By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The first two games of the Thunder-Spurs series were vastly different but one thing remained the same.
LaMarcus Aldridge again torched whatever defender the Thunder threw at him.
So now one of the big questions moving toward tonight’s Game 3 is do the Thunder try to change things up? Bring more help to try to cool Aldridge off? Or since he was really the only Spurs player who had offensive success against OKC do you just live with what Aldridge gets and keep working to put a lid on everyone else?
“Listen, they’re really, really a hard team to guard offensively,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan admitted after Thursday’s practice. “Our guys have done a good job I think of trying to defend Aldridge as best we can.”
Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams have drawn the assignment most often in the first two games and neither has had success. In 15 minutes of one-on-one matchups with Ibaka, Aldridge has gone 19-for-24 (79 percent) and 1-for-1 on threes. Against Adams he’s gone 10-for-12 (83 percent) and also 1-for-1 on threes. Kevin Durant is the only Thunder player having any success at all, Aldridge hasn’t hit a shot against KD, but he’s only attempted two and the pair have gone against each other 1-on-1 for only 54 seconds.
And it’s not like the bulk of Aldridge’s shots have been wide-open. Most have been contested and some quite closely. In those cases, as Durant said this week, “You just gotta pat him on the ass and say good shot.”
A couple things make Aldridge a tough cover.
“The first thing is you don’t wanna foul him,” Donovan said.
In six playoff games Aldridge is 21-for-22 at the line, that’s about as automatic as you can get. So if you foul him, he’s most likely gonna score anyway.
The other thing is Aldridge has really developed his game, especially when he’s using his off hand.
“He’s made a couple tough, lefty, jump hooks,” Donovan noted. “Those are tough shots. “When you’re a right-handed player and you’re being forced away from your string hand and you’ve got your back to the basket and you’re turning and making that shot...that’s not easy. That’s a hard shot so give him credit.”
The Thunder have come with help at times and probably will again tonight, maybe even more help, but Durant wouldn’t give any clues (and he shouldn’t) to inquiring media minds.
“I won’t tell you exactly what we’re gonna do...but coach has been so good at making adjustments throughout the games that we just gotta trust him.”
Donovan wouldn’t get into specifics of any possible changes either but did give some insight into what he’s thinking about and concerned about when deciding whether to go with single coverage or a double team.
“The biggest thing for us is we’ve just gotta make it as hard as we can on him. We’ve got to double-team him in the right situations and try to maybe keep him off balance a little bit.”
But on the other hand…
“You’ve got Patty Mills out there, you have Kawhi Leonard out there, you’ve got Danny Green out there. So yeah you can start taking (Aldridge) away but all of a sudden it opens up threes, drives and a lot of other things.”
Also you have to think that maybe, just maybe Aldridge will turn human again. These first two games against OKC he’s hitting 75 percent of his shots (33-for-44) and averaging a stunning 39.5 points a game. In San Antonio’s four game series against the injury depleted Memphis Grizzlies he was 24-for-47 (51 percent) and averaged 14.5 points.
“Certainly we don’t wanna give him easy baskets,” Donovan said, “But he’s played great.”
That was a huge problem for the Thunder in Game 1 when those other Spurs were hitting shots, but not as much in Game 2 when Andre Roberson contained Leonard to just 14 points (fewest this season when playing at least 35 minutes) on 7-for-18 shooting, Tim Duncan went 1-for-8 and Green was just 3-for-11.
The Thunder will have to keep putting the brakes on the rest of the Spurs while they rev their own motors on offense in order to put enough pressure on the Spurs to force them into playing the kind of game they’d rather not have to play.