On Monday the San Antonio Spurs took on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs, this game took a similar approach to the Eastern Conference game between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were made to look like an offensive juggernaut against the Heat and the same can be said about the Spurs who prevailed in game 1 with a 122 – 105 victory.
The main talking point heading into the game was Serge Ibaka’s injury and lo and behold he was missed dearly. Scott Brooks has been criticized a lot for not being flexible with his lineups but that was far from true during Monday’s game. Brooks is a good coach and he clearly has this team playing for him, they listen to him and will go to bat for him, however some of his lineups last night didn’t quite work.
As mentioned, Ibaka was sorely missed. Countless times in the game there was easy lane to the basket for the Spurs’ wing players. Brooks tried to counteract this by going small for large parts of the game with Kevin Durant at the 4 or 5 spot. Though the Spurs’ wing players had a field day when they saw this lineup, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard slashed and cut their way to the rim for easy layups. Also there were times when Boris Diaw would take a smaller guard, Russell Westbrook or a Reggie Jackson down on the block and post him up for easy scores. There was a 7-8 minute stretch in the fourth quarter when the Spurs ran away with the game and faced a Thunder lineup of Westbrook, Fisher, Butler, Jackson and Durant.
The Thunder made a run midway through the third quarter and took the lead with a lineup featuring the likes of Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins. However, this lineup also has its flaws which were no clearer than in the opening minutes of the game when Collison had an open jump shot on the first play of the game and missed.
A few plays later Collison had a wide open three-pointer from the corner and totally clanked it against the sideboard. These are shots that Serge Ibaka has routinely been making in these playoffs, another kick in the face to the Thunder and their missing big man. Brooks was forced into making adjustments to cover for Ibaka, some of them just didn’t work. The question is, is he able to adjust once more in time for Game Two on Wednesday night?
42 minutes played in 12 of the opening 13 playoffs games and another 41 minutes on Monday night, these are the kind of minutes we’ve been seeing from the MVP Kevin Durant. With about ten minutes to go in the game, with the ‘w’ still within reach, Hall Of Famer Reggie Miller said that the Slim Reaper looked tired from having to guard one of the Spurs’ big men for long periods of the game and for playing such extended minutes during these playoffs. KD is young and he will have enough energy in the tank to get through these playoffs but Scott Brooks needs to be careful. Durant needs stretches where he can be hidden defensively to reserve some of his energy for the offensive end.
Durant still had a great stat line, 28 points, 9 boards and 5 assists. However, just as Miller remarked on Durant’s fatigue, he lost concentration for a split second while guarding Kawhi Leonard who put a Tony Parker-esque spin move on Durant for an easy layup. Durant knows better than anyone else that these lapses in concentration are punished in the playoffs and are punished tenfold by the Spurs.
As mentioned, the Spurs’ offense was out in full force last night for all to see. The thing people need to understand is the Spurs never stop moving offensively. They don’t have option A,B and C, they just keep sitting picks and moving the ball until they find the open man or the best shot possible. Scott Brooks said it best:
“They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time.”
No matter who is on the floor, the Spurs make quick snappy decisions that benefit the team as a whole. There is no over celebrating, or some stupid celebration every time a player makes a three; they just execute and play beautiful and solid basketball.
Game 2 is on Wednesday and the Thunder could find themselves down 2-0, though they can take solace in the fact that in 2012 they came back from the same deficit…but that time they had James Harden and, more importantly, Serge Ibaka.
Aodán Mitchell, Pundit Arena.