Spurs crush Thunder in paint to win West finals Game 1
May 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Everything was new for the Oklahoma City Thunder in this post-Serge Ibaka life that they had just started to live.
Even the tipoff.
Kevin Durant was ready to assume the role in place of Ibaka, out with a calf injury, and face off with the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at the AT&T Center until center Kendrick Perkins made it clear that he had another plan in place. “I got it,” Durant could be seen telling Perkins before getting moved off his mark.
Perkins won the tip, and the Thunder were on their way. If only all the other adjustments went so well.
The Spurs took the opener 122-105 Monday night because they took full advantage of Ibaka’s absence, racking up a staggering 66 points in the paint against a Thunder team that simply couldn’t find enough counters. Derek Fisher’s long-range game kept them within striking distance early, when Thunder coach Scott Brooks spent so much time flipping through his playbook, now missing the crucial Ibaka pages.
He started veteran big man Nick Collison in Ibaka’s place, only to scrap that approach when the Thunder trailed by 11 points 6 minutes in. He went small as expected and even tried seeing if lanky Durant could find a way to slow Duncan as he had his way down low. But in the end, the Spurs’ machine swallowed them whole like so many had expected.
Duncan finished with 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting, with 21 of his points coming in the first half. The Spurs’ backcourt of Tony Parker, Danny Green and sixth man Manu Ginobili that no longer had to fear Ibaka’s long arms contesting on the perimeter shot 19-for-31 for 48 points. After shooting 44.2% against the Thunder in four regular season losses, the Spurs shot 57.5% from the field in all.
“We always want to try to penetrate,” Parker said. “We always want our ball movement, that’s how we play — kick and pitch and stuff like that. You know, obviously it’s a little bit better with (Ibaka) not being in the paint, but we’re still going to try to penetrate and make stuff happen.”
The Thunder, who stayed alive in large part because of their long-range game (12-for-27 from three-point range), simply couldn’t find a consistent third option on offense.
The Thunder led for the first time midway through the third quarter, when Westbrook’s midrange jumper capped a 17-6 run in which he simply took over and led to Oklahoma City’s 76-75 edge . Westbrook scored 12 points during the run, attacking the rim at will while hitting a three-pointer and assisting Durant on the other five points during that stretch. But the Spurs responded, finishing the quarter on a 14-6 run with Duncan and Ginobili doing most of the damage.
The Thunder looked thrilled to survive the first quarter, as they trailed by as many as 11 points but cut the deficit to 30-27 when their small lineup paid off. Out went Collison and Perkins, and in went point guard Reggie Jackson, small forward Caron Butler, and rookie center Steven Adams to join Durant and Westbrook.
“We’re a no-excuse team,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “Serge is out. He’s not coming back. We have to play better. We have to play better. If we expect to beat one of the best teams in basketball, and a very good offensive team, we have to play and we’re not going to make an excuse.”
Oklahoma City hit its next four shots after a 4-of-15 start from the field, with Butler, Jackson, and later Derek Fisher converting in ways that Collison and Thabo Sefolosha could not early (0-for-5 in the first quarter combined). Fisher made the Spurs pay for a double-team on Durant near the halfcourt line, burying a three near the end of the first quarter. Duncan had 12 first-quarter points, hitting six of seven shots.
The fact that the sellout crowd of Spurs fans was booing as halftime arrived was a good sign for the Thunder, even if they did trail 67-59. They were still in it, even with the curious decision of coach Scott Brooks to play the first four minutes of the second quarter without Durant and Westbrook. Durant sat for nearly six minutes before re-entering, with the Spurs having used a 10-3 run to pull away and Fisher (three three-pointers in four attempts) almost singlehandedly keeping Oklahoma City within reach.
“We don’t believe in moral victories,” Durant said. “Third quarter was obviously our best quarter, but we didn’t close it out well. It’s Game 1, we’ve got to make adjustments and be better for the next game. We’re not taking no moral victories out of it.”
With Ibaka out and the Spurs free to operate without fear down low, San Antonio — which averaged 41.5 points in the paint against the Thunder in four regular season losses — scored 40 of their 67 first half points in the paint. The script, in other words, was playing out just as expected.
Durant guarded Duncan on several possessions out of sheer necessity, trying to slow him with his length but giving up so much when it came to weight and brute force. But Duncan had his way, hitting nine of 12 shots in the first half while Durant had 16 (5-for-7 shooting) and Westbrook had nine (4-for-12).
But Durant was 1 for 4 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the key with Kevin,” Popovich said. “You’re obviously not going to stop him, but making him work hard is certainly the plan. It’s everybody’s plan, no matter who he plays against, they’re going to make him work hard. I thought Kawhi was good, didn’t foul, but I think the team did a nice job behind him, helping him.”