Here are five observations from the Thunder's 122-105 series-opening loss in San Antonio:
1. #IbakaProblems - In case you haven't heard, the Thunder missed Serge Ibaka's presence on Monday night. Without Air Congo looming, the Spurs had an open highway to the hoop, scoring 66 points in the paint against a Thunder team that only gave up 40 per game this season. His shot-blocking and layup altering, clearly, was the biggest void left in the wake of his unfortunate injury. But in a broader sense, the Thunder just missed his steady play on both ends. He's maybe the team's most balanced two-way player, always a plus on offense and always a plus on defense. No matter how many unorthodox lineups Scott Brooks threw out there, the stability was gone. His big lineup couldn't score and his small lineup couldn't defend. There were too many one-dimensional specialists. There was no Serge Ibaka.
-Reggie Jackson on missing Ibaka: "Your body tells you a few things, just send them Serge's way. So I think we have to get out of that mindset."
2. Film room: Boris will crush you – To get his best offensive lineup on the floor, Scott Brooks went about as small as we've ever seen him go. For stretches of the game, including key minutes in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had three point guards (Westbrook, Jackson, Fisher) and two small forwards (Durant, Butler) on the floor. It's a unit that can (and did) score at a high rate. And against other teams, it could probably survive on the other end. But not against the Spurs. Gregg Popovich has too many options, too many counters, too many answers. And in this case, it was Boris Diaw. The powerful and skilled big men has nimble enough feet to stick with Butler on one end and he's powerful enough to punish the Thunder on the other. Take a look at these next two plays, in a mini film room, showcasing the Thunder's issues when they go small. Both came during a brief stretch in the fourth quarter
-On the first, Popovich has clearly identified the mismatch and calls for a post isolation. Everyone else spreads to one side, then Tony Parker does a great job of getting a clean post entry and clearing out. It's Diaw against Caron Butler in the post and, as Shaq would say, 'that's barbecue chicken'. Diaw pushes him inside and hits him with a nifty up-and-under and easy layup. Forgive the video quality:
-On the next one, Diaw screens Parker's man, forcing a quick switch at the top of the key -- which Durant and Jackson allow far too easily. Than, the intelligent point guard that Tony Parker is, he calls for another isolation. He calls Marco Belinelli to the wing and directs him to give Diaw a post entry and clear the side. As Boris posts up Jackson, Durant heads down for a double-team, forcing Diaw to kick it back out. But with Parker's jumpshot a threat, Durant jumps back out. Parker then reenters it to Diaw, who powers through the much smaller Jackson and bullies in an easy bucket. Mismatch problems and a Thunder defense that allowed exploitations far too easy on Monday night:
3. Not enough – Kevin Durant was solid throughout, putting up 28 points on 19 shots. And Russell Westbrook was pretty good, finishing with a 25-7-5 line and jolting the Thunder back into it with a tazmanian flurry in the third quarter. But this isn't a mid-March game at Portland or even a second-round series against the Clippers, where solid and good may get it done. This is the Western Conference Finals against an incredible Spurs team without the Thunder's third wheel. To win the series, Durant and Westbrook will likely have to turn solid and good into legendary and great. They'll need those unstoppable nights, where the duo combines for 75 points or nearly puts up dual triple-doubles. Or both. And they'll need to do it four times. Is that asking too much? Probably. But it's the reality of the situation. Good news for OKC: While unlikely, the unique ability of Durant and Westbrook means it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Stat via Darnell Mayberry: Westbrook and Durant combined for seven points and four turnovers on 2-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter. Manu Ginobili, alone, had nine points and no turnovers on 3-of-3 shooting.
4. Timmay – Back in 1999, Tim Duncan was the premier offensive threat on a title team. In 2014, on some nights, he's still playing that role. Fifteen years apart, this dude is still doing his thing. What a player and what a career. And what a night he had in Game 1. Without Ibaka, the Spurs ran their offense through Duncan on the low block and he punished the Thunder bigs early. He had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter. He had 21 by halftime. He had a team-high 27 in the game. When he's rolling like that, the Thunder is forced to have the offensively challenged Kendrick Perkins out there to try and check him. And when Perkins is out there and still can't slow Duncan, the Thunder has issues. "He had a Hall of Fame night," Scott Brooks said, talking about arguably the greatest power forward to ever live, terrifying teams for two decades.
5. Any answers? - Despite popular opinion, it didn't feel like Brooks was too much at fault in this one. There were a few rotational issues. And why he ever has Durant and Westbrook out of the game at the same time -- which he did at one point in the first half, leading to a quick 10-5 San Antonio spurt -- is beyond me. But all the lineup experiments were necessary. If it felt like he was searching, well, he was. Without Ibaka (who had played 370 of the Thunder's 373 games the past four seasons) Game 1 was always going to be a testing ground. He was trying to identify combinations and lineups and matchups that could favor the Thunder. The answers were scarce, but now he has game tape and a day to implement adjustments. Let's see what he comes up with for Game 2.
-The new starting lineup was a minus-11 in the first quarter, but a plus-five at the start of the the third quarter.
-How about Derek Fisher? Sixteen points on 4-of-6 shooting, all threes. There's something about San Antonio (and all those boos) that brings out the best in him. But still, it's probably not ideal when Fisher outscores three of your starters combined by 11 points.
-Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha: 0 points on 0-of-7 shooting, including two massive airballs.
-Only 17 first half minutes for Steven Adams. He only had four points, two rebounds and a block. But he was impactful when on the floor and has shown amazing growth the past month. I'm surprised Brooks didn't play him more. Only two fouls.
-Russell Westbrook’s third quarter: 12 points, two assists, 4-of-7 shooting. He got aggressive and took over the game, attacking the rim, flying by Tony Parker and knifing deep into a Spurs defense. He even put the Thunder on the high side briefly. But his aggression and that lead didn't last. Probably a coincidence. He needs to play like that from end to end.
-Six turnovers for Kevin Durant: An issue.
-I'd like to see Perry Jones in Game 2.
-A silver lining for Thunder fans: The 122-105 final was the SAME exact score from Game 1 of the Clippers series, when the Thunder lost the opener but went on to take L.A. in six games.
-But Serge Ibaka was around then...
-Up next: Game 2 on Thursday night at 8 p.m. CT