SAN ANTONIO – On one side, Scott Brooks was trying some unique combinations, going deep into his rotation and tossing out unconventional lineups.
On the other side, so was Gregg Popovich.
But the difference between the similar tactics was stark. Brooks was experimenting, forced to reach into an unknown and unfruitful bag of tricks with Serge Ibaka down and the Thunder struggling. Popovich was just being Popovich, conducting his deep and well-oiled offensive machine to a 122-105 Game 1 win on Monday night.
The Spurs shot 57 percent. They scored 30-plus in three separate quarters. They had five players with at least 14 points. They had 11 guys at least dent the scoreboard, something two Thunder starters failed to do.
“They were able to get anything they wanted – 66 points in the paint, 40 at halftime,” Brooks said. “We take pride in our defensive play, but tonight we didn’t play good enough defense.”
A good chunk of that can be attributed to Ibaka – a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate whose stock for next year’s award rose on a night when he was at home.
But plenty of credit should go the Spurs way. They were smooth, free-flowing and lethal right from the tip, getting contributions from everywhere, but starting with their cornerstone.
Tim Duncan, who on this night looked like the biggest beneficiary of Ibaka’s absence, attacked the shorthanded Thunder bigs, scoring 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter. He finished with a team-high 27 points and seven rebounds. The Thunder had no answer for him.
“He had a Hall of Fame night,” Brooks said.
But up and down the box score, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Spur who didn’t have at least a solid performance.
Battling a lingering hamstring injury, Tony Parker was steady, contributing 14 points and 12 assists while playing decent enough defense against Russell Westbrook. Manu Ginobili added 18 points on 12 shots off the bench. Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw were the only two Spurs to shoot below 50 percent, but each contributed in their own way.
Leonard was solid on defense throughout the night, limiting Durant’s clean looks at the basket and bothering the Thunder offense with a game-high three steals.
And Diaw was the trump card in the rotational chess match. He’s a big and physical body, but nimble enough to guard quicker players on the other end. So when the Thunder went small, Popovich stuck Diaw on Butler and exposed OKC’s defensive weakness.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, with the Thunder attempting a final run with three point guards, Durant and Butler on the floor, Diaw scored on two straight post-ups. He slid past Butler with a nifty low-block move, then forced a switch and bullied Reggie Jackson moments later.
“We can use that matchup to our advantage,” Parker said.
Two big buckets, two examples of some glaring Thunder issues as this series moves forward.