OKLAHOMA CITY - As Manu Ginobili was finishing up his answer to a reporter’s question, Tony Parker walked up behind him, put both hands on his shoulders and provided his teammate an escape.
“Great job, Manu,’’ Parker said, having heard hardly a word of Ginobili’s five-minute, question-and-answer session.
After losing for the first time since mid-April, it was time for the San Antonio Spurs to face an entirely different set of questions Friday with their Western Conference finals lead over Oklahoma City cut to 2-1.
No longer was the talk about whether the Spurs - riding a 20-game winning streak less than 24 hours earlier - were invincible. It was about how San Antonio could regroup following a 102-82 blowout loss in time to face Game 4 in Oklahoma City on Saturday night.
“Usually it’s easier to refocus after a loss than after a win. Players usually have a tendency after winning a few games to relax or feel complacent. In the past, we’ve reacted really well to wins. We’ll see now how we do against losses,’’ said Ginobili, held to 8 points in Game 3 after totaling 46 through the first two games. “Even if we react well, it’s a tough place to win and they are a great team.’’
The Thunder limited the output of San Antonio’s best backcourt players by deploying 6-foot-7-inch Thabo Sefolosha to use his 5-inch height advantage and wingspan to corral Parker, and by changing up their defense on the Spurs’ pick-and-roll attack.
Oklahoma City players who had been guarding the ball frequently switched to defend the screener, and vice versa. After scoring a postseason-best 120 points in Game 2 and averaging 109.4 during the winning streak, San Antonio was held to a season-low 82 points in Game 3.
“They’re doing a lot of switching. They’re doing a lot of those, so they’re ending up with a lot of different guys on a lot of different guys,’’ Spurs star Tim Duncan said. “We’re going to have to take advantage of that. We’ve got to use the mismatches that we get from that, and Tony and Manu will be expecting those kind of switches and understand that they have to attack it a different way.’’
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks refused to pinpoint any of his adjustments as the difference-maker in what could be a momentum-changing win. He put more emphasis on his players giving maximum effort and executing all of the defensive plans.
The changes got the Spurs out of that free-flowing offensive game, and Ginobili and Parker suggested San Antonio ended up playing too much one-on-one and without enough aggression.
“There are some ways to try to make them pay a little bit more, so hopefully we find them and we have a clearer mind to read the situations better,’’ Ginobili said.