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Spurs Playbook: Spurs beat themselves by abandoning the pick-and-roll

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The Thunder used a similar approach on the pick and roll. They just played much harder and were a step quicker. This forced the Spurs to rush. Missing everything, the Spurs ditched the pick and roll for the iso game.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As well as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant played, the Spurs had the ball down 1 with under 10 seconds to go and a chance to win. It didn't go their way. Ultimately, holding the Thunder to 98 points is good enough to win. The defense was fine, holding the Thunder to 26.3% from three and just 42 second half points. It was the Spurs, who shot 6 for 23 from three point range and just 42.6% from the field who beat themselves. The hole the Spurs dug in the opening minutes was the culprit. With Duncan missing multiple layups, Leonard missing one, and Green missing another in transition, the Spurs rushed shots and played out of character. This had four main effects on the game:

(1) The Thunder transition game got going

(2) The Spurs abandoned the pick and roll

(3) The Spurs played a lot of isolation ball

(4) The Thunder were able to sustain their energy for 48 minutes

OKC's Transition Game

The missed shots early led to several Russell Westbrook transition plays. This was the worst case scenario for the Spurs as they ignited the most dangerous player in the series (sorry KD). It also gave the Thunder confidence that they belong in this series (not that Westbrook needs extra motivation). The long misses from three, and the shocking gaffes on layups had the Thunder out on the break where they are lethal. I'll save fans from having to rewatch some of those early sequences. This gave the Oklahoma City an early lead, which put additional pressure on Spurs shooters. Tim Duncan and Danny Green were especially guilty parties.

The disappearing pick and roll

The Thunder's pick and roll defense in Game 1 was abysmal. And based on Monday night's result, you'd think an adjustment was made. In PTR's recap Michael Erler asked the question about what the Thunder did differently from an X's and O's standpoint. The answer is: nothing. The Thunder have largely guarded the pick and roll by having their big men show and letting their wing player go over the screen. This is effective in taking away the drive and jumper of the guard, but leaves the big men open for a roll or pop. LaMarcus Aldridge shredded the Thunder in Game 1 at just that. The Spurs saw the same look in Game 2, and got great shots out of it:

This was similar to what we saw in Game 1, as Aldridge knocks down the mid-range. Here is the same coverage but with Duncan coming to set the screen:

Here, Parker fakes right, and goes away from the screen to his left. The Thunder use an aggressive show and double package, again leaving the big man. Duncan is wide open and converts. Here's another example:

You see the same defensive approach again which leaves Boris wide open. He kicks it here to Manu for three. The Spurs pick and roll game was very much alive and well. Give credit to the Thunder as they played much harder, especially with their pressure on the guards, but opportunities were there.

Unfortunately for San Antonio, Duncan and others missed several early shots off these looks, and the Spurs got out of rhythm. After falling behind, the Spurs went away from the PNR and elected to slow things down and feed Aldridge in the post. With the Thunder running in transition, there was certainly rationale to slow the game down.

Isolation Ball

With the Spurs out of rhythm, they went to Aldridge on the block. This proved unstoppable as he helped the Spurs climb back from their first quarter deficit. It also slowed down the Thunder's running game. Here are a few looks:

The Thunder had no answer:

As good as Aldridge was, it was predominantly a one man show. As much as people criticize the Thunder for their style of play, the Spurs relied heavily on isolation. The Spurs had 19 assists (they averaged 24 on the year) last night compared to 16 for the Thunder. In a game of one on one, the Thunder are the favorites.

48 Minutes of Energy

While this isolation attack got the Spurs back into the game as they pulled to within three at the half, it didn't slow the Thunder's energy. Billy Donovan talked at the end of Quarter 1 about sustaining 48 minutes of intensity, and the Thunder did just that. With all the one-on-one play, the Thunder got to rest. Especially Westbrook and Durant who were not guarding Aldridge. While it's hard to quantify, this had to have played a role in Westbrook's fourth quarter energy level.

Per the eye test, Game 2 was a contest in which the Thunder played a lot harder and the Spurs missed shots. While Ibaka and Adams navigated their defensive rotations much better, it was a matter of engagement and effort rather than schematic adjustments. The Thunder played hard and took advantage of countless misses from the Spurs. The Spurs rushed and never got into a rhythm as they played through Aldridge in order to stay competitive. While LaMarcus went off, the Spurs shooters never got going. Look for more movement and pick and roll as the series shifts to Oklahoma.