There are 100’s of different ways to look at a series like the current one. Instead of looking at what’s happened so far let’s take a look at things from the point of view of the other two teams left in the West. The big questions to examine are at this point in the year what types of team do contenders want to face in a series. More specifically, if you were either Dallas or Phoenix whom would you want to win the Seattle/San Antonio series. Conventional wisdom would assume that the other conference finalist would want to play the lower seeded team which would give them the best opportunity to advance. In this particular series I am not sure that I agree with that line of thinking. There’s little doubting that both of these teams are very good, very disciplined and will cause the other conference finalist problems. However, there are a couple factors which I believe make San Antonio a more effective opponent for other teams than the Sonics.
First and foremost the Spurs have not shown that they are an overly adaptable team. Through nine playoff games the only significant change they made was the insertion of Brent Barry into the starting lineup for Manu Ginobili. While this was a significant change it did not do much in terms of minute breakdown other than put Barry in at the start. Last night Pop did reinsert Ginobili back in at half but to little avail. In reality that move is not much more than an aesthetic change as it does little to change there overall game plan. The Spurs have not done much to change up there offense or defense sets even though it has become apparent that the Sonics have done a nice job exploiting weakness in them.
Seattle on the other hand due to injuries and foul trouble has had to find other means of getting the job done. After falling down 2-0 Seattle came back and went to what got them this far, the pick and roll. In game three it worked to perfection with Lewis drawing the weak side defender out of the key and Jerome had the entire middle open on rolls. So what happens in game four? Lewis is hurt and the coaches insert Daniels into the starting lineup taking away the three point threat and allowing the Spurs to have the extra defender in the paint to control that middle P&R. Quickly Seattle adjusts and with Daniels, Ridnour and Allen leading the charge they completely change the offense from getting all the way to the rim like they were in game three to hitting the midrange jump shot. San Antonio’s goals for the next game has to be to take that midrange game away from Seattle, but how do they do that, protect the three and the rim?
Second, while SA plays a fairly physical style of ball, that is nothing compared to what Seattle has been employing the last two games as well as during the Kings series. If I am looking at teams to watch out for in the playoffs I would always look to avoid the guys that set the tone with physical play. Seattle’s depth along with the style they employ makes it difficult to ever get them in a position where they don’t have 2 very aggressive front court players out there. If I am Dallas or Phoenix I want to keep Amare and Dirk as far away from Fortson, Evans, James, Collison and Potapenko as possible, even if that means having to match up with the Spurs in the next round.
All this being said I don’t really believe it has any effect on how the series plays out. Both teams have had great runs this year and both teams are worthy of winning this series. Where it goes from here will be decided on the court and nowhere else. But there are some interesting core values this Sonics team brings that make them a very dangerous playoff team. Not knowing where the offense is coming from, where the defensive rotations are coming from and most importantly being certain that you will come out of a series with a team a little more bruised and battered has to be taken into effect.
If I were a coach I’d have to think long and hard about which team I’d rather face. Do I want to face the team with the dominant interior player and two excellent playmakers at guard but who lack toughness in there depth? Or would I rather face the team with two stars on the wing that can beat you tons of different ways and with role players who accept what the coaches have told them and will extract a toll on my own players?
Just something to think about as the playoffs move along.