SAN ANTONIO — Scott Brooks strolled into San Antonio on Monday night and within six minutes stumbled into a second Texas-sized lineup dilemma.
It only exacerbated the already-costly absence of Serge Ibaka.
In brief, nothing Brooks tried worked.
Not his big lineup, which featured veteran Nick Collison as Ibaka’s replacement in the starting lineup.
Not his small lineup, which at one point actually was super small when it featured Kevin Durant at center.
The big lineup couldn’t score. The small lineup couldn’t defend.
The end result was a 122-105 thrashing at the hands of the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Now, in addition to figuring out how to overcome the loss of Ibaka, Brooks and the Thunder must also find a way to achieve better balance while adjusting to an injury blow that has forced OKC into the unenviable position of solving the Spurs on the fly.
“We’re going to have to find lineups that work,” Brooks said. “I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job. No matter who we put on the floor they have to be able to compete against this team. They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time. You don’t have a possession off. Not one. We can’t hide anybody. Everybody has to step up and guard.”
Collison was the obvious choice to be inserted at power forward. Brooks talked before the game about leaning on his size and savvy, particularly in the team’s pick-and-roll coverage. But the problem was Collison, whose minutes have been cut drastically this postseason, remember, looked out of place from the start with the first string. He missed his first jump shot just 18 seconds in, a 16-footer from a spot on the floor Ibaka routinely makes defenses pay. Less than two minutes later, Collison badly missed a corner 3-pointer, which grazed the side of the backboard.
Starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha missed his first three shots — all jumpers and went 0-for-4 on the night — and Kendrick Perkins was his usual defensive-minded self.
That left the heavy lifting on offense up to Durant and Russell Westbrook, who was 2-for-7 in the opening period and 4-for-12 in the first half.
The Thunder got blitzed with an 18-7 run by the Spurs in the first 61/2 minutes.
That’s when Brooks went small, relying on one traditional big man on the floor with four perimeter players the rest of the half.
The Thunder closed the first quarter on a 20-12 run to pull within three. But that lineup soon showed its flaws, allowing layup after layup without the threat of a reputable rim protector.
The Spurs stockpiled 67 points by halftime and, by that point, had racked up 40 of their eye-popping 66 points in the paint.
Much of the reasoning was the absence of Ibaka, and that certainly played a large factor. But the small lineup, something that seemed as if it’d be a Thunder strength entering this series, was just as much to blame.
“We have to do a much better job defensively,” Brooks said. “I thought they were able to get anything that (they) wanted...We take pride in our defensive play, but tonight we didn’t play good enough defense to beat this team.”