The final seconds of Game 2 between the Spurs and the Thunder got most of the attention following Oklahoma City's close win, and for good reason. There were multiple missed violations, including a blatant elbow thrown by Dion Waiters. There was also a terrible final possession for San Antonio, who had the chance to win it but couldn't convert even though they had an advantage.
That crazy ending overshadowed the rest of the game, but there was plenty to learn from what came before it. In particular, which lineups will work against the Thunder and which might be better saved for a different opponent.
Green and Leonard have to be on the court if both Westbrook and Durant are
The Spurs used 14 units for one minute or more in Game 2. The starters posted a -12 in 15 minutes, which is obviously not good. Only two other five-man units did worse in terms of net rating. The first was the Tony Parker - Manu Ginobili - Danny Green - Boris Diaw - LaMarcus Aldridge outfit. You might remember it from the last couple of minutes in which Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant targeted Manu on offense. It was hard to watch.
The lesson to learn from that stretch is simple enough: having two perimeter defenders who allow dribble penetration is suicide when the Thunder have both Durant and Westbrook on the floor. Not even when Tim Duncan is anchoring the defense the Spurs can get away with it. Kyle Anderson isn't an option, either.
Gregg Popovich was too careful about Kawhi Leonard's potential foul trouble and decided to give him a break late in the second quarter and the Spurs paid for it. In that span, they went from leading by four points to trailing by three. That seven-point swing was huge and it likely wouldn't have happen had Leonard had one foul instead of two.
Kawhi will have to try to stay out of foul trouble to fix it and Pop will have to be less cautious about it, because the Spurs simply cannot survive with only one of Green and Leonard on the court when the Thunder have their two stars. They can only trot out lineups with Parker and Ginobili when Oklahoma City rests one of them or goes small with Durant at power forward.
This might not be a series for David West
West was the first big man off the bench and played the most minutes at 11. The Spurs were outscored by five points when he was on the court. He has the highest defensive rating and lowest net rating out of all non-garbage time players for the series. The Spurs rebound just 68 percent of the Thunder's misses when he plays and 80 percent when he rests.
Typically all those numbers would need to be taken with a grain of salt, since it has been just two games, but it makes sense for him to struggle in this series. It's just a bad matchup. The Thunder play an uber-athletic stretch power forward or go big with two seven footers at the big men positions. He definitely can't score on any of them inside and gets bullied on the defensive boards. They are just too big for him.
One option would be to try to match size with size and give Boban Marjanovic some of West's minutes. He would be an upgrade on the board and potentially on offense, but is' unlikely that he can actually survive on defense. Westbrook and Durant are so quick going to the rim that Tim Duncan's impeccable timing wasn't enough in Game 2. Marjanovc could get exposed in the pick and roll and even as the last line of defense, if the Thunder big men set weak side screens to get him off the paint.
Going small might actually make more sense for the Spurs. The Thunder have zero perimeter depth. Andre Roberson is a liability on offense, Dion Waiters can get out of control in a hurry, Anthony Morrow is a one-way player and Kyle Singler is out of the rotation. Put a guard on Ibaka, like many teams have done in the past, and force him to beat you in the post -- not exactly his strong suit.
Or better yet, go with medium ball. If Boris Diaw is healthy, then he should definitely be the first big off the bench. He has more range than West and while he is not as physical on defense, he could at least hurt the Thunder on the other end.
Everything seems preferable to West or even Kyle Anderson getting power forward minutes.
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There's really no reason to panic about being tied after two games, so it's unlikely Pop introduces some huge changes in the rotation. San Antonio dominated Game 1 and almost stole Game 2 despite only LaMarcus Aldridge showing up to play. The Spurs are fine, so it would be understandable if he decides to leave well enough alone.
But there are some small tweaks that should probably be made sooner rather than later. It's not just that things went poorly when he went with Ginobil and Parker together or West as one of the bigs; its that they went poorly in the most predictable of ways. The physical advantage the Thunder have only became more obvious in those stretches.
Some adjustments in Game 3 would go a long way into preventing that from happening and could give the Spurs the edge they will need to get a win in Oklahoma City and regain control of the series.