The Western Conference Finals did not start the way they were hoping as OKC lost to the Spurs 122-105. It was an all-around domination by San Antonio, with the Thunder never leading by more than two. There wasn’t much the Thunder could do to slow down the Spurs who shot 57.5% as a team.
The Spurs were finding their way to the basket and scoring at will all night long. Both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were able to get by the OKC perimeter defenders and in to the lane to get easy layups as well as create for teammates.
From the tip Tim Duncan was taking advantage of the Thunder’s depleted lineup by taking over in the first quarter. He was 6-7 for 12 points in his 8 first quarter minutes. He was able to set the tone for the entire game by putting the Spurs out front early.
The Thunder was never able to get in to a groove offensively and defensively at the same time. They didn’t have any trouble scoring the ball during the game but they couldn’t come up with stops when they needed them. It was clear that the absence of Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup had a major impact in the game. The OKC perimeter defenders rely heavily on taking risks, hoping to cause turnovers that lead to transition buckets. What makes Ibaka so special for the Thunder is his ability to clean up the mistakes made when the perimeter players take risks. He is able to help off of his matchup to block or alter the shots of opposing drivers. Without him in the lineup, there was often miscommunication and flat out missed opportunities for Thunder defenders to challenge shots in the lane.
Another issue with the Thunder’s defense was the inability to find continuity in the rotations. With Ibaka out Scott Brooks was forced to try out some new lineups. There were even times when Kevin Durant was playing center. Lineups like these give the Thunder an advantage offensively but leave them vulnerable on defense. Nick Collison and Steven Adams did their best to bring energy on the defensive end but they were unable to fill the shoes of Ibaka, as the Thunder blocked only three shots as a team in the game.
One player that somewhat surprisingly didn’t see much playing time was Perry Jones. He has the size, athleticism, and versatility to help the Thunder play these smaller lineups. He can match up with some of the bigger Spurs on the floor and bring some physicality that Kevin Durant simply can’t. Playing Jones would also help keep Durant fresh for late game situations as he was obviously worn out in the fourth quarter scoring only 3 points on 1-4 shooting.
The main concern for the Thunder offensively was once again turnovers. Something that has been a problem all year for OKC is once again haunting them in the playoffs. It isn’t just the turnovers, but the type of turnovers. Every team is going to have them but the Thunder often choose the worst time to hand the ball over and do it in some of the worst ways. Multiple times in game one Russell Westbrook drove hard in to the lane, ran in to trouble and threw it almost straight back to the top of the key. With Westbrook moving so fast and throwing the ball back where he came from, it is hard to read the lane and get a good feel for where the defender is relative to the target. Those passes are often intercepted and lead to easy buckets because there is nobody back to slow down the fast break.
It wasn’t all bad for the Thunder on Monday night. Russell Westbrook was able to get to the basket fairly easily as well as get to the free throw line. Durant was shooting the ball well all night but never seemed to get in to rhythm, which shouldn’t be an issue in the upcoming games. The Thunder also got good production from Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher, showing that along with Westbrook the guard matchup is one that they should be able to take advantage of all series long.
Although game one was not the start the Thunder were hoping for, they know that it is a long series and they will not give up easily. Now trailing the Spurs 1-0 in the series, game two will be crucial for the Thunder. They will be hoping to get a split on the road and head back home with momentum. If they are able to come out and play Thunder basketball, particularly on defense, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.