The Oklahoma City Thunder never had a chance in either of its first two Western Conference finals games against the San Antonio Spurs, who scored more than half their points in the paint (66 of 122) in Game 1 and demolished the Thunder in Game 2 by 35 points.
According to Inpredictable.com, the best chance the Thunder had to win Game 2 was with a two-point lead and 49 seconds left to go in the first quarter after Kevin Durant pulled down a defensive rebound.
“We’re a much better team than we played tonight,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ve got three or four days to figure it out. We’ve been in this position before. We don’t want to be in this position, but we are.”
Brooks is talking about the 2012 Western Conference finals, when the Spurs also won the first two games of the series and seemed to be destined for an easy series victory. But the Thunder won the next four games to earn a spot in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. If the Thunder has any chance at repeating history, it will need more of a defensive effort from Durant.
With Durant on the court against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round, the Thunder had a defensive rating — an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions — of 111.2, but against the Spurs, that number has exploded to 123.8. Much of the outburst is coming via points in the paint.
Durant limited opponents to just 2.9 field goal attempts per game and 48.1 percent shooting while he was defending the rim during the regular season. This postseason, opponents are taking nearly five per game (4.8) and are shooting 55.6 percent.
“We can get there, we can guard these guys, and we just have to do it,” Durant said. “They’re a deep team. They have a lot of guys that can come in and score quickly for them, but we’ve got a lot of good defenders, as well.”
To win the series, the Thunder will need more than good defenders. They will need Durant to be great.