The Oklahoma City Thunder have been a popular favorite to go to the NBA Finals since the end of the lockout in November, but I’ve had doubts. Those doubts increased during the season even as the Thunder solidified their status as an elite team. The reason was simple: their defense wasn’t ready for the prime time of the Finals. San Antonio demonstrated Tuesday night with an efficiency that bordered on brutal during their 120-111 win.
In the first half the Spurs scored a pedestrian sounding 55 points but their offensive prowess was masked by a slow pace. The team scored those 55 points on a mere 38 shots. Their Offensive Efficiency for the half was more than 122 points per 100 possessions. Just for point of reference, the Spurs were the most efficient team in the NBA this season averaging 108.5 points per 100 possessions, so in the first half, they were more than 10% better than their season average and they were doing it against the third best team in the league!
Then came the third quarter, the Spurs put on an offensive display that should be packaged on video and distributed to every sports fan in the world. Cool, crisp passes, expertly set screens, they demonstrated that basketball could indeed be a beautiful game. During a six minute stretch spanning 12 possessions, the Spurs scored ten baskets, five from behind the arc. Their efficiency rating for that stretch 208 points, yes 208 points per 100 possessions.
The lone problem with the Spurs run was that everything was from the perimeter. Unlike the fourth quarter of game one when the Spurs went into the road business and paved such streets as Manu Ginobili Boulevard, Tony Parker Turnpike, and Tim Duncan Parkway and every one of these roads led to the rim, Tuesday night, the Spurs were raining mayhem on the Thunder from outside. Those shots stopped falling, and the Thunder were able to close 22 point deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City can be a premier defensive team. In their first trip to the playoffs two years ago, they were in the top ten in Defensive Efficiency. However, they have regressed and the Spurs have found ways to beat them inside and outside. The Thunder may win a game in Oklahoma City, but barring a major injury, the Thunder’s run looks done, and their offseason agenda has been spelled out to them.