It wasn’t even close. The San Antonio Spurs came out strong in the first quarter, knocked the Thunder down, and never released the pressure in a 32 point rout. This was supposed to be marquee match up of the second round but Oklahoma City looked hideously outmatched against the more experienced Spurs. The Thunder had no answer to San Antonio’s lockdown defence, which neutered OKC’s two superstars, or Lamarcus Aldridge, who scored 38 points with historic efficiency.
The Thunder are right to point out that this is only one game and that the scoreboard will be reset to 0-0 on Monday night. What is worrying for the Thunder is how poorly prepared the team appeared to be for last nights game. OKC head coach Billy Donavan has coached 5 playoff games, Greg Popovic has 250 under is belt and it certainly showed. The Thunder defence was slow to rotate to their men all night, with Serge Ibaka in particular loosing Aldridge countless times, this allowed Aldridge to kill OKC with a barrage of mid range jumpers. He probably couldn’t believe just how open he was. San Antonio’s other star Kawhi Leonard provided his trademark smothering defence, switching effortlessly between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (who shot a combined 10 of 34 from the field).
What the Thunder have shown us, both last night and throughout the regular season, is that superstars in a rudimentary offensive system can only get you so far. It will win you 50+ regular season games and it will get you past inferior opposition in the post season, but eventually you will come up against a team like San Antonio. The Spurs probably have slightly less talent than the Thunder but Greg Popovic knows exactly how to extract the best out of his players. Everyone knows their place in the system and they know that it is not about individuals but about exploiting mismatches. Last night that meant Aldridge going off for 38 on Monday it may well be Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green. Whatever the OKC defence gives them they will take.
It is unlikely that the Thunder will play as poorly as they did last night again. What is seriously being questioned is Coach Donovan’s ability to react and adapt to what the Spurs have shown him. The defensive coverages San Antonio used were supremely effective, holding the Thunder to around 40% shooting from the field. Donovan has shown no ability to do this so far relying far too often on KD and Westbrook playing hero ball towards the end of games. This will not work against the Spurs, they have too many good defenders who understand how to help and rotate quickly to the danger. Popovic understands that sometimes Durant will hit crazy shots and get OKC in a position to win. However, he also knows that in a best of 7 series more often than not those difficult shots don’t fall.
Of course it is not all on Billy Donovan. Durant and Westbrook have to take their share of the blame. Too often OKC’s two stars act like those kids who know they are far better than their teammates. When things start to go wrong they try to do it all themselves. There is no shame in deferring to teammates in the right situation the Spurs have shown us this all season. The iso-ball era is over, a team that shares the ball effectively will almost always triumph over the one that doesn’t (assuming an fairly even talent level). the Thunder will have to learn this quickly if they are to stand a chance of advancing.