The Western Conference Finals have become about offense. Do the Thunder have enough to overcome the Mavs and even the series?
Posted by Matt Moore
One Big Thing: The Eastern Conference Finals are a slugfest. The Western Conference Finals are a trackmeet. In Game 3, the Thunder tried to get into a war of attrition with a team running circles on them. The result was either going to be Oklahoma City landing body blows which completely disable Dallas or OKC getting run over like the Mavericks were a stampede. Moo. The Thunder like to pride themselves on being a great defensive unit, only, the thing is, they're not. They were 13th in defensive efficiency in the regular season, and have the worst defensive efficiency of the four Conference Finalists, just worse than Dallas. The Thunder can't actually stop anyone, which causes a much bigger problem against the best offense in the playoffs (Dallas) than it did against, say, Memphis.
The Thunder were one-for-seven-hundred-thousand (that's just a guesstimate, it could have been more) behind the arc in Game 3 and couldn't get anything to fall. The reality is that were it not for the Thunder's uncanny ability to draw foul after foul with their relentless drives to the basket, Game 3 would have been much more out of hand than it was. The big thing for the Thunder has to be getting their offense on track. You can't bring a knife to a gunfight. The Thunder can't bring a bottle rocket to a heavy artillery battle. The offense has to come unplugged.
The X-Factor: Jose Juan Barea is just killing the Thunder in tiny ways. Barea's biggest contribution comes on his probe dribble, looping under the basket and testing the defense. It creates a collapsing effect by the Thunder defense which leaves shooters open on the perimeter. With the kind of perimeter passers the Mavs have, that means open looks for great shooters, and buckets on buckets. Even in the pick and roll, Barea is hurting Oklahoma City. In Game 3,the Mavs put James Harden on Barea to body him, but Barea is so fast he's able to get too much separation on the pick and roll. Throw in the fact Barea's jumper is falling consistently and you have a huge problem for the Thunder. They can survive Jason Terry, especially with Terry struggling in the series. Can't survive lil' Jub Jub Barea also having a huge series.
The Adjustment: The Mavericks have managed to go through three games of this series without using the zone they've tested out in the past. The aggressive strength of the Dallas wing defenders has helped them get a leg up in the series. With the Mavericks looking for the knock-out punch in Game 4, now might be the time to use it for Rick Carlisle. If he can keep the Thunder out of the paint, forcing them to be a jump-shooting team, there's a better than 50-50 chance the Thunder won't be able to get the offense they need to even the series. It's a risk, but not a greater one than allowing James Harden and Russell Westbrook an unimpeded path to the rim and free throw line on every possession. The Thunder's confidence is shaken, now may be the time for a defensive tweak to put them on the ropes.
The Sticking Point: For all the ways the Mavericks have run away with parts of this series, it's been close and the series is still just 2-1 with a chance for OKC to pull even Monday night. The Thunder have been right there down the stretch and just haven't been able to get the stops. That's key. Late comebacks are going to be diffifcult in this series due to the high octane offense on both sides and poor defense as mentioned above. Teams can hold the lead because the opponent can't get stops. Which means it's critical for the Thunder to come out and correct the problems with energy and execution in the first quarter of Game 3. The Thunder have to get off to a hot start and develop their own lead, forcing the Mavericks to play from behind. Do that, and they can grind their way to a win at the free throw line. Get discombobulated again and OKC is going to be staring up from a pretty deep hole going back to Dallas for a possible close-out game for the Mavericks.
Playoff Fix: Do the Thunder have the horses?
Posted on: May 23, 2011 9:22 am
Edited on: May 23, 2011 11:42 am
Tags: 2011 Conference Finals, 2011 Mavericks-Thunder, 2011 NBA Playoffs, 2011 Thunder-Mavericks, 2011 WC Conference Finals, 2011 WC Playoffs, Conference Finals, Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Mark Cuban, Mavericks-Thunder, NBA Playoffs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Rick Carisle, Russell Westbrook, Scottie Brooks, Serge Ibaka, Shawn Marion, Thunder-Mavericks, WC Conference Finals