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.