Playoff Stat of the Day (6/5): Shot Selection, the Rim, and the Oklahoma City Thunder

May 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket under pressure from San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw (33) during the second half in game two of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT

Oklahoma City Thunder 108 San Antonio Spurs 103: Thunder lead series 3-2

  • Stat: In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s three consecutive wins over the San Antonio Spurs, they’ve shot a combined 47-72 at the rim (65.2%). Over games 1 and 2, the Thunder made 27-59 shots (45.8%) from the same distance.
  • Take: We assumed and hoped coming into the Western Conference Finals that San Antonio and Oklahoma City – the league’s two best offenses during the regular season – would buck typical playoff trends of low-scoring, defense oriented affairs and give us a much needed dose of offensively efficient excitement. And in all five overwhelmingly entertaining games, we’ve been right; OKC has posted an offensive efficiency of at least 100.0 in every contest, while the Spurs have done even better than that each outing save for the game 3 blowout Energy Solutions Arena. So what’s changed? Why was San Antonio on their way to a sweep and playoff history just five days ago, and now facing elimination in tomorrow’s game 6? There are many wrinkles to this series – adjustments to the rotations of each team key among them – but sometimes the game is as simple as it seems on the surface. It’s a make or miss league, the saying goes, and that’s been especially true in the Thunder’s game 3, 4, and 5 wins. Oklahoma City gets to the rim at will thanks to the penetrating ability of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, but didn’t rank among the league’s leaders in attempts from that close during the regular season. When the Thunder got there, though, they were deadly, ranking fourth in the league in FG%. In games 1 and 2 OKC bucked both of those season-long trends, attempting more shots and shooting less accurately than normal. They averaged 29.5 shots at the rim in those losses and made just 13.5 of them, good for a poor percentage of 45.8. Westbrook was especially off his game here, going just 7-17. So while the Thunder were still scoring and doing so efficiently, they weren’t putting up shots and points the way they’re most accustomed to. Instead, they relied on an inordinate number of three pointers and long twos to keep close to San Antonio, plus their normal proficiency at the free throw line. But over the last three games, they’ve reverted to their regular style of shot taking and making. OKC’s gone an average of 15.7-24.0 at the rim since game 2, almost right in line with their regular season mark of 16.4-25.0. And the most encouraging thing about it is that they’ve managed to keep up their accuracy on the long twos Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka take so frequently; they’ve shot at least 52.7% from 16′-23′ over the same period and done so on at least 19 shots. So, basically, the Thunder are back to doing their normal awesome damage in-close and are combining it with more attempts and even better accuracy from mid-range and farther. How do you stop that combination? San Antonio doesn’t know yet, obviously, and if they don’t find out by tomorrow night this series will be over just as quickly as the Thunder were left for dead last week.