In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked like they were going to go ahead and even up the series at two games each, up 15 points with a few minutes to go. After blowing the lead and losing in overtime, the Thunder are now faced with elimination in Game 5. If they want to win and send the series back home to Oklahoma City, they are going to have to make a few changes both on the offensive and defensive end.
Offense: Run The Westbrook/Durant Pick-And-Pop/Roll To Score
I have been a fan of the Thunder's pick-and-pop all season long, telling everyone who would listen that the Thunder need to run this play more during the end of games. However, in the end of Game 4, the Thunder ran it and didn't have success with it. The reason? Well in my opinion, the Thunder were running the pick-and-pop/roll not to score, but to force a switch:
What you have here is the Thunder trying to get Russell Westbrook's man (Jason Kidd) to switch on Kevin Durant. However, Kidd isn't your typical point guard, and he forces Durant to make the catch behind the three-point line. Durant now has to try to penetrate, and when he does, Kidd forces him into a spin move, allowing Shawn Marion to come over and force the turnover on the doubl- team.
So what do I mean when I said run the pick-and-roll to score? Take a look at this possession from earlier in the series.
Here, Westbrook comes off of the screen looking to penetrate and attack the lane. That attack-dribble forces Marion to hedge for a split second, and that hedge gives Durant all of the space that he needs when rolling to the rim. Westbrook finds Durant, who is able to finish with the big dunk.
When the Thunder are looking to score when running the pick-and-roll with Westbrook and Durant, this is such a tough play to defend, because if you don't hedge Westbrook gets to the rim. If you do, Durant is open, a bad pick your poison type of play for the defense.
Defense: Don't Hedge Off Of Dirk Nowitzki
If this sounds familiar, it should, because this was the exact same adjustment that I had listed for the Thunder before Game 4. In fact, they didn't leave Nowitzki on a few possessions, but late in the game, Nowitzki's defender (Nick Collison) left Nowitzki a few times:
Here, The Thunder are hedging off of Nowitzki and rotating a man from the weakside over to him. This is how the Lakers tried to defend Dirk, and it simply didn't work because Nowitzki has gotten so good at reading that double-team and throwing the skip pass quickly, which is exactly what happens here, leading to the three by Jason Terry.
Sure, Dirk Nowitzki hits a crazy shot here, but the only reason he is in that spot on the court? Because Collison hedged off of Nowitzki, and taking himself out of position to defend Nowitzki on the roll. What makes this even more head-scratching is that Jason Kidd is the ball handler. While he is a great point guard, he isn't going to get by Westbrook, even with a screen from Nowitzki.
Game 5 in my opinion is going to be another tough and close game, and if the Mavericks run this play, you can't leave Nowitzki, let the other players beat you.