The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs (2013 conference champions) thumped the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (2012 conference champions) 122-105 to open the Western Conference Finals on Monday at the AT&T Center in both clubs pursuit to return to the NBA Finals.
With the win, San Antonio has now won 10 straight Game 1s during the playoffs. The Spurs began where they left off when the silver and black defeated the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in five games with a ridiculous 67-point first half.
Meanwhile OKC, who got by the Los Angeles Clippers a day later in six games, fell to 0-4 on the road during Game 1s and has lost 11 consecutive away postseason series openers since their days as the Seattle SuperSonics.
Both squads had been taken to seven games during the first round. However two rounds have taken their toll. While the silver and black appear to be gaining belief in each playoff series, the Thunder took a major blow last Thursday at L.A., losing Serge Ibaka, who is expected to be out for the remainder of the postseason due to suffering a calf injury.
Tim Duncan Makes Most Of Ibaka Not Protecting The Paint
According to ESPN Stats & Information, per 48 minutes Oklahoma City had outscored playoff foes by 5.7 points with Serge on the court as well as averaged 103.8 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting. While Ibaka was on the bench the Thunder were outscored by 2.1 points, scored 95.5 PPG and shot 41.9 percent this postseason.
Serge, who had career-highs of 15.1 PPG and 8.8 rebounds per game, tallied 12.2 points, 7.3 boards and 2.2 blocks during OKC’s first 13 playoff contests. Ibaka’s (led the NBA for the fourth straight year in rejections) presence was sorely missed inside with Duncan scoring 21 of his 27 points (20 came inside) during the first half.
San Antonio had a 40-18 advantage at the break in the lane and finished with a 66-32 edge in the key. The Thunder tried everything from starting Nick Collison (0 points) to putting Kevin Durant (28 points) at power forward and center, but Oklahoma City’s lack of a rim protector was evident.
Tony Parker, dealing with a hamstring injury, was content with being a decoy racking up 12 assists, two behind his point total on 12 shots. The Big Fundamental and Parker were big parts in the Spurs’ living in the paint.
With Serge roaming the lane the Thunder gave up 39.4 and 42.4 PPG inside the key during the regular season and postseason. Want more proof OKC’s better with Ibaka?
Per 100 possessions against the silver and black this year (not counting Game 1) with Serge on the floor the Thunder allowed 93.0 PPG and without him allowed 120.8 PPG. After two jump shots fell early San Antonio scored 18 straight points inside the paint concluding with a Duncan layup with 3:20 to go to make the score 22-13.
With Timmy and Tony receiving so many of the accolades, it’s easy to forget the Spurs have another future Hall of Famer in Ginobili. Missing for much of the Portland series from an offensive standpoint Manu was able relocate his shooting veracity.
The Argentine was 7-of-12 from the field for 18 points including nailing 3-of-4 from deep. Ginobili only had two boards and three dimes.
Strangely Manu didn’t find the bottom of the net until the middle of the third period when his 3-pointer pushed San Antonio ahead 75-68. The Spurs led by 11 15 seconds into the quarter on Green’s 3.
Oklahoma City however kept coming aided by stops to reclaim the advantage 76-75 with 5:09 left on a Russell Westbrook (scored 12 of his 25 points during the third period) jumper. The two sides traded leads before an Argentine floater, which helped San Antonio end the quarter on a 12-2 spurt, got a friendly bounce.
The Spurs were never threatened again scoring the first six points to begin the fourth. Leonard’s spin-cycle layup on Durant and by Steven Adams (4 points) was the punctuation Gregg Popovich desired to get his team as he called “out of the mud” explaining a rugged third period.
The Thunder outscored San Antonio 23-22 during the third. The three Spurs role players, if you can still really call Ginobili that, were instrumental throughout. Complementing Manu’s 18 points were Danny (the visitors shot 2-of-16 from the field against him) and Kawhi each adding 16 on 6-of-7 and 7-of-16 shooting.
Game 2 Adjustments: How Will OKC And San Antonio React To Monday’s Outcome?
The Spurs had been 0-4 versus the Thunder this year until Game 1′s result. Now what’s in store? Will Oklahoma City try more small lineups to speed up the tempo?
Without Ibaka the Thunder don’t have the same rim protection with Adams, Collison and Kendrick Perkins (five points). Going small may force San Antonio to do the same.
Can the MVP play power forward or center as he did for moments Monday even longer? If so, do the Spurs stay with Leonard on him or do they shift Boris Diaw (nine points) to Durant and move Kawhi over to Westbrook?
So many questions leading to so many answers. Thankfully for OKC and San Antonio both sides will have three days to recuperate before slugging it out Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Before we get to Game 3 we have Wednesday’s contest to see what changes if any Scott Brooks and Pop will make following Game 1. In a series where many matchups are fun to gaze at, the most important matchup for Game 2 will be coaching.
Popovich didn’t show his hand much during the regular season and it paid dividends on Monday. Now it’s Brooks’ turn to counter not having Serge’s defensive presence. The Thunder will try to keep the Spurs out of the lane. If Oklahoma City converges too much, though, on the French point guard and others who penetrate the key that leaves 3-point shooters open. San Antonio made 9-of-17 from deep during Game 1.
The Thunder have the experience of winning four straight over the Spurs during the 2012 playoffs after being down 0-2 to fall back on, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice so OKC would be wise to get a split in San Antonio Wednesday if the Thunder are going to return to the NBA Finals.