San Antonio Spurs 120, Oklahoma City Thunder 111 (Spurs lead series 2-0)
We've taken a couple of hours since Game 2 ended to let this realization swirl around a bit and, possibly, settle down a tad. We've re-watched parts of the first half and all of the second half in order to find some footing, instead of launching into hyperbole just because the home team in a seven game series has taken the first two contests. Hours later, we're still where we started. The San Antonio Spurs' offense is reaching levels of unending output that I haven't seen since Michael Jordan's Bulls were winning their titles.
This mix of elegance and function appears limitless. Other offenses, other championship offenses, have looked more potent. Looked to boast more potential once it gets out on the break, or if the Big Superstar is nailing impossible shots, or if nobody can handle the big man or stay in front of the waterbug. Kobe and Shaq's Lakers were something else. Magic's Lakers seemed to always find the open man in transition, and Bird's Celtics made the extra pass an art form. But in recent, three-point line era history? The only team this reminds me of is Chicago's triangle-pushing Bulls.
That was the team that would end a possession with one of seemingly four guys taking the "right shot." Someone in the lane, but with a shooter in the corner, and finisher on the make along the baseline or someone ready to step in for the open mid-range jumper. Or take the pass, drive a bit, pass and pass and screen and pass and — look! — we're back to having four different options all over again! All while making very, very good and championship-level teams look, honestly, awful. As in, "who taught you how to play help defense, Carlos Boozer?"-awful. Not just beaten, but making terrible decisions along the way.
The Thunder are making bad decisions. The Spurs have this team so shook that you're seeing high school-level defensive breakdowns just because San Antonio decides to improvise on a whim.
There was one broken play in the third quarter that featured Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan failing to communicate and setting a double screen on Tony Parker's man to set him free. This should have resulted in Parker dashing to the rim, free at first but about to meet four other Thunder players after two Spurs willingly took themselves out of the play. Not only did Parker have a good look at the rim for a lay-up, while Oklahoma City hemmed and hawed, but both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were wide open in the corners. What should have been at worst a 4-on-3 in OKC's advantage turned into three wide open options for San Antonio, resulting in Leonard hitting that corner three.
What reminds most about these Bulls is what separated their offense — aesthetically, if not in terms of actually points per possession — from the rest of the all-timers. How the team used all five parts to swing and shift and move the team into its myriad options. This is no two-man battle, or a run with only Magic Johnson dominating the ball, or a drive and kick scenario. This is a group that almost appears to be working off of set plays, even if every Spurs offensive set has been honed into oblivion by Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff.
And it reminds of my other great obsession that I know annoys my readers to no end, that of the band Steely Dan. And how their song structure and studio work habits were described by session guitarist Dean Parks:
"Perfection is not what they're after. We would work past the perfection point, until it became natural. Until it sounded almost improvised.
"It is quite an amalgamation, that's for sure. And it's interesting to note that it can be a hit."
As we stated above, the Thunder are helping the Spurs zoom right to the top of the charts. Scott Brooks' insistence on sitting one of the best frontcourt help defenders of his generation in Nick Collison is mind-boggling, as starting center Kendrick Perkins has no business playing half the game's minutes against a Spurs team he clearly doesn't match up well with. Derek Fisher (2-11 from the field, a step slow defensively) has no business playing nearly 26 minutes, and wasting Thabo Sefolosha's long arms on guarding Danny Green or Gary Neal seems like an absolute waste. Wasting him on the bench in the second half while Fisher can barely keep up makes us wonder if Brooks is watching the same game we are.
This could be the high point. The pressure to think and act quickly and execute as the Spurs have might fade as the series shifts to Oklahoma City, or if some of the team's players think that a two man game and standing around is sufficient to beat the Thunder every time Parker (34 points and eight assists, dominant) lines up at the top of the arc. There, hopefully, will be rotation changes on Oklahoma City's. And sometimes Kawhi Leonard might forget to square his shoulders.
For now, though? Taking on a great and championship-worthy team after dispatching the rebuilding Utah Jazz and hurting Los Angeles Clippers? These Spurs look like they have no excuse not to drop 120 points, every time out. This offense is that good. That legendary.
And, to this outsider in his millionth year of drooling over basketball in May, that gorgeous.
Thanks for the reminder of how good it can be, San Antonio.