Sudden drop-off for Parker in Game 3


OKLAHOMA CITY -- Now that Serge Ibaka has returned to the playoffs it's time to send out a search party for the San Antonio Spurs.

This 106-97 victory for the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't include the Spurs as we've come to know them.

Where was the intensity and efficiency that brought them victories in six of their previous seven playoff games? With a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs opted to lean back in their chairs rather than crouch down in a defensive stance.

"Maybe we thought that it was OK, and we were going to win here playing so-so," Manu Ginobili said.

What happened to Tony Parker, who went from plus-44 in the first two games to a minus-12 in Game 3?

"I don't know," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said slowly, wearily, deliberately, in a way that suggested he didn't feel like bailing Parker out with any reasonable explanations.

It's not as if Parker sought an escape route. He stood and faced the oncoming traffic, ready to be held accountable for his nine points on 4-for-13 shooting and an even assist-to-turnover ledger of 4:4.

"We didn't play good basketball, and it starts with me," Parker said. "I need to play better.

"I missed shots, I had bad turnovers, and I have to play better."

Parker successfully drew the defense's attention in Game 1 and dished off 12 assists. In Game 2 he sliced his way through the Thunder to score 22 points. His first shot of Game 3 was a missed jumper that was contested by Ibaka on a switch, the first signal that things would be different on this night. Parker missed layups and floaters and pullup jumpers and eventually reached the point where he stopped looking to score even when he was right under the basket.

"We just did a better job of just staying with him, not giving him much space," Russell Westbrook said. "I know he likes a lot of space and likes a lot of free movement, and my job was to stay with him all night long and try to make him feel my body, my size and make him shoot some tough shots."

Parker's drop-off is an ominous sign for the Spurs because it was at the heart of their collapse in the 2012 Western Conference finals. That year, Parker went from scoring 34 points in Game 2 to 16 in Game 3, then shot below 40 percent in Games 4 and 5. By the time he recovered to score 29 points in Game 6 it was too late; the Thunder had been given new life and couldn't be restrained. The machines in the "Terminator" saga had become self-aware. The composition of these two teams isn't exactly the same, but the personalities seem unchanged.

This was the third time the Thunder have dropped the first two games of a series; they've never fallen behind 3-0. And if anything, they were better equipped to approach this particular 2-0 deficit specifically because of the experience they gained from that 2012 series. We always talk about the Miami Heat's ability to shrug off playoff adversity, but we need to take into account the Thunder have won four series in which they've trailed, including both of the previous rounds this year.

The Spurs, meanwhile, have lost three of their past four chances to end a series early, a record that includes losses to Portland in Game 4 last round, to Dallas in Game 6 of the first round and, um, well ... you know.

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