During the Western Conference Finals, J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City and J.R. Wilco of Pounding the Rock will be discussing all things Spurs/Thunder and ThunderSpurs. The first installment is here. This is the second installment, and it's continued on Welcome to Loud City.
We're in what I believe is called familiar territory - the 2-0 series lead for the San Antonio Spurs - and while there are any number of stressed out Spurs fans who are still a bit shell-shocked from the 2012 Western Conference Finals, I'm not sure a series between these teams has ever felt like this before. Durant and Westbrook have looked human, and Wednesday night it looked almost as if the Thunder had tuned Scott Brooks out.
What do you think? Is this anything like 2012 for you? Are there signs of underlying issues coming to the surface with these two blowouts? Do you see any silver linings at all?
Why is Russell Westbrook considered elite?
Westbrook is generally credited as a top-10 player in today's NBA, and some people go so far as to call him a top-5 player. I don't get it, and I see no way the numbers to make a case for him even in the top-25.
Familiar territory? My friend, I am pretty sure not all series where one team is leading two games to none are created equal. Blazer fans might disagree, and I'm dangerously close to feeling like MY car has been stolen.
With regards to 2012, (and talk about a thin specter of hope to hang onto there) I'd say the series are more dissimilar than similar. Yes, OKC is now down 0-2, and if I remember correctly, the assessment I gave them in 2012 was that the Thunder discovered that they do not play Spurs ball as well as the Spurs play Spurs ball. That might come across as a tautology, but what I mean by it is that the Thunder were trying to play the Spurs' game instead of doing their own thing. While they showed signs of competing, it wasn't quite good enough. It wasn't until OKC realized that they could distinguish themselves defensively rather than offensively, which was their real competitive advantage, that the tables began to turn.
But where the similarities end is that the defense is without its anchor in Serge Ibaka, and aside from the rim protection, it has also royally screwed up the Thunder's collective predatory psyche. Their defense is doing the one thing that you never want a defense to do: second-guess itself. Right now, the Thunder D has no course of action against the Spurs' onslaught, in part or in whole, and that's where it is affecting them psychologically. No team can completely take away everything the other team is trying to do, but you have to take some things away in order to feel some success. In 2012, OKC took away Tony Parker. This time around, it doesn't look like they're trying to take away anything and by trying to defend everything, they defend nothing. If this series is to turn in any way, it will begin by the Thunder committing to taking at least one thing away and force the Spurs to adjust. They could do worse than to work to stop the high-low play with Splitter and Duncan.
That said, the crazy thing about the Spurs is that they kind of WANT you to adjust. That's when the real fun begins, because once the adjustments take place, then they create all sorts of fun/not-fun decision trees to mess with your brain. Which brings me to my question - how did the Spurs even get to this point offensively? If you've followed this team for more than about 5 years, you know that the Spurs weren't always this way.
Fair enough, but the Spurs' familiar territory doesn't just refer to 2012 and the WCF. It also refers to the 2005 Finals that ended up going 7 games. It also refers to 2004 against the Lakers. Only one of those came out satisfactory for San Antonio, so there's a bit of angst that accompanies this scenario.
Of course, the recent history between the Thunder and the Spurs is a big part of that, and it's why during the post-game presser after Game 2, instead of looking like a guy whose team just won by 35 points, Tony Parker looked like someone just stole his favorite leather jacket.
As for the Spurs wanting the other team to adjust, I don't know that's quite the case. I think that everyone from Pop on down would be just fine with the Thunder rolling another couple of efforts like Game 2 out and calling it a series. But seriously, you're right about their offense being adept at and prepared for a scrambling defense that's out of its element. Manu Ginobili spoke Wednesday night about how different teams sell out to take away different things. He mentioned Dallas refusing to leave the shooters and daring Parker to beat a big man off the dribble. Right now, from watching 96 minutes of these teams play each other, I couldn't tell you what in the world OKC is trying to keep the Spurs from getting. That's a problem.
And you're right about how the Spurs haven't always been this kind of team. Gregg Popovich spoke candidly before a game in early March about how The System came to be, since the early Tim Duncan-era Spurs offense looks almost nothing like the attack San Antonio uses today. J. Gomez wrote an entire story about it that I encourage everyone to read, but here's the main quote from Pop:
"It's a motion offense. It's malleable. It's ever-changing, in the sense that when players are moving and the ball is moving, sometimes things happen on offense that you didn't even plan on, that players just do, and it becomes part of the offense. Other things, coaches may concoct them over in an offense because you watch enough film and you try to manipulate something and it becomes part of the offense. But basically, back in the late 90s, Brett (Brown), Bud (Mike Budenholzer) and I, and coach (Hank) Egan decided how we wanted to play, what kind of offense we wanted to use and we decided on a motion offense and put in the basics. And each year we would tweak it a little bit ourselves, we'd add something we saw the players do. So it evolved and continues to evolve. It doesn't stay exactly the same but the base is always there"
When it comes to the longevity of the Spurs, this is what it gives you. The continuity to rely on a system that's undergone constant brainstorming for nearly twenty years, while being conscientious to include every great idea to the mix. And then training all of your new guys on all of the best ways to handle all of the different defenses and having one of them come up with another good attack in the middle of the 4th quarter of some mid-December blowout when the only people paying attention to the proceedings are Pop and his staff.
That's the Spurs system, and the scariest thing about it is that it's still evolving.
Now, I just watched the post-game presser for Durant and Westbrook, and - yikes, was the press hard on those guys. Is it like that after every loss? Every tough spot?
Continued on Welcome to Loud City...