Can anyone on the Thunder stop the Spurs’ Tim Duncan?


(Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

In their Game 1 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, the San Antonio Spurs focused their attack inside the paint. San Antonio took more than 56 percent of its field goal attempts from that area and went 33 for 49, scoring on 67.3 percent of those attempts. In four regular season losses to the Thunder this season, the Spurs averaged just 41.5 points in the paint. In Game 1, the Spurs had 40 points in the paint by the half and finished the game with 66.


San Antonio Spurs Shot Distribution during Game 1 vs OKC

“We always want to try to penetrate,” San Antonio guard Tony Parker said. “We always want our ball movement, that’s how we play — kick and pitch and stuff like that. You know, obviously it’s a little bit better with [the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka] not being in the paint, but we’re still going to try to penetrate and make stuff happen.”

The loss of Ibaka is key. He was the Thunder’s defensive soul and their third-best player this postseason in terms of win shares (1.5) behind Kevin Durant (2.2) and Russell Westbrook (2.0). Now the defensive responsibility will fall on Kendrick Perkins (who pulled guard duty on Duncan during the regular season), Steven Adams and Kevin Durant. But if Game 1 is any indication, the Thunder are in for a short series.

Duncan hit seven of his first eight shots and ended the game with 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting, shooting 83.3 percent from the paint.


Tim Duncan Field Goal Percentage MAY 19

Here’s Duncan making a rare drive into the lane (going at Nick Collision) off a pass from Parker. Perhaps Ibaka’s shot-blocking prowess discourages this type of move.


“That’s part of our game plan,” Duncan said. Parker “knew that they weren’t going to let him shoot the ball like he did in the last series. They were going to try to take that away from him, so he knew he was going to have to be an assist man.”

Among players still in the playoffs, only Russell Westbrook has more points created by assist per 48 minutes (24.4) than Parker (18.7).

Even when the Thunder tried to make it hard on Duncan, it wasn’t a deterrent. According to NBA.com, 17 of Duncan’s 19 shot attempts were contested. He made 10 of them.


Here’s Duncan making a three-foot jumper with Durant defending him. It would be Duncan’s 21st point of the night.


If there was an Achilles’ heel to Duncan’s game, it was the mid-range jumper. He would convert just 1 for 5 from within 10 to 19 feet, but I wouldn’t recommend giving him this good of a look too often.


If it does solve Duncan offensively, the Thunder will have to find a way to neutralize his defensive play as well.

When Tim Duncan defended Oklahoma City’s interior players, offense was almost non-existent. Between Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Nick Collison they combined for just seven touches and 0-for-1 shooting from the floor in 7:13 of matchup time.

“We’re going to have to find lineups that work,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. “I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job, no matter who we put on the floor.”

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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