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Spurs 101, Thunder 98

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 28, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday's Game 1 loss at San Antonio.

  • The story of this game was the fourth quarter. The Thunder couldn't get a stop and couldn't make a shot. The Spurs, on the other hand, sizzled. San Antonio got just about whatever it wanted with relative ease to storm back to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat and salvage its home-court advantage
  • The Thunder entered the fourth quarter ahead by nine at 71-62. But the wheels fell off for OKC about as quick as they possibly could. You could sense it when Tiago Splitter got back-to-back layups in the first minute of the fourth. His scores came too easily, too quickly. With them, Splitter immediately swung the momentum to the Spurs' side, and the game just snowballed for the Thunder from there.
  • San Antonio scored an unbelievable 39 points in the fourth quarter. That's insane for a playoff game. And it can't be too far from whatever the record is for points scored in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.
  • Thunder coach Scott Brooks: "We take a lot of pride in our defense in the fourth quarter and we gave up 39 points...Over 30 points in the fourth quarter is not good enough to win."
  • The Spurs were 12-of-16 in the fourth quarter. That kind of says it all.
  • Before two meaningless 3-pointers by James Harden in the final four seconds, the Thunder was 5-of-14 in the fourth quarter. And OKC had four turnovers in the final frame. Thus, when it mattered, the Thunder had one more made field goal than turnovers. Ball game.
  • Manu Ginobili, that other lefty, was the player of the game. He scored 11 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, made nine of 14 shots, went 3-for-5 from deep and 5-for-5 from the stripe and added five rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes. The Thunder didn't have an answer for him tonight, sort of getting a taste of its own medicine. Like the Thunder has done to so many other teams, the Spurs saw two of their big three have sub par nights but got a big-time performance from the third leg of their tripod and rode him to a win.
  • This has got to be a gut-wrenching loss for the Thunder. Every player knew they let one slip away. A nine-point fourth quarter lead, on the road, in a game you had to have to snatch home-court advantage. You can only shake your head after the way the Thunder tightened up and blew this one. It was there for the taking, and the Thunder couldn't take it. It's the same old story when these two teams meet. If I didn't know better, I'd say this has the potential to be pretty demoralizing.
  • Hey, look on the bright side. The Thunder is 16-3 this season after a loss.
  • OK, back to the brutal reality of this loss for a moment. Two things about this defeat would be truly disturbing if I was a Thunder fan. 1) OKC played great for most of the night. Harden and Russell Westbrook had poor shooting nights, but the role players stepped up in a big way. Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison combined to score 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting with 12 rebounds, four assists and just two turnovers. When you get a trio of glue guys playing like that in a road playoff game, you have to take advantage and win. Now, it's anyone's guess whether they can duplicate tonight's effort once again inside AT&T Center. 2) The Spurs didn't even play that well. This deserves its own nugget.
  • The Thunder made Tony Parker look human, held Tim Duncan in check (relatively, of course), defended the pick-and-roll extremely well (for its standards against the Spurs) and finally guarded the 3-point line (again, fairly well considering recent history against this team). Still, the Spurs were able to steal a game it had no business winning after the third quarter.
  • Parker: "Both teams had a little bit of rust at the beginning in the first half. They had a great third quarter. They made it hard on us. We were down nine. We were not playing good basketball; missing a lot of wide open shots in the third quarter. Then, in the fourth quarter, we played a lot better; made some shots."
  • More from Parker: "I know if we play the same way, we're not going to win Game 2. We're going to have to play a lot better."
  • Therein lies the point. Does anyone out there think the Spurs can't and won't play better?
  • The Thunder led 47-46 at halftime thanks to one key thing. Turnovers. The Spurs committed 14 turnovers in the first half. That was one more than their playoff average and 0.4 more than their regular season average. The Thunder took advantage of the Spurs' giveaways by scoring 15 points at the other end and 10 in fast breaks.
  • That well soon dried up in the second half. The Spurs had just three turnovers in the second half. Three. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: "That was the big difference. We played a very sloppy first half."
  • It's clear that San Antonio struggled against the Thunder's length. For a while, it looked like the Spurs were shocked by it and had no clue how to attack it, along with the Thunder's speed. The Thunder used its length and quickness to get steals in the passing lanes, poke away the ball for deflections and contest shots with consistency. How much of the Spurs problems were because of the Thunder's length as opposed to mere rust as Parker says is debatable. We'll have a better indication after Game 2.
  • Parker on the turnovers: "It started with me. I didn't make good decisions in the first half. A little bit in a hurry. That comes with not playing for a week...I take responsibility for that."
  • Everybody seems to be up in arms about Serge Ibaka not playing in the fourth quarter. Can't say I had a big problem with it. The writing was on the wall. You knew going into this series that the Thunder would play a good amount of small ball with Kevin Durant at the 4. That meant one of the bigs, Ibaka, Collison or Kendrick Perkins, would have to sit. It's been that way all season, and for the most part all season Thunder coach Scott Brooks has relied more on Collison or Perk in those situations. Brooks went with his gut and it didn't work. But by no means can you say pin this loss on that one decision.
  • Having said that, Ibaka's presence as a shot-blocker certainly would have helped. Once Ginobili got rolling, Ibaka could have protected the paint better, for sure. But here's the problem with thinking the adjustment was that simple. Had Brooks stuck Ibaka in there, he would have had to defend Duncan first and foremost. That could have led to the future Hall of Famer taking the torch from Ginobili and taking his turn lightening up the Thunder. Secondly, the Spurs, and Ginobili in particular, is savvy enough to read and react to Ibaka at the rim. Had Ibaka been there for weak side help, Ginobili easily could have dumped it off to Duncan or kicked it out to shooters once he broke down the defense. All what ifs, sure. But highly plausible ones. So, again, plugging in Ibaka wouldn't have necessarily won this game.
  • Parker is an absolute wizard in the pick-and-roll. Take away his first option, he'll seamlessly switch to plan B. Thwart option two and he'll hit you with a third counter. Cut off his third counter and he'll just pull something crafty out of his you know what and still find a way to make amazing happen.
  • I loved how the refs let both teams play tonight...right up until about the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter. There were 28 total free throws shot in the fourth quarter, 24 of them coming in the final 7 minutes, 11 seconds. Some of those stemmed from intentional fouls at the end. But the point still stands. A riveting Game 1 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals turned into a free throw shooting contest down the stretch.
  • I hated all the griping over the refs' missed call on Fish's should-have-been 3-pointer early in the second quarter. The refs got it wrong, ruling it a 2-point basket, and didn't review it, which they should have. League rules prohibit the officiating crew from reviewing plays after the first timeout following the play in question. When the refs didn't, it was no longer reviewable. The Thunder got it back and then some anyway when Durant got the benefit of the doubt on what appeared to be a no-call on a goaltend against Parker. After that, the refs owed the Spurs a point by my count.
  • Referee Marc Davis walked over to Brooks just before the start of the third quarter and admitted the crew blew the call.
  • Westbrook gave great effort tonight against Parker. Even though Westbrook struggled with his shot, he deserves credit for coming out locked in and focused on defending the pick-and-roll. No play better illustrated Westbrook's effort tonight than the recovery block he had on Parker with 6:17 left in the first quarter. It was as good of a hustle play as we've seen from Westbrook. He'll need to keep that up for the Thunder to have any chance in this series.
  • Harden's energy was anything but great. It's fine that he struggled with his shot. That happens. But he didn't seem to have the right focus from my point of view. He looked too carefree, too cool. This is the Western Conference Finals. A trip to the NBA Finals is on the line. Yet he appeared to be the only one dogging it, offensively and defensively. Just way too much standing and watching from Harden tonight and not nearly enough aggression.
  • Westbrook sent a scare throughout all of Oklahoma again when he crashed to the court with 2:46 left to play following a layup attempt that ended up as a charge. Westbrook remained on the court for a while before walking off on his own power and remaining in the game. The official word was he got the wind knocked out of him. He said after the game that he was fine.
  • Despite Harden's struggles, the Thunder still should have gone to him in the fourth quarter. I find fault with Brooks much more for that than not playing Ibaka. Every now and again, the Thunder forgets which guy is its best playmaker. Tonight was one of those nights. Never mind his early ineffectiveness. Professional players tend to have a way of heating up at the right time, especially ones like Harden, who aren't one dimensional. The ball should have been in his hands, giving him the opportunity to step behind a ball screen and bury a shot, put it on the floor and barrel to the basket or drive and dish to teammates for open looks. None of that happened down the stretch.
  • Here's when you knew the Thunder's offense was screwed and Harden needed the rock: when KD started sticking his hand out as Stephen Jackson blanketed him. Whenever that happens, the Thunder is scrambling. It's desperation mode. Very few positives ever result from that. Someday, the Thunder will realize that.
  • Way too much one-on-one in the fourth quarter. That's what did in the Thunder. One-on-one offense and a ton of jump shots.
  • That, too, was predictable, the Thunder's offense drying up. The Spurs are going to make the Thunder work by shutting off its preferred style of play and, possibly, even its second. At that point, OKC has to have a counter...and then a counter for its counter. The problem is the Thunder's offense is too simplistic, too predictable. When the Spurs took better control of the ball in the second half, it shut down the Thunder's transition game. That's when the Thunder had to score in the halfcourt. And that's when the Thunder struggled. You knew it would happen going into this series because outside of a few effective pick-and-roll plays, the Thunder is too reliant on Westbrook, Durant and Harden making miraculous plays. When they don't, scoring is a struggle. With so few other options, it's going to be extremely tough for the Thunder to win this series.
  • Matt Bonner: 0-for-2 from 3-point land.
  • Popovich never ceases to amaze me. He doesn't care much for rotations or rhythm or egos. He's going to do whatever he needs to do to give his team the best chance at winning. The way he handled Ginobili was a clear sign of that. He brought Ginobili in for the first time with 6:31 remaining in the first quarter. But in the third quarter, Popovich subbed in Ginobili with 9:24 left in the period.
  • Is this what we can expect out of Fish against the Spurs? If so, wow! He made his first five shots before missing two of his final three. With two minutes left to play, Fish was the Thunder's second leading scorer for crying out loud. You knew it was his night when he made a rainbow baseline jumper late in the third.
  • That's enough for now. Fortunately for the Thunder, a ton of adjustments aren't needed in Game 2. OKC just has to duplicate the many things it did well tonight and play with even more focus next time. It'll be tough now that both teams have had a chance to feel each other out. But the Thunder can take a lot of positives out of this one.
  • Up next. Game 2 at San Antonio on Tuesday.
-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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