Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 7:16 PM
Though the Western Conference Championship series is far from over, it’s certainly difficult to see right now how the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to win four games in the next five to advance to the League Finals in June.
*The defense can’t figure out how to chase down all the possible San Antonio scoring threats. Russell Westbrook isn’t well suited to dealing with Tony Parker’s speed and creativity. If OKC goes pure man-to-man with no help defense, then Parker would score all night long (which is a big part of what happened in Game Two). If a defender leaves their man to help Westbrook…that leaves an opener shooter with either a baseline trey or a good look at a three-pointer. Sometimes it leads to backdoor cuts for layups too. San Antonio is putting on a CLINIC on nearly every possession.
*The offense only has three truly scary weapons, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden forced to try and do with three people what the Spurs are doing with all of their rotations. They’re trying to keep up…but it’s obviously been hard to do that just in terms of staying even. Those three guys have to WIN four times in five games as they wear down from this monumental effort.
*The inside-the-arc shooting has gone to San Antonio in very dramatic fashion. They won that stat 55% to 41% in Game Two, after enjoying a 51% to 43% in the series opener. Again, a CLINIC! Oklahoma City keeps attacking the basket as best they know how…but there’s just no way to compete with those guys of deficits on two-pointers.
*Oklahoma City would normally hope to make up an inside deficit with additional treys. You can do that against the Lakers who don’t have reliable long range shooters (they have guys who will occasionally make some, but nobody who consistently makes them). That won’t work against the Spurs because San Antonio has mastered the inside-out offense. The Thunder have made 17 treys in two games, and have been pretty sharp about doing so. San Antonio has made 19…so it’s just another category loss.
*Oklahoma City often picks up bonus points at the free throw line because of how aggressively they attack. Well, Tony Parker’s attacking too. Free throw attempts so far are 60 for San Antonio, 59 for Oklahoma City. Head coach Scott Brooks talked again after Game Two about the need for his team to get to the free throw line. They were 29 of 36! Is he expecting 40 free throws a game?!
Frankly, based on what we’ve seen so far the Thunder doesn’t have any chance to survive the series. But, of course…based on what we’ve seen over years of handicapping the NBA playoffs…there’s still some hope. The following must happen:
*The Spurs have to cool off, which is likely to happen at their current percentages. Plus, it’s typically harder to shoot well on the road than it is at home. Even with two impressive victories (the Thunder hit some treys late in Game One to vulture a cover), all San Antonio has done so far is hold serve. Maybe after two games in OKC this will be seen as a much more competitive series.
*Oklahoma City has to keep the pace under control. It’s tough to tell young stallions not to race. But, when you’ve got three stallions and the other team has 10 smart guys making the young stallions chase their tails around…then a disaster is imminent. Oklahoma City is going to wear down quickly if they keep asking their “big three” to do so much on offense and defense.
*Brooks must continue to throw monkey wrenches into the Spurs machinery. The strategy of hacking Tiago Splitter the other night was brilliant because it killed the up-and-down sprinting while putting a poor shooter at the line. San Antonio did recover…but not after blowing much of a 20-point lead. Next time, throw the monkey wrench in when the game isn’t already out of reach! If the Spurs are playing textbook ball, you have to think out of the box to beat them.
SAN ANTONIO vs. OKLAHOMA CITY
Game Three Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 3.5, total of 206.5
San Antonio leads 2-0
The Thunder are getting respect here because they’re such a strong team, they have a loud home court, and because teams leading 2-0 often have a flat spot before getting things back together in Game Four. Oddsmakers are aware of that. A line that might have only been OKC by 2.5 or 3 based on the flow of the last two games is up at OKC -3.5 as we go to press.
The total is up from 202.5 in Game Two because of the frantic pace in that one, and because “hack-a-somebody” puts points on the board without running clock. If one coach does it…scoring inflates. If BOTH coaches decide to play around with that…the game will fly even past this raised number. It’s worth noting that after a dead first quarter in Game One, this has been a pretty high scoring series. Quarter sums the last seven stanzas are: 51-40-66-50-49-69-63. That equates to 222 over a full game.
JIM HURLEY is aware of strategic developments in this series that could influence both side and total options Thursday Night thanks to his sources. Be sure you check the home page of this website on game day for the latest news on what’s available from NETWORK!
GAME TWO SUMMARY
SAN ANTONIO 120, OKLAHOMA CITY 111
Field Goal Pct: Oklahoma City 42%, San Antonio 55%
Three-Pointers: Oklahoma City 8/17, San Antonio 11/26
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 29/36, San Antonio 23/35
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 40, San Antonio 41
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 10, San Antonio 13
Vegas Line: San Antonio by 4.5, total of 202.5
You can see what we were talking about in the earlier notes. Oklahoma City shot well from long range, kept marching to the free throw line, yet still didn’t make any headway on the overall scoreboard from those categories. They did do a better job of forcing turnovers thanks to their defensive length. If the Spurs ever have a sloppy game, the Thunder might put up a really big victory margin with a bunch of highlight reel dunks (Then, they’ll be too tired to play great defense in the next game!).
If anything like those numbers keep holding up, then we’re looking at a sweep or Spurs in Five, which didn’t seem too realistic before the series started…but boy have the Spurs made their case in dramatic fashion. Oklahoma City must find a way to make sure we don’t see more than one replay.
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Back with you Friday to preview Game Three of the Miami-Indiana series. No rest for the weary. And, you can be sure that ODDSMAKERS are weary this postseason from the potent TEAM HANDICAPPING APPROACH that you only get from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!