Thunder journal: Roberson’s defense on Leonard keys Thunder bounceback in Game 2
SAN ANTONIO — In the hall on the way to his postgame press conference, Billy Donovan stopped briefly to drop a joke on a reporter.
“No major lineup changes,” Donovan said smiling before walking off.
The lineup change in question came from Donovan's cryptic comments on Monday when asked about Andre Roberson's role in the starting lineup's success this season. Said Donovan in reference to Roberson as the starting shooting guard: “There's times when you go against specific teams and you look at different teams and it's maybe not that great.”
Then when asked about his starters for Game 2 against San Antonio coming off a 32-point drubbing in Game 1, Donovan wouldn't reveal any changes.
Turns out, sticking with Roberson was the right plan. The third-year guard was tremendous on San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard in the Thunder's 98-97 win over the Spurs in Game 2.
After Leonard scored 25 points in Game 1 on 10-of-13 shooting, Roberson combined with Dion Waiters to force him into 14 points on 7-of-18 shooting (38 percent).
“We just wanted to come out and make them feel us,” Roberson said. “We feel like they got a lot of easy things last game, and we just wanted to make an adjustment to be more aggressive and physical.”
Leonard was powering to the rim with an eye on cutting the Thunder's lead to seven in the third quarter, and Roberson was having none of it. He cut Leonard's angle to the basket, forcing the Spurs star to try some unorthodox trickery: A behind-the-back change of hands that led to a Roberson foul.
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Call it a “win” for the Spurs on the play, but a victory overall for Roberson on a night when the Thunder needed his defensive chops to disrupt Leonard. Heading into Game 2, Roberson didn't forget Leonard running freely down the lane for the Spurs' first points of Game 1 on a running dunk.
Thunder center Steven Adams called Roberson's work on Leonard “brilliant.”
“They have one of the hardest jobs,” Adams said of Roberson and Waiters defending Leonard. “They did a hell of a job because they made them take tough shots. Keeping him left. Sick.”
Leonard attacked when Roberson was on the bench. With Roberson out of the game at 3:41 in the third and the Thunder electing to go small with an Anthony Morrow-Waiters-Cameron Payne backcourt, Leonard cut baseline for a reverse layup to cut the Spurs' deficit to 77-74.
Roberson came back in to start the fourth quarter. And when Leonard returned in at 9:40, Roberson recorded his third steal of the game on him, leading to a Kevin Durant jumper on the other end.
Donovan pulled Roberson at 6:11 and Leonard immediately attacked Waiters in the post for a bucket to cut the Thunder lead to 85-84. Roberson was in the closest chair to assistant Anthony Grant, sitting then standing, then pacing, then sitting again. He wouldn't get back in the game.
Even as he watched the final half of the fourth quarter from the bench, his work on Leonard done for the night, Roberson believed in Waiters' ability to keep up. Waiters acquitted himself with two monster plays on Leonard: Staying with the bigger Leonard on a drive and pullup followed by a Waiters rebound, then standing Leonard up and forcing a missed 3-point shot with 48.9 seconds left, the Thunder clinging to a three-point lead.
“I've got all the confidence in the world in Dion,” Roberson said. “… to go out there, hold him down, limits his touches. He did a great job down the stretch.”
Roberson did a great job on Leonard from the beginning.
ODDS DOWN FOR OKC
After a 32-point loss in Game 1, the Thunder's odds of winning the championship dropped to 25-to-1, according to bovada.lv.
The sports betting website originally listed the Thunder as 10-to-1 favorites on April 14.
Pregame.com upped the Thunder to 15-to-1 favorites after Golden State's Stephen Curry suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee last week. Golden State is the 11/10 favorite, followed by San Antonio (7/4), Cleveland (10/3) and OKC.
WHAT WESTBROOK'S WEARING
Russell Westbrook actually showed up in Spurs colors, dressed relatively conservative compared to what we've seen: A black vintage T-shirt with “RAMONES” on the front in white and a photo of the 1970s New York City punk rock group, a white string belt, black and white ripped pants and black hightops.
The Thunder, meanwhile, went back to its traditional road blues with “Oklahoma City” on the front, a diversion from its Navy alternates it wore in Game 1.
DURANT ON DRAKE
Canadian rapper and Toronto Raptors ambassador Drake doesn't just make allusions to Durant in his new song “Weston Road Flows,” he drops Oklahoma City Thunder and No. 35 references.
What does Durant think of it?
“It was a good song. Much more than my named dropped, but it was a good song,” said Durant, who's become friends with Drake, even attending his concerts. “It's something that kinda surprised me.
“When your favorite rapper puts your name in a song it makes you feel like you made it, so it was cool.”
Durant recruiters were out in force. A man wore a customized “Miami Heat 2013 NBA Champions” shirt and held a “Durant to Heat?” sign, showing it off next to a Spurs fan with a “KD to Spurs: Can't beat them join them” sign.
The Thunder hosts the Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday in Game 3 (8:30 p.m., ESPN).