In the last few weeks, seemingly every round – if not every game – of the NBA playoffs has been must-see TV.
And then the Western Conference Finals happened.
The San Antonio Spurs have embarrassed the Oklahoma City Thunder through two games, winning by a combined 52 points. It is the highest two-game margin of victory in conference finals history
Game 3 is Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Is there anything the NBA can do to make this series more compelling?
“There’s not much they can do,” NBCSports.com NBA writer Kurt Helin said on The MoJo Show. “Outside of somebody flying Serge Ibaka to Lourdes and pouring water on the calf and seeing if that heals it, there’s not much they can do. It was already going to be a tough series (even with Ibaka). This created a huge matchup problem because it took away (the Thunder’s) best defender in the paint.”
Oklahoma City has allowed 120 points in the paint through two games, including 66 in Game 1. And yet, Ibaka’s absence may be more costly on the offensive end. The Thunder scored just 77 points in Game 2, with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combining for 30.
Durant averaged 32.0 points per game in the regular season alone.
“I think it actually hurts them more on offense,” Helin said. “(The Spurs) can completely just focus on making life more difficult for Westbrook and Durant – making them (volume shooters), not letting them get in the paint. And nobody else is making them pay a price.”
Fellow Oklahoma City starters Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have combined for nine points through two games.
(Yes, you read that sentence correctly).
“I feel bad,” Helin said. “I really like think that with Ibaka, this is a much different series. I don’t know that the Spurs don’t win those first two games – they’re just playing at a great level right now – but the self-destruction in Oklahoma City is kind of disturbing. When things have started to unravel, the level of frustration and finger-pointing has gotten kind of ugly.”
The Spurs will make you do that. They may be boring, but they’re assassin-like with their efficiency.
“They’ve created a culture,” Helin said. “It’s top-down. It’s Tim Duncan. It’s Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who are international players who come in with that move-the-ball mindset. They don’t come with their own egos and agendas. But the other part of it is – and I think this is where the Spurs are Belichick-like – when you arrive, (they give you a role). Play your role. Don’t do anything else. Give them a role and they’ll thrive in it. Give them a defined structure.
“Phil Jackson was surprisingly good at that, too. I mean, he got Kwame Brown to play a role. He got guys to buy in. There’s something to that.”
The Spurs are also meticulous drafters. They look at a player’s skills, sure. But they also look at a player’s personality. Will he fit the system? Will he fit in the clubhouse?
“You can’t bring (in) J.R. Smith,” Helin said. “It’s not going to work.”