Like a fisherman standing in the east coast of Japan, the San Antonio Spurs are staring disaster right in the face, even if they are the betting on basketball favorites (-145) versus the OKC Thunder for game 6 of their series on Thursday. That night, their season could end as abruptly as an aposiopetic sentence. The Spurs have defended Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant as well as any is ever going to, but those two must have enabled the NBA Jam “always on fire” cheat code, because the Thunder lead the series 3-2 and may wrap things up at Cheesecake Energy Arena.
The Spurs’ defensive plans are based on a platform of choice – much like online betting is a matter of choice too. More often than not in this series, the Spurs have chosen between letting Westbrook score from a distance, or allowing him to drive into the paint and score easy lay-ups. That’s how flexible their defense – not very effective, but flexible. The problem lies in the fact that even intentional fouls won’t stop Westbrook, as Kawhi Leonard learned in game 5. Speaking of said game, instead of positioning Leonard to challenge either Westbrook or Durant, San Antonio’s coaching staff slotted him to ignore Andre Roberson in the corner and function as a constant, roving help.
That move hurt Roberson’s feelings and allowed the Spurs to maintain their pressure on Durant and Westbrook. However, there will be a handful of possessions every game in which Durant is going to make it look like he’s being guarded by a bunch of jockeys. In Westbrook’s case, the Thunder point guard blows by his on-ball defender as often as anyone in the NBA. His crossover is Tim Hardaway-esque. The threat of his pull-up can lure opponents astray like the Pied Piper. Give him an inch and Westbrook will be on his way to the hoop. Foul him and he still gets past – with a little help from the officials.
But what really happened in game 5, in addition to people betting on basketball being let down by San Antonio, is a bit of a Catch 22. The Spurs’ defense is at its best with Tim Duncan on the court, which is also – and not coincidentally – when their offense is at its worst. Ergo, coach Greg Popovich can’t keep Duncan in too long because his offensive suffers, but by taking him out he undermines his own defensive gameplay. In summary, betting on basketball defense while neglecting offense is no way to play this game, and is also why the Thunder might just upset online betting odds and deprive the world from that highly expected Warriors-Spurs. I for one can live with that.