Last night Oklahoma City Thunder went into San Antonio, and for the second time in this series walked out victorious. This is the same Spurs team that only lost one game at home throughout the regular season. Now the Thunder have a chance to finish out the series on home court.
Not a whole lot of people saw this coming. I certainly didn’t. I kind of assumed that the overwhelming defense from San Antonio mixed with their “beautiful game” offense would be too much for a Thunder team that leans so heavily on their two stars. The people who had their doubts about the Thunder have been proven right even when OKC has found a way to win games. Russell Westbrook is still taking a lot of bad threes and turning the ball over at way too high of a rate, but he’s also been an unstoppable force on the glass and creates enough chaos in the open court to keep the Spurs defense off balance.
One thing I don’t think the Spurs planned on going into this series was just how much of a thorn Steven Adams would be in their side. Adams has consistently been the third best player on this Thunder team throughout the playoffs. His size, toughness and athleticism makes ultra valuable on defense, and his ability to sniff out offensive rebounds is a huge asset for a team with scores like Westbrook and Durant.
We see how much of a weapon having an offensive rebounding guru like Tristan Thompson is for the Cavaliers. In Cleveland’s case an offensive rebound means giving a team that is shooting around 50% from three another chance to kill you. The offensive rebound is probably the most overlooked stat in the game right now, and it feels like OKC, Golden State and Cleveland are taking full advantage of second chance opportunities.
Speaking of the Cavaliers taking full advantage – as the the Raptors and Heat bludgeon themselves in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, both teams playing without their key post players, LeBron and Co. are getting plenty of rest. Of all the teams left in the playoffs the Cavs feel like the team who have best found their identity. I love the subtle moves Tyronn Lue made to his lineups in these playoffs. We are seeing either LeBron ore Kyrie Irving playing big minutes with the second unit. In game four of the Hawks series both Irving and Love played with the second unit, playing a two man game that just obliterated Atlanta’s defense.
The Cavaliers have three of the best twenty players in the league on their roster. In the past those players were not being fully utilized, but in these playoffs we are seeing a cohesive offensive game plan that has led the deadliest barrage of three pointers the game has ever seen. It makes a lot of sense to surround elite rim attackers like Irving and James with dead-eye shooters. I never thought I’d see a team make four more three-pointers a game than the Warriors, but that’s what is happening right now.
Perhaps an even scarier development for the rest of the league is that Cleveland has finally found the best way to deploy Kevin Love. When Love is involved in pick-and-rolls involving Kyrie Irving the opposing team is put into an impossible situation. They can either sag off the screen and allow Irving an open look at a three, go over the screen and allow him an open driving lane, or switch and allow Kevin Love a huge mismatch in the post. The Cavs used this simple play to grind Atlanta’s defense into a pulp in the last series. They decided to keep trapping Irving off of the screen allowing Love multiple open looks at corner threes, it was a bold strategy (read – awful) that cost them game four. When Love is featured prominently on offense the Cavs offensive rating shoots up to crazy numbers, which completely negates his defensive deficiencies.
As we stand the Spurs and Thunder are in a heavyweight fight that will probably go to game seven The Warriors will probably finish off the Trail Blazers tonight, but the threat of another Curry injury still lingers. We have a series between Miami and Toronto that feels meaningless given the injuries to both squads, I’ve had a really hard time paying full attention to any of the games between these two. Then there is Cleveland, a team playing gorgeous basketball, just waiting to devour whatever team they face in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs have yet to be tested in these playoffs, but you can only beat the team that gets put front of you. All they can do is continue to get better, and sit back and enjoy the rest of the teams rip each other apart. The King is getting exactly what he wanted when he made the decision to come back to Cleveland, a team that would give him multiple shots at the throne.
Now we wait.