Scott Brooks made some interesting changes to his team’s pick and roll coverages, and they paid off tonight. Basically rather than playing a traditional show and recover defense with a wing defender hedging to the middle, the Thunder switched on the screen. A switch is usually a bad thing for a defense because it creates mismatches – big defenders on quick offensive players and vice versa. OKC chose to live with the mismatch and use their length and athleticism to overcome. Not only that, but the Thunder switched the off ball screening actions pretty frequently which meant that a lot of the sets that usually free up Manu while the strong side pick and roll is in action were stifled.
One reason the strategy worked so well is that when the Spurs did run enough action to get the Thunder confused and create open shots for their role players, those shots failed to fall for the most part (except for Stephen Jackson’s shots which all went in). Some of that may be playing on the road, but a lot of it is that all the switching eliminated the need to trap which limited the number of uncontested shots and direct cuts to the rim that San Antonio got this game. So the Thunder used their length and athleticism to try to play the stars straight up after switches on picks, and in so doing they took the secondary scorers out of the game. A big reason it worked is that Ibaka and Sefalosha covered Duncan and Parker for long stretches, and they have the size and mobility to play reasonable defense even in mismatch situations. Your move, Pop!
Quick props to Westbrook and Durant as well for really moving the ball on offense tonight. OKC got some good production from Ibaka and Sefalosha thanks to the unselfishness of the stars. Not sure if that was a strategic point of emphasis or just that Russ and Kev were trusting their teammates, but it helped to keep the Spurs from loading up on them.
Stat-note: The Spurs’ win streak ends at 20 games overall and 10 straight in the playoffs. The last team to win more than 10 straight games in a playoff was the 2001 Lakers who went undefeated until AI lit them up in game 1 of the Finals.