While Serge Ibaka's absence from the Spurs-Thunder series has clearly helped San Antonio gain an early 2-0 series lead, it's not the only reason the Thunder are losing.
Tony Parker has outplayed Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson in the first two games of the series. Period. And the point guard battle has been a key factor in the season series and playoff series thus far between the two Western Conference foes.
As the Thunder swept the Spurs 4-0 in the season series, they won the point guard battle in every game. Whether it was Westbrook, Jackson, or a combination of the two, the Thunder points outplayed Parker.
|Season Series||Total Points||Total Assists||Total +/-||Avg. ORtg||Avg. DRtg|
It's not hard to see that the Thunder dominated Parker. Even when Parker put up 37 points on 14 for 22 shooting in the January matchup, Reggie Jackson played even better as he scored 27 points on 12 for 17 shooting to go with 8 assists.
Parker struggled to keep the combination of Westbrook and Jackson in check. As a matter of fact, Westbrook dished out the same number of assists as Parker in one less game. (Westbrook sat out due to his knee injury)
Let's look at the first 2 games of the playoff series.
|Games 1 & 2||Total Points||Total Assists||Total +/-||Avg. ORtg||Avg. DRtg|
Parker has really dominated the point play. He only has one less assist than Westbrook and Jackson combined, and he's playing much better defensively than he did in the regular season. Both Jackson and Westbrook have had their share of struggles. But can they turn it around and put together some wins in OKC?
There are some signs of promise for the OKC point guard duo as the series goes on. In Game 1, both Westbrook and Jackson shot pretty well from the floor at 9 for 21 and 6 for 11, respectively. However, both saw their point totals drop off in the second game. Westbrook struggled from the floor, going 7 for 24. Jackson only ended up with 8 points but did shoot an efficient 4 for 7 from the field. We can't be certain whether it was just an off night for Westbrook or whether Parker and the Spurs tightened up their defense. The regular season numbers would suggest the former rather than the latter.
It's hard to imagine that the Thunder point guards won't get back to numbers similar to those they put up in the regular season series. Their domination of the regular season matchups was incredible. However, Head Coach Scott Brooks may want to make an adjustment.
Reggie Jackson was just as, if not more effective than, Westbrook against Tony Parker in the regular season. I would suggest that Brooks gives Jackson some more minutes - especially early in the contest - to see if he can get it going offensively. Jackson has played 26 and 28 minutes respectively in Game 1 and 2, largely due to Derek Fisher's spike in minutes. If he was given the opportunity he was given in the regular season, who knows what could happen with the kind of numbers he posted against the Spurs in throughout the year.
Jackson could help neutralize the three-point force that has been Danny Green. Jackson shot 8 for 11 from three against the Spurs during the regular season series, but he is only 1 for 3 so far in the current series. The Thunder need to get him going and quick. It would definitely be to their advantage.
As for Westbrook - he's got to keep doing what he's doing. He's been aggressive in Games 1 and 2, but his aggressiveness has gone unrewarded. Like I said, his individual performance in Game 1 was pretty good, but he struggled shooting in Game 2. Aggression is Russ's game, and he must push the ball, finish at the rim and look to create for others off the dribble. The shooting will come. During this year's playoffs, Westbrook has shot 47% from the field at home while shooting 37% on the road. The Thunder's return to OKC could do Russ a lot of good.
If the Thunder can't win the point guard battle, I'm not sure if they can win a game in this series. But as the numbers suggest, I would bet that Russ and Jackson get back on track and play level with, or better than, Parker going forward in this series. It'll be fun to watch.