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Spurs Playbook: The Thunder's adjustments might have changed the series

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Billy Donovan's fourth quarter rotation was phenomenal and changed the outlook of this series.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After Game 3, this series felt secure. Even if they came home 2-2, it seemed that the Spurs had figured out how to stop the Westbrook and Durant pick and roll game. With guys like Roberson getting 20+ minutes to provide help for OKC's superstars, it felt like the Spurs had figured out the formula, what I call the Thunder Rules. Up 81-77 after three quarters Sunday night, J.R. Wilco's Spurs in 5 prediction was within reach. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there.

Don't kid yourself by thinking that the 34-16 fourth quarter blitz by the Thunder was merely a matter of making shots. In surprising fashion, with the series and the future of Kevin Durant on the line, Billy Donovan rolled the dice with a lineup of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams. He also gave Randy Foye crucial minutes in crunch time. The Thunder closed with five guys who are offensive threats (Adams in the pick and roll game and on the offensive glass), a ton of rebounding, and a lineup built to shrink the Spurs offense. It worked. Or better said:

This Kanter/Adams lineup had 3 main effects:

(1) The Spurs could not deal with OKC having 5 offensive threats plus additional rebounding

(2) Trusting their teammates, OKC's superstars played within themselves

(3) The Spurs offense bogged down late and Kanter held up on Aldridge

Let's take a deeper look at each of these.

#1: Spurs could not deal with 5 offensive threats on the floor

With 5 offensive threats on the floor, the Spurs could no longer use their Game 3 tactic of doubling Westbrook and Durant pick and rolls and helping aggressively. First, Adams is starting to hurt San Antonio on the pick and roll and he had another big effort with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Moreover, Dion Waiters was 7 for 11 from the floor with 17 points and Randy Foye had had 5 huge fourth quarter points. The Spurs can't leave Waiters and Foye as they do with Roberson, and the additional wing threats took the air out of the Spurs defense. Finally, the Thunder realized that if Ibaka is not rebounding and defending, they may as well roll with Kanter, who hit a huge three, pounded the offensive glass, and still allowed the Thunder to play some 4-out-1-in with his versatility on the perimeter:

You see Boris Diaw leaves Kanter all alone to take away the drive and Kanter makes him pay. The Thunder are playing 4 out 1 with two big men in the game. In the play below, Foye makes the Spurs pay:

Here, Kevin Durant easily beats Ginobili off the dribble, and Mills helps off of Foye in the corner. The Spurs left Kanter and Foye open for daggers. These were mistakes by the Spurs, but they were simply not used to playing against this lineup. The spacing opened up the lane for Westbrook, and Durant could not miss.

#2: Spurs couldn't stop OKC's superstars

In game 3 Russell Westbrook took 31 shots and Kevin Durant took 18. The script flipped here with Kevin Durant scoring 41 points on 25 shots. Westbrook took just 18 shots, but doled out 15 assists. With 5 offensive threats on the floor, KD and Russ trusted their teammates and we saw more ball movement from OKC. The Thunder finished with 23 assists to the Spurs 12.

The Spurs did a great job guarding the PNR in game 3, so the Thunder ran it less, and found other ways to get KD shots. Even when the Thunder went isolation, having Kanter and Adams on the glass made those possessions less risky:

Here, you have Kawhi on Durant. You can't ask for much more defensively -- KD just makes a KD play. But notice Adams on the weakside glass in great position in case this is a miss. The Thunder outrebounded the Spurs 40-34. Again it's hard to quantify, but having Waiters, Kanter, Adams, and Foye out there changed the dynamics for Durant and Westbrook. OKC was a more cohesive unit than ever before.

#3 The Spurs Offense Sputtered Late

The Spurs offense looked fine throughout the first three quarters posting 27, 26, and 28 points respectively. Again there was balance between Parker/Aldridge pick and rolls, action for Leonard, as well as plenty of movement. The first quarter was especially fruitful in that regard:

Ginobili sets a backscreen for Leonard, and David West completes the backdoor pass. The offense has seemed to flow better with Ginobili out there, but his defensive liabilities on Westbrook and Durant has forced Popovich to play Green during crunch time. Here was another nice play:

This was another possession with multiple passes that ended with a David West mid-range jumper. After the first quarter, this game looked like it could turn into a rout.

In the second quarter, the Thunder continued to go over Parker screens and he got hot. Overall, going into the fourth with 81 points is scoring enough to win.

But the crunch time offense of Parker, Aldridge, Green, West, and Leonard stalled. With Adams and Kanter in the game, the Thunder stayed at home on Leonard and Green and forced the Parker/Aldridge/West pick and roll game to beat them. This attack was bothered by the two big men, and the Thunder protected the three point line. With the Thunder making threes, the few successful possessions weren't enough to keep pace. The Spurs finished with just two three pointers compared to the Oklahoma City's nine.

With the court shrunk and the three point shot being denied, Parker had to press in the closing minutes with the game still in reach. Then this happened:


In the scheme of a 7 game series, the home team winning Game 4 when down 2-1 is no surprise. The Thunder were desperate and showed it in the fourth quarter. But how it happened is concerning. If the Thunder continue to play the Westbrook, Waiters, Durant, Adams, Kanter lineup, how will the Spurs counter? West and Aldridge just aren't as tough on the boards and aren't quick enough to stop dribble penetration without help. Tim Duncan instead of West would really help on the defensive end. Offensively, the Spurs need Ginobili out there as a weapon but are worried about his defense. I would have liked to see The Big 3 playing alongside Leonard and Aldridge. Sometimes you have to have your best five players out there (whether it be historically or current). The Spurs are still in the driver's seat, but Popovich will have to come up with something to combat this new look from the Thunder.