2012 NBA Playoffs Recap, Day 31

Despite another valiant effort by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Game 2 was just another victory for the San Antonio Spurs. But is there hope for the Thunder in Game 3? (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Spurs survive Thunder rally, go up 2-0
Within the first minutes of Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Kendrick Perkins was bumped into by Tony Parker just before inbounding the ball. Perkins scowled down at Parker, offered some choice words and strutted down court. Parker rolled his eyes and laughed. Even a tough guy like Perkins can’t shake the focus and confidence of the 2012 San Antonio Spurs. In fact, I’m not sure Oklahoma City’s strategy in this series even makes sense.

Following Game 2, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks admitted the Thunder allowed Parker the midrange jumpers he was draining as opposed to letting him get to the rim. Obviously, keeping Parker out of the paint is a good idea, but surrendering those jumpers? Do they study film at all? Parker lives for those shots. This isn’t seven years ago when Parker’s shooting skills made Rajon Rondo look like Reggie Miller. Parker’s midrange jumper is nearly as reliable as his ability to finish at the rim. Allowing him those shots time after time seems like a death sentence to me.

What’s worse, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both offered that Parker’s success from the field on Tuesday night was a product of Parker hitting “tough shots.” Uh, no. Those are shots Parker’s hit all season long. If the Thunder hopes to get back in this series, they’ll need to contest those jumpers and force someone else to take those shots, because Parker will happily take and make those jumpers. They’re not “tough shots” to Parker. They’re as much a part of his game as his unstoppable floater.

Now, how about that 2nd half? After a 3rd quarter that saw the Spurs stretch their halftime lead from 11 to 22, the game appeared to be all but over. San Antonio was on another level. The Thunder wasn’t even playing that poorly. The Spurs were simply putting on an offensive clinic. Very rarely in today’s world do you see an athletic team, or any group of individuals for that matter, function at such an efficiently selfless level. It was truly something to behold. TNT’s David Aldridge offered the following; “Been covering this league 25 years, and can’t recall a team – a team – passing as well as the Spurs are right now.” Aldridge wasn’t alone in his praise. Twitter was blowing up with respected NBA voices praising the Spurs exceptional level of play. …And then it all stopped.

Give the Thunder a ton of credit. Even on the road, they never quit. Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden kept coming. There was a time midway through the 4th quarter when the Thunder cut the Spurs lead all the way down to 6. Then OKC struggled to score for a stretch and the Spurs were able to push the lead back to 12 and held it around the 9-10 range for the remainder of the game. Still, the Thunder may have finally found a lineup that gives them hope of making this a competitive series as we shift to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4.

The TNT crew perfectly explained why the Thunder found success in limiting the Spurs over the final 16 minutes of the game. As Steve Kerr, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith all stated, Brooks put his best players on the floor and used their athleticism to disrupt the Spurs ball movement. The Thunder can’t compete with the Spurs on a basketball X’s and O’s level. OKC must simplify the game and as Kerr pointed out, make the game a street fight. It’s seems strange, but ignoring a defensive scheme and letting athleticism and instinct take over may be the Thunder’s best chance of getting back in this series.

On the other hand, though, it’s possible everyone is getting a bit too excited about the Thunder’s 4th quarter. Sure, they outscored the Spurs by seven and had the Spurs on the ropes. Still, the Spurs executed down the stretch. Manu Ginobili was again unstoppable, scoring 10 points in the final six minutes. San Antonio’s offense got into the lane and still converted a few easy layups in crunch time, and that was all despite Tim Duncan playing perhaps his worst game of the entire season.

It also benefited the Thunder that they went to the line after every foul with close to 10 minutes still to go in the game. As a result, the Spurs defense fell off the map. Contend and send the Thunder to the line or play soft defense and force them to sink open shots? San Antonio gave each approach a run and neither was particularly effective. Give the Thunder credit for putting the Spurs in foul trouble and getting to the line, but let’s not pretend the Spurs defense just all of sudden fell apart.

Game 3 is essentially a Game 7 for the Thunder. I expect Brooks to give the lineup we saw in the 4th quarter of Game 2 extended run with hopes of slowing down the Spurs. Though, if the past month and a half is any indication, it likely won’t work. The Spurs are too hungry to erase the devastation of last year’s embarrassing collapse to the Grizzlies and too focused on giving Gregg Popovich and Duncan one more ring. The Thunder may be the more desperate team but the Spurs will undoubtedly approach Game 3 as if it were a Game 7, too.

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