May 27, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (center) reacts after being called for charging against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half in game one of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT

Thunder-Spurs Game 1: Going small costs OKC Thunder a chance to steal one


The Oklahoma City Thunder led 71-62 after three quarters in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in San Antonio. They had a great chance to steal one on the road and blew it.

The Spurs outscored the Thunder 39-27 in the fourth as they made a ton of their field goals at the rim.

Serge Ibaka only played 22 minutes in the game and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. Scott Brooks decided to go small more than usual and it ended up costing the Thunder the game.

The obvious adjustment as the Spurs were coming back in the fourth was to bring Ibaka back in. When the other team is relentlessly getting shots at the rim, you bring in the best shot blocker in the NBA.

The Thunder defense is much worse when they go small with Kevin Durant at the four. The only reason Brooks likes to go small is that he feels their offense improves with Durant at the four but that wasn’t the case last night either.

The Thunder became stagnant down the stretch as Russell Westbrook and James Harden did not have it going. The offense turned into nothing but isolation for Durant and while he was forced to play the entire second half and try and be the guy rotating over all the time on defense it just became too much.

The Thunder also had nine offensive rebounds in the first half and none in the second. As they weren’t hitting their shots, another reason to come back with Ibaka would have been to help crash the glass.

One of the possible reasons why Brooks elected to remain with the small lineup may have been because San Antonio was playing small with a lineup of Parker-Neal-Ginobili-Jackson-Duncan. That means Ibaka would have had to match up with a spot-up shooter, either Neal or Jackson, and Brooks maybe didn’t like the idea of that.

In a series, when one team is dictating lineup decisions or style of play, it always bodes well for that team. It would have been tough to cover all of the shooters with Ibaka on the floor with Kendrick Perkins but the Spurs would have had to adjust on the other end of the floor too. The Thunder were going to sacrifice something in this matchup no matter what.

People are going to point to Perkins being on the floor instead of Ibaka but that really wasn’t the problem. Perkins is a better post defender than Ibaka and that’s why Brooks had him out there instead.

Nick Collison may have been a better choice than Perkins to some as well but they give up a lot of rebounding when Collison is in so that totally would not have solved their problem either.

Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha were the ones getting run instead of Ibaka. Fisher and Sefolosha both had good nights and that is also possibly why Brooks was okay staying with them.

The Thunder’s best lineup to close games is one we rarely see. It’s the obvious Durant-Westbrook-Harden trio with Ibaka and Collison. Instead, the Thunder are usually either small with Fisher or Perkins instead of Collison.

The Spurs run more pick-and-rolls than almost anyone and having the best pick-and-roll defenders on the floor is really important if the Thunder are going to win this series. Collison is the best at defending the pick-and-roll and Ibaka is the best at coming over for weak side blocks.

The Thunder are capable of winning this series but last night we didn’t really see the Thunder. That’s why it’s hard to take this Game 1 completely serious. Sure, the Spurs executed great down the stretch but we knew they would. It’s all about how the Thunder combat the Spurs’ offense.

They dropped the ball in Game 1 remaining small and it cost them an extremely important game. Without home court, the Thunder will have to win at least one in San Antonio to win the series.

If they can steal Game 2 then they’d need to win three straight against the Spurs if they also plan to protect home court. The Spurs have now won a franchise-best 19 straight games and haven’t lost since April 11.

It’s easy to overreact after one game in a series and it’s easy to have a hard time imagining a team adjusting well enough to win right after a loss.

The Thunder have the tools though. This team has surprised all year long with their growing maturity and path toward becoming a champion. Winning Game 2 in San Antonio is part of them taking the next step.

Tags: Game 1 James Harden Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant Manu Ginobili Nick Collison Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook San Antonio Spurs Serge Ibaka Tim Duncan Tony Parker Western Conference Finals

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