Much is being made of the final 18 minutes of Game 4, where the Spurs' deep bench -- well pretty much everyone but Ginobili -- played their hearts out, Joseph and Diaw in particular. At times they did look like that Youtube video, with perfect spacing and quick rat-a-tat passing and fast cuts and telepathic decision making. They sliced the Thunder starters to ribbons, and even on the occasions they didn't score, it was the limits of their talents more so than anything OKC was doing defensively.
It's tempting to say that these guys will inspire the Spurs starters and the light-bulb will all of a sudden flash on and they'll play exactly the same way, with the ball moving faster than our eyes can keep up with it -- much less the Thunder's defenders.
I just don't think it's very realistic. On some level, human nature kicked in for the Thunder and they eased up and relaxed a bit. You can only take the Spurs so seriously when guys like Joseph, Jeff Ayres and Aron Baynes are on the floor. I don't know how much we can glean from those 18 minutes, though I suspect Pop will make a point of showing the team that film.
Yes, I agree that for the Spurs to beat these guys that they do have to play the way that third stringers did. I just don't know if Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter are capable of playing at that speed in a half court setting. Against the Thunder defense you have to think fast, act fast and pass fast and that's not really the strength of the starters' games at all. It's more a strength of the less-talented more-Euro-centric bench guys.
Either the Spurs have to play super fast or go the complete antithesis of that, a la the Grizzlies, and slow the game down to a crawl. Isolate a specific mismatch, like whomever Reggie Jackson is guarding for example, clear out the floor and go at him. Or dust off "4-down" with Duncan, have him back down Ibaka in the post and go with that, freeing Duncan to swing it to one of four three-point shooters if a double comes. At the least it'll prevent turnovers and they'll cut off the transition game with four guys back. I'd like to see Duncan with four smalls against the Thunder's small-ball. And I don't mean Diaw as one of the smalls either. I'm talking Leonard as the stretch four to match Durant and then Green, Ginobili and Parker.
Three specific lineup things I'd like to see:
1) Diaw has to start over Splitter. Thanks for all the fish, Tiago, but you are not cut out for this athletic phylum of athlete. Against the Thunder and the Heat you are a 12-minute a night backup center and that's that.
2) I'd play Joseph over Mills. He provides better defense, he takes more responsible shots (and is just as good of a shooter inside the three-point line), he's more likely to drive inside and get fouled and most importantly, he's not afraid. Step one against the Thunder, above all else, is not being afraid.
3) I'd be hesitant to play Belinelli at all, but if he's going to be out there, you have to keep either Green or Leonard on the floor. Marco and Ginobili together is a defensive catastrophe.
I'm going back and forth about Ginobili starting over Green. The starting unit definitely needs a spark and it would help Parker out to have another creator on the floor so the Thunder can't gang up on him, but Green's defense is important too. Maybe the answer is to just start small and play all three. What's evident to me though is that Green, Leonard and Splitter are killing the offense. They're too slow with their decision making, the ball is sticking, and too often the decisions they make are poor. None of them are hitting mid-range shots or taking it to the rim strong. It was clear that The Big Three lost faith in all three by the halfway mark of the second quarter.
Our only hope is that, as role players, they play with more energy and confidence at home. Still, we're at the point where Pop needs to run a 7.5-8.5 man rotation out there, with heavy minutes for the Big Four. The defensive energy has to ratchet way up and they have to create more turnovers and easy points. Lookin' at you there, Big Daddy. Ginobili and Leonard can't get in foul trouble.
Speaking of foul trouble... I mean look, it wasn't why the Spurs lost, okay? They were bad; the Thunder were much better and they deserved to win. Still, there were far too many times where Durant or Westbrook in particular just drove into somebody with their arms straight up in the air and got a call. The two of them went to the line 23 times and I think a reasonable person would conclude that they deserved something closer to 13 attempts than 23.
In the end, the Thunder finished with more steals (12) and blocks (8) than turnovers (7). The fast break points were 21-0. You just can't beat them with stats like that unless you shoot 70 percent from the floor.
I don't understand why Pop played without Leonard or Ginobili for so long in the second quarter. He made Belinelli the focal point of the whole game, initiating offense on one end and guarding Durant on the other. That was ridiculous.
Also, I would have liked to have seen Ginobili start the second half. The team needed a quick spark. If you were contemplating pulling the plug anyway, you should've at least given Ginobili a few minutes with the other guys to see if they could get something going. Instead the starters got routed to such a degree that Ginobili never got off the bench in the second half.
The one thing the Spurs did that I did like came in the press conferences after the game. Both Pop and Duncan played dumb when asked about their argument on the bench and Duncan's airing out of Green. Not only did they not divulge any details, but they refused to even acknowledge that it happened. Duncan repeatedly said he didn't remember the incidents while Pop said he had no idea what the reporter was talking about.
I have to respect how the Spurs are militant about keeping their drama in-house. You're never going to get an Adrian Wojnarowski scoop about these guys beefing in the locker room. It's simply not gonna happen.
Your three stars:
3) Boris Diaw (12 pts)
2) Matt Bonner (3 pts)
1) Cory Joseph (6 pts)