be different. The Spurs loss to the Lakers exposed a lack of effort, primarily on the boards, that hunger and focus more than solved. Game 3 in OKC was an altogether different kind of animal. Probably not one that requires a different kind of weapon, but certainly different ammunition at the very least. I'm not going to pretend that I know how to counteract those adjustments, but I think I know someone who does.
As soon as I post this, I'll be getting into a car to drive up to Oklahoma City to watch Game 4 Saturday night. I wasn't anticipating walking into the arena with the Spurs boasting 3-0 game with the possibility of a sweep, but I can tell you that now that the loss is over, I'm excited about the prospect. That arena will be rocking with fans whose faith in their team has been renewed. It's gonna be loud and crazy and much more fun to follow and blog about. They say that most series don't begin until the home team loses. But when a team's on a run like the Spurs were, I say the series begins when the apparently invincible suddenly look vulnerable. The Spurs can take this series without ever winning in Chesapeake Energy Arena, but I don't think that's the way it'll go down.
Let's just say I have a hunch that Pop sees a way around this latest bump in the road.