Every game is its own entity. I know there are correlations and trends and data and similarities between all of the games in a series or against a particular team. But at the end of the day, each game develops its own rhythm, feel, and personality. Recognizing that is a big part of what Pop continues to call “appropriate fear”. And it’s why this game can literally go any direction – because what happened in Games 1 and 2 don’t really matter anymore.
1. Song: Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”
I love this band. They are way, way overdue for a new album, because this one has run the gamut from being indie and edgy to overplayed and now, back to being unique and classic. This is one of my anthemic, soaring, get-pumped-up-for-the-game songs. It’s also a song about friendship, teamwork, resolve, courage, and perseverance. All of which personify this little team from San Antonio we have all fallen in love with.
2. Key Match Up: Parker vs. Ibaka
Yeah, I know. This is not the traditional matchup. But it’s the one that matters. The Thunder changed strategies in the 4th quarter of Game 2. Prior to that, Perkins had spent a lot of time playing and the strategy was for Perkins to wait for the pick and show toward the ball handler, but not much. That left Parker with a lot of wide open 15-footers. In the 4th, Ibaka got all of the minutes and Westbrook began shading in between Parker and the screener, thus pushing him away from the pick (which is almost exactly what the Spurs did to CP3 in the Clips series). This worked somewhat. It did slow down the offense and force the team into other sets. The Thunder also began to switch every pick late in the 4th.
I expect OKC to start with this “shading” strategy from the beginning in Game 3. For the Spurs, that means they need to figure out how to counter it. Some possibilities? I expect more dribble handoffs, which the Spurs use with great effectiveness anyway. This creates space for Tony and can trap both defenders on one side of the handoff-post if the defense is not disciplined. Another plan is for the post to fake the screen and roll. A quick hitting roll can leave both defenders facing Parker while the post rolls to the basket. It’s risky against long-armed defenders like Ibaka, but Perkins may be very susceptible to it. Tiago is especially adept at this maneuver. Finally, I think you’ll see the screens being set very, very high, perhaps well past the three-point line. It doesn’t necessarily help with the shading, but it gives more room for Tony to make an over-the-top pass to the post, which leaves a 4-on-3 for the rest of the floor.
I think this is the critical issue of Game 3. If the Spurs can continue to solve the Thunder’s p-n-r defense, this will continue to go San Antonio’s way.
3. Keeping An Eye On: The Bench
In Game 1, the bench outplayed the starters for much of the game. Game 2 was the opposite. We’ve not seen a game yet where both the bench and the starters both play to the best of their ability. If the starters can weather the inevitable 1st quarter storm tonight, how the bench plays will determine a lot about which way this game goes. I’m particularly interested in the bench defense and how Durant and Westbrook are guarded with Parker, Green, and Kawhi off the floor. I think Pop will use Capt. Jack more tonight than in Game 2.
4. Bold Prediction: Spurs Edge It Out
I picked SA to lose Game 3 in the WCF Fanalysis we did last week, but honestly, how can you reasonably pick against these guys right now? I think this may be the game where San Antonio breaks OKC’s will, much like Game 3 against the Clippers. I believe the Spurs will be down early and I believe they will rally back to win a tight game.
Odds and Ends
I’ve been spending a lot of time on the ‘Net reading about the Spurs by national columnists and it makes me nervous. The Spurs have never – EVER – been beloved by the national media like they are right now. Noted curmudgeon Kelly Dwyer on Yahoo Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie blog essentially penned his game 2 recap as a love letter to the Spurs’ offense. Scores of other writers have done the same thing, even those who have not traditionally liked the Spurs. And hearing Steve Kerr fawn over his old team and criticize the Thunder was almost embarrassing. But it’s also nice to hear other people come to the same realizations that we, as fans, have been seeing for most of the season: this team is really incredibly, unbelievably good.