Five observations from the Thunder's 122-105 Game 1 loss in San Antonio
by Anthony Slater
Modified: May 20, 2014 at 1:29 am •
Published: May 20, 2014
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.
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as NewsOK.com's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...