SAN ANTONIO — Moments before tipoff of the opening game of the Western Conference Finals, Serge Ibaka had some words of encouragement for his teammates.
“Let’s Go,” he tweeted.
That was all he could do for the Thunder on Monday night. Sidelined by a calf injury, the power forward didn’t even make the trip from Oklahoma City to San Antonio.
The Thunder sure could’ve used him.
Spurs 122, Thunder 105.
The Spurs took advantage of Ibaka’s absence. During the four regular-season games that these two teams played, the Spurs averaged 41.5 points in the paint. They had nearly that many at halftime Monday night.
San Antonio had 40 points in the paint in the first half. Even though the Oklahoma City defense stiffened in the third quarter and allowed only 10 points down low, the Spurs added another 16 points in the paint in the fourth quarter when they put away the Thunder.
Total points in the paint: 66.
“We have to do a much better job defensively,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “They were able to get whatever they wanted.”
It was clear from the get-go that the Spurs were going to try to exploit the loss of the Thunder’s rim protector, starting with Tim Duncan. The Spurs big man turned back the clock, scoring 21 points in the first half, hitting 9 of 12 shots and having his way with the Thunder front line.
Duncan, who finished with a team-high 27 points, didn’t look like a guy who’s been in the league 16 years.
No Serge made him young again.
But Duncan wasn’t the only veteran looking youthful. Derek Fisher, in his 17th NBA season, scored 11 points in the first half and nailed three 3-pointers. His scoring helped keep the Thunder in the game.
The Thunder gave up 67 points in the first half but still only trailed by eight points at halftime.
The teams played to a near draw in the third quarter, but then the Spurs turned it on in the fourth quarter, exploiting the Thunder’s small lineup. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili got to the hoop. Boris Diaw took advantage of smaller defenders. And the Thunder had few options to stop them.
“Obviously, it makes a huge difference when Ibaka’s not there,” said Parker, who finished with a double-double, 14 points and 12 assists. “He’s one of the best defenders in the NBA.”
All is not lost for the Thunder, of course. Monday night was only the first game of a best-of-7 series.
Game 2 will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday in San Antonio.
But the Thunder will still be without Ibaka. He is expected to miss the rest of the playoffs because of his injury, and according to Brooks, no miraculous recovery is expected.
“Serge is out,” Brooks said. “He’s not coming back.”