After losing a pair of blow outs in Oklahoma City, the San Antonio Spurs had no choice but to make some alterations to their line-up. The Tiago Splitter-Tim Duncan combination simply wasn’t working as it allowed the Thunder bigmen to eat up the space in the middle and take away one of the Spur’s biggest weapons: attacking the paint.
As such, Gregg Popovich sought after some alternative to stretch the floor with 3-point shooting in order to create more room for the likes of Tony Parker to work with. So in came Matt Bonner for his first start of the season.
The “Red Rocket” struggled to make an impact struggled to make a quantitative impact, missing both of his attempts from the 3point line and all of his four overall shots. Nevertheless, his presence alone was enough to distract Serge Ibaka and allow his teammates to be aggressive without worry.
Surprisingly though, where he had his biggest impact was on defense with Ibaka failing to convert on his first four shot attempts, primarily due to the defense Bonner played.
Later on, Pop decided to go with Boris Diaw at the 4 and he was able to make an imprint on several aspects of the game. Unlike Bonner, the Frenchman was able to hit both of his attempts from long range on his way to a 13points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists night.
At one point, he displayed just how versatile he can be by blocking Kevin Durant’s dunk attempt then going on to provide an assist on the other end, during the ensuing play. With that sort of multidimensional play, it was no surprise his teammates were singing his praise at the podium during postgame press conference.
“He is the key for us, said Duncan. “He has the playmaking ability and he has been scoring really well, but his high IQ as a basketball player is what has changed the series for us.
“He’s been great offensively, going at Ibaka or somebody else that guards him. But on top of that, he’s been passing the ball, moving without the ball and him making shots tonight makes a huge difference.”
Manu Ginobili echoed Duncan’s words by saying: “Everyone enjoys playing with him. He knows how to pass and he has a great combination of being a good shooter without shooting too much and being a driver, and he can post up smaller players.
“He is very versatile and you can change things up with him a lot because he is a smart player and he knows how to play.”
The Impact Gregg Popovich’s alteration was clear to see with the team playing as close to a complete game as possible. The ball was whizzing around the court and San Antonio had 23 assists on 39 field goal makes, including 13 of 26 from 3point land.
They also made it a point of emphasis to attack the paint, which resulted in 40 points inside (28 coming in the first half), and more importantly, 30 attempts from the freethrow line. That was something which Oklahoma City Coach, Scott Brooks pointed to as a determing factor in the outcome of the game.
“They got whatever they wanted,” he said. “They got the dribble drive, they got the 3point and they got to the freethrow line. San Antonio are not a team that shoot a lot of freethrows but we fouled them enough to put them at the line for 30 tries.”
San Antonio is now just one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. However, Ginobili warned his teammates not get complacent because Oklahoma City “are very talented and they are going to be upset.”
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