The Oklahoma City Thunder led the San Antonio Spurs 71-62 after three quarters and looked well on their way toward stealing Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on the road.
Then the Spurs came back. Their offense came alive and the Thunder’s became stagnant, looking like the isolation-heavy late-game offense they’ve been criticized for in the past.
The Thunder losing the game mostly had to do with allowing 39 points in the fourth quarter. But they weren’t playing their best defensive lineup as Serge Ibaka sat the entire fourth and they still could have won the game or kept it closer had they executed down the stretch themselves.
The Thunder started the fourth small and finished it the same way with Kevin Durant playing the four. They begin the fourth with Fisher-Harden-Cook-Durant-Collison. So basically, no chance against the Spurs’ pick-and-roll as Durant and Harden really don’t enjoy rotating over.
The Thunder begin the quarter trying to get Harden going who was struggling up to this point. They run his pick-and-roll play from the right wing on the first two possessions. He makes a pull-up jumper on the first then on a very similar situation, tries to drive at Tiago Splitter and picks up a charge on the next play.
The Spurs are defending the pick-and-roll by allowing the ball handler to freely come off the pick and sagging into the paint to prevent them getting a good angle to attack the rim. The Thunder did not see this kind of defense against the pick-and-roll in the first round and weren’t sure what to do at times it seemed.
Harden found himself open for a lot of midrange jumpers, a shot he rarely takes. Harden only attempted 1.1 shots per game from between 10-to-23 feet in the regular season. This helped result in Harden pressing and forcing contested layups over prepared bigs.
On the next possession, the Thunder post-up Durant on the left side about 12-feet out. This is the only time they would do this in the quarter. Durant finds Collison cutting in the paint here but Collison misses a tough shot at the rim.
Stephen Jackson was guarding Durant the entire fourth quarter and is getting a lot of credit for the way he defended him. It was a lot like how he defended Dirk Nowitzki back in 2007 when the Warriors knocked of the Mavericks in the first round. He was getting up into him closely and allowing Durant to attempt to drive left.
Durant is much worse driving left when he is looking to attack the rim. He always prefers to drive right to get a layup. When Durant goes left, he is much more efficient going for a pull-up or stepback jump shot.
Russell Westbrook now checks in for Daequan Cook as the Spurs are now within five points.
Westbrook has also been relatively struggling at this point in the game. They run a play where Durant comes up from a downscreen to pick for Westbrook at the top of the key. This usually leaves room for Westbrook to look to attack on this play but Tony Parker defends it well and contests a Westbrook pull-up that he misses.
The Thunder try and get Westbrook going again on the next possession and let him isolate at the top of the key. He misses a wild runner going to his left. Westbrook is always better when able to play on offense under control and look for his pull-up. The Spurs enticed him to attack the rim a lot in Game 1 and he became out of control and inefficient.
The Thunder get a rare second half transition opportunity next but Harden doesn’t take advantage and charges on Gary Neal. Harden didn’t have a ton of room here and it was clear Neal was prepared for Harden to eurostep to his left. He anticipated it to draw the charge. Harden was out of rhythm all game and should have seen to eurostep to his right and would have finished the layup.
On the next possession, Westbrook misses another erratic layup attempt going to his left. The Thunder decide here to try and go back to Harden some in the pick-and-roll.
Harden runs a pick-and-pop with Durant and passes Durant which he almost always does on this play. Harden is pretty much never looking to drive when he runs the pick-and-pop with Durant. He may not like the angles he gets because Durant never really sets a solid screen and just pops.
Durant ends up having to isolate again with Jackson doing a good job of crowding him beyond the 3-point line. Durant tries to clear some space and catches Jackson with an elbow and the foul is called on Durant.
The Thunder do not go to Harden as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls the rest of the game now with 7:41 left and the score tied at 73.
The Thunder try Westbrook getting a pick from Durant at the top of the key twice more over the next three possessions. Westbrook is in driving mode now and the Thunder do end up scoring twice off his passes.
The Thunder then have two possessions where the play turns into a Durant isolation when that wasn’t totally the design of the play. This is when the standing around and lack of ball movement really begins.
Durant isn’t even inefficient when this happens and he got fouled a lot in the quarter which isn’t all bad but it seemed to affect the Thunder offense in that they were now just standing around watching. Westbrook and Harden knew they didn’t have it and were completely deferring to Durant.
The Thunder were forced into nothing but half court offense down the stretch and with Harden not playing well, it became a huge issue. They weren’t getting stops so they weren’t getting fast break opportunities and since they were playing so small, they weren’t getting any offensive rebounds either.
This is when people say the Thunder hurt because they don’t have someone to post-up. It’s not that they don’t have someone, it’s that they don’t go to him in the post. Durant had an advantage over Jackson inside and they only posted him up once. Jackson was doing a nice job on Durant but fouled him four times in the quarter.
The Thunder should have posted up Durant even though he’s not totally comfortable down there yet and that isn’t their identity yet. It was an adjustment that would have countered the way Jackson was defending Durant and could have gotten Durant a few more trips to the line and kept the game within striking distance.
The Thunder did not adjust though in the fourth quarter whether it was posting Durant up or bringing back Ibaka. The adjustments will have to wait for Game 2 and if they don’t come then, this series could end up being a short one for OKC.