Previewing Game 5 of the Thunder-Spurs Western Conference Finals.
2. Where We Are: This thing turned around in a hurry. The Spurs were dominating, in full control of the series, only to find themselves tied after being manhandled by the Thunder once Serge Ibaka returned. The Spurs have lost 10 straight games to the Thunder with Ibaka in the lineup and the impact is huge.
Basically, when Ibaka is in, the entire tone of the Spurs' offense changes. They're not attacking the rim and when they do, it's unsuccessful. He stretches the floor. He helps contain rebounding. Everything changes with Ibaka on the floor.
Now at the same time, the Thunder aren't getting 40-10-5-5- from Russell Westbrook every night. It's hard to argue that the Thunder didn't play their best game in Game 4. But just the same, the Spurs aren't going to play as they did in Game 2 all that often. They can play well, but not impeccable. The balance between those two extremes is really what this series is about, as well as the tension between the Thunder's athleticism and the Spurs' precision.
3. The Big Number: .4 points per possession. That's what Tony Parker scored in Games 3 and 4 as the ball handler out of the pick and roll according to Synergy Sports. Including passes, they scored .676 with Parker in the pick and roll.
How big was the gap between that and Games 1 and 2?
In Games 1 and 2 Parker scored 1.0 points per possession shooting out of the pick and roll, a stellar mark, and the Spurs scored an insane 1.324 including passes. With Ibaka back in the lineup, the Spurs' pick and roll attack with their best defender was literally halved. Forget at the rim, that's your series right there. If Parker's not attacking and creating in the pick and roll by getting into the middle, the Spurs' offense is sunk. Donezo. He's got to get back to that in Game 5, Ibaka or no Ibaka.
4. Key Adjustment: How much does Jeremy Lamb play? Lamb showed his length can bother the Spurs and Thabo Sefolosha has been an absolute no show. Reggie Jacksons struggles due to his size. Lamb should get significant minutes for OKC after a strong defensive performnce in Game 4.
Meanwhile, Marco Belinelli has to do something, anything for the Spurs. They need bench scoring and Belinelli was brought in to provide it on and off the ball. He's got to be smarter and faster with his decisions. They can't just ride the Big 3. Not anymore.
5. The Big Story: Can the Spurs recover? They've just been rolled, the exact same way they were in 2012 after going up 2-0. Is this team better? Can Tiago Splitter be the player the Spurs paid him to be? Can Kawhi Leonard find himself? Can they stop the bleeding?
The Spurs have home court, and that's huge, but they have yet to prove that against a full complement of Thunder players that they can compete at an extremely high level. They seem overwhelmed by the youth, energy, speed, and length. They've beaten up athletic teams for years. Where has that gone? And can they recover?
For the Thunder, can they keep that level of energy up? They played like madmen in Games 3 and 4. Do they have enough to play at that high a level sustainably?