There was no need to look for hidden context in Monday’s 122-105 victory by the San Antonio Spurs over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Oklahoma City gave up a season-high 66 points in the paint in its first game without power forward Serge Ibaka, who is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a torn calf muscle.
Without Ibaka to protect the rim, the Thunder are going to have to pick their poison, as it were.
If Oklahoma City chooses to sag into the middle, it leaves 3-point shooters open on the perimeter.
However, the Dallas Mavericks had some success clogging the lane in their first-round series. Not enough success to, you know, actually win the series, but they did have some success gumming things up.
One curious decision by Thunder coach Scott Brooks in Game 1 was not teaming up rookie center Steven Adams and veteran big man Nick Collison, who played well together as Oklahoma City clinched their series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday after Ibaka went down.
Adams and Collison played 17 minutes together in Game 6 against the Clippers and Oklahoma City was 13-for-22 from the floor, 3-for-6 from deep and outscored Los Angeles by 16 points.
That seems pretty good.
So, of course, Brooks chose to not put Adams and Collison on the floor together at all in Game 1 against the Spurs.
Adams spent 10 minutes playing with Kevin Durant when the Thunder tried to go small. That pairing put up a minus-3. When Collison was paired with Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City was minus-7 in 16 minutes and the Thunder shot 9-for-27.
Part of that is that Oklahoma City essentially plays 4-on-5 at the offensive end with Perkins in the lineup.
Now throw in the fact that all 16 of those minutes with the Collison-Perkins pairing included Thabo Sefolosha and what you have for the Thunder is an offensive jugger-not.
I understand that Brooks loves what Sefolosha brings to the Thunder defensively and I understand that Perkins apparently has some sort of incriminating evidence against Brooks (I honestly have no other idea why Perkins would still get 21.2 minutes a game in the postseason otherwise.)
But without Ibaka to protect the rim, the Thunder are almost forced to try and speed the game up, not slow it down. They have two of the premier offensive weapons in the NBA in Durant and Russell Westbrook and what Brooks needs to do if Oklahoma City is to have any hope of staying in this series is to team those two with guys who can score—i.e., Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson—with Adams or Collison to rebound.
Would that group have all sorts of problems defensively? Do ping pong balls love the Cleveland Cavaliers? Of course.
But we all saw what happened when Brooks tried to put a lineup on the floor that could match up with San Antonio defensively—122 points, 66 points in the paint, 57.5 percent from the floor, 52.9 percent from 3-point range for the Spurs.
Could trying to engage San Antonio in an up-and-down, offense-heavy game plan be any worse?
All stats via NBA.com/Stats.