The NBA Playoffs took another turn Thursday night when the Oklahoma City Thunder ended the San Antonio Spurs' seemingly endless winning streak. They did it in an in interesting way, too, showing that a really good defense can foil an otherwise effective offense.
The Spurs had been running their motion offense to perfection over their 20-game winning streak, and after the Thunder were destroyed by it in the first two games, they figured out the correct counter-action: swarming defense. It's easier said than done, of course, but SB Nation's Welcome To Loud City did a pretty solid job of explaining what allowed the Thunder to avoid a sweep.
The Spurs committed 21 turnovers against the OKC perimeter defensive pressure. More importantly, the Spurs' two primary ball handlers, Parker and Ginobili, had 5 and 4, respectively. OKC did a phenomenal job in defending these two players both in denying easy access to the lane as well as cutting off passing angles so that the Spurs could not find open shooters. While Parker still shot the ball well (6-12), his attempts were down by 9 from a game ago, as he wasn't getting nearly as many good looks at the rim. Ginobili fared even worse - he only took 5 shots on the night, making 1, and was held to 8 points.
Both players' offenses are predicated on keeping their defenders off-balance by way of their threat to pass the ball. They may not rack up as many individual assists as, say, Chris Paul, but quite often their passes off of drives serve as "hockey assists," or the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score. However, with no lanes to pass through, the kickout passes were minimized and they ended up driving into a sea of OKC big men.
A lot of the credit should go to Thabo Sefolosha, as he was heroic on that end of the floor (but only one of many solid adjustments Scott Brooks employed for Game 3), but it was an all-around effort that allowed Oklahoma City to disrupt San Antonio's stellar offense.
Whether they're able to pull off that feat again in Game 4 is still up for debate, but for at least one night, the Thunder were able to prove that great defense is able to negate a good offense.
For more on the Spurs, be sure to visit Pounding the Rock; for the Thunder, Welcome to Loud City. And for news, analysis and everything else revolving around the NBA Playoffs, be sure to visit SB Nation's NBA page.