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The Oklahoma City Thunder looked like they might be on their way to stealing homecourt advantage with a Game 1 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night before starting to struggle on the defensive end down the stretch. There were quite a few opinions for why this happened, but it seemed one of the main concerns from the coaches on their couches was the Thunder's lack of Serge Ibaka in the fourth quarter.
Ibaka has established himself as one of the NBA's top shot blockers, but ended up playing less than 22 minutes on Sunday night. It was an interesting move from Thunder coach Scott Brooks considering Ibaka started the game, and unlike most games, he was able to stay out of foul trouble while he was on the court.
Considering the Thunder seemed to be better with Ibaka on the court, it's tough to say why he spent the majority of the game on the bench. The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry stood up for Brooks' decision in his column Monday morning, though, noting that Ibaka on the bench came out of necessity.
Everybody seems to be up in arms about Serge Ibaka not playing in the fourth quarter. Can't say I had a big problem with it. The writing was on the wall. You knew going into this series that the Thunder would play a good amount of small ball with Kevin Durant at the 4. That meant one of the bigs, Ibaka, Collison or Kendrick Perkins, would have to sit. It's been that way all season, and for the most part all season Thunder coach Scott Brooks has relied more on Collison or Perk in those situations. Brooks went with his gut and it didn't work. But by no means can you say pin this loss on that one decision.
Mayberry is right that Ibaka's presence likely would not have changed the outcome on Sunday night, but he later pointed out that it definitely would have made sense to have him in the game.
Having said that, Ibaka's presence as a shot-blocker certainly would have helped. Once Manu Ginobili got rolling, Ibaka could have protected the paint better, for sure. But here's the problem with thinking the adjustment was that simple. Had Brooks stuck Ibaka in there, he would have had to defend Duncan first and foremost. That could have led to the future Hall of Famer taking the torch from Ginobili and taking his turn lightening up the Thunder. Secondly, the Spurs, and Ginobili in particular, is savvy enough to read and react to Ibaka at the rim. Had Ibaka been there for weak side help, Ginobili easily could have dumped it off to Duncan or kicked it out to shooters once he broke down the defense. All what ifs, sure. But highly plausible ones. So, again, plugging in Ibaka wouldn't have necessarily won this game.
Considering Manu Ginobili was absolutely brilliant on Sunday night, it probably would have made sense to insert Ibaka just to see if he could have altered the course of the game when the Spurs started rolling late. As Mayberry notes, however, that likely would have just led to someone else -- likely Tim Duncan -- picking up the slack as Ibaka tried to help contain the world's greatest left-handed Argentinian.
Either way, it'll be interesting to see what Brooks does with Ibaka for the remainder of the series.
The sixth man battle was certainly expected to be one of the keys in the Western Conference Finals considering Manu Ginobili and James Harden are two of the best players off the bench in the NBA. The battle didn't disappoint in Game 1 on Sunday night, as Ginobili turned back the clock to take over the game and lead San Antonio to victory.
Ginobili played 34 minutes for the Spurs, scoring a team-high 26 points on 14 attempts from the field as the catalyst for the San Antonio offense. It was one of his best games of the season, and, as Matthew Tynan pointed out over at SB Nation's Pounding the Rock, it came at exactly the right time.
Each facet of his game was on display in Game 1, but it was the scoring that turned out to be the most crucial element. Ginobili has made a career out of timely plays. Without them there would most likely be fewer banners hanging in the AT&T Center rafters. But here he was again as we'll always picture him, twisting and turning his way to the hoop, lining up and uncoiling on that funky-looking jump shot. The word ‘competitor' is most likely overused at times, but Manu defines the term.
Down 71-62 heading into the fourth quarter, Ginobili took the game over at a time when his team desperately needed him to do so. His 11 points in the final frame helped pull the Spurs out of a cold spell the No. 1 seed just couldn't seem to shake. San Antonio shot less than 39 percent from the floor through the first three quarters, but when the home team finally broke loose there was little Oklahoma City could do to stop it.
It was vintage Ginobili. Although the Thunder will likely try to limit his scoring output for the remainder of the series, he's shown Harden that he's not quite ready to pass the torch as the NBA's best sixth man. Whether Ginobili is putting up a plethora of points or driving and dishing, it's clear that he'll be an immensely important piece of the Spurs' offense this series.
The Oklahoma City Thunder looked like they were on their way to stealing Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night. Apparently it just wasn't meant to be, however, as the Spurs ended up coming back late and defending the homecourt advantage they earned during the regular season.
Considering nearly anything can happen in the NBA Playoffs, it's tough to tell exactly where things went wrong for the Thunder. It could have been the speech Gregg Popovich gave the Spurs about getting nasty, but more likely, it was due to the reasons our friends over at Welcome To Loud City pointed out in their reaction.
Things were looking so bright heading into the fourth quarter. The Thunder stayed in the game in the first half by dominating the paint, trapping perfectly in the back court and open court, and getting out in transition. The shooting was horrible, but they found a way through it. In the third, the Thunder opened up a huge lead by playing fantastic perimeter defense. But they weren't getting out in transition as much as they used to, and were resorting to shooting some difficult jump shots.
It worked for a while, but when things came down to it in the fourth, the Thunder couldn't hit and they responded by mindlessly driving into the lane. The offense collapsed, and the Spurs started hitting threes. But the Thunder's fate was sealed when the Spurs decided to go small, and the Thunder couldn't defend the paint worth a darn.
The good thing about this is that the Thunder should be able to learn from Sunday night's loss and change things around. The bad thing is that the Spurs have so many different options that it's difficult to gameplan against them when they could go a different route entirely in Game 2.
It'll be a fun series to watch, regardless of the outcome, but the Thunder have to be kicking themselves after dropping the opening game of the series.
Russell Westbrook's campaign against fashion continues.
This is from the Twitter account @youbigdummy, by the way.
From the top:
1. Some amber-colored tortoise-shelled glasses
2. iPod headphones
3. A shirt with flags. Not all are national flags, but luckily, I had a very lonely middle school experience and I'm very good at recognizing flags, so, here goes: Scotland, Italy, Costa Rica, Malta, Costa Rica. And more. I think they're mainly nautical flags, like the type ships will hang from their sails to show where they're from.
4. Brown-ish pants.
5. A European carry-all (a.k.a. a purse)
6. Bright, bright green sneakers.
Yikes. This is not really helpful, because oh my goodness, what in the name of all that is holy is he wearing?
The San Antonio Spurs looked to be sputtering in the second half of their opening game of the Western Conference finals, looking like they might in fact actually be too old to hang with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A timely speech during a break in the game from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich seemed to change everything, and San Antonio was able to take a 1-0 lead in the seven-game series. Thanks to the TNT broadcast team -- and transcription from ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz -- the nation is keenly aware of exactly what Coach Pop said to get his players to get re-motivated.
"Are we having fun yet?" Gregg Popovich asked the team as they trailed by nine. He raised his voice enough to be heard over "Sweet Caroline," but no more loudly than he needed to. "I need a little bit more dose of nasty. I'm seeing a little bit of unconfident, a little hesitation. It's not supposed to be easy. Every round gets tougher. ... Penetrate hard, good passes, shoot with confidence. I want some nasty."
The nastiness wasn't exactly palpable as far as their on-court play was concerned, but it wasn't hard to tell that the Spurs came out with a different energy following that break in the game. It was a brilliant coaching job by Popovich in what is typically assumed to be a player's league and, thanks to the television cameras, we were all allowed to witness it.
The Spurs always look amazing, but they are their most impressive when they get into a hole and methodically, calmly take over, as they did in Game 1 against the Thunder.
The story of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was Oklahoma City's offensive woes in the fourth quarter, as the team once again failed to get into any sort of rhythm once San Antonio cut down on their turnovers and kept the Thunder out of transition.
Oklahoma City, without a low post threat or any real ball movement, couldn't match the Spurs red-hot offense in the game's final minutes, as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden took turns taking contested jumpers.
With Manu Ginobili orchestrating their offense on the other end of the floor, San Antonio won the fourth quarter 39-27.
While both Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison remained chained to the bench, Tim Duncan helped liberally off of Perkins, who isn't a threat to pass, shoot or dribble with the ball outside of the painted area.
There's really no reason to hoist a three when your team is down significantly more than three points with the time about to run out. However, you might want to in order to make to look as if you're trying to make the game closer, even if it's practically impossible to actually make the game meaningful.
That's probably what James Harden was thinking when he threw up a three even as his team was down six with no real chance of the Thunder coming back to beat the Spurs. But his three was meaningful to gamblers: the Thunder were five-point underdogs, and considering they were down six, and ended up down three.... well... somebody in Vegas is probably pretty angry at Harden. On the plus side, hey, his three-point percentage went up a bunch because he hit that shot!
After a frenetic three quarters where the Oklahoma City Thunder repeatedly got out in transition, the San Antonio Spurs cut down on their turnovers to fuel a fourth-quarter comeback and win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals 101-98.
With the game played almost exclusively in the half-court, San Antonio's half-court execution was the difference as they outscored Oklahoma City 39-27 in the fourth.
Manu Ginobili keyed the Spurs offense, with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists on 9-14 shooting.
On the other end of the floor, the Thunder's offense stagnated as their stars were forced to take a series of contested pull-up jumpers. Oklahoma City went small to ensure this wouldn't happen, but Scott Brooks' decision to leave Kendrick Perkins in the game allowed the Spurs to play 5-on-4 defensively anyway.
In Game 2, Brooks may have to go with one of his more skilled offensive big men (Nick Collison or Serge Ibaka) at the expense of Perkins' post defense on Tim Duncan, who rarely tested the Thunder big man on the low block.
The Oklahoma City Thunder coach has left Serge Ibaka out of the game through most of this fourth quarter, which has killed his team’s offensive spacing. Understandably, Kendrick Perkins is a good defender, but his presence made it easy for Tim Duncan to load up on Kevin Durant as a help defender.
The easy solution would have been to sub out Perkins whenever possible on offense. Why Scott Brooks didn’t do that, I have no idea.
This has become very clear based on the two Inside TRAX segments. In his segment, Scott Brooks pleaded with his team to realize how well they were doing. Gregg Popovich, meanwhile, chose to demand that his team have fun.
Seems pretty obvious to me which timeout speech is most inspiring. ARE YOU GUYS HAVING FUN YET?
Down the stretch, it’s been the veteran Stephen Jackson, and not rookie Kawhi Leonard, guarding Kevin Durant. Why? As gifted as Leonard is, he was allowing Durant to catch the ball too close to the basket. Jackson, meanwhile, has done an excellent job forcing Durant further away from the hoop. On one play, he forced Durant to waste 13 seconds trying to get open.
Durant is drawing fouls, but all in all, the Spurs will take it.
James Harden is seen by many as a younger version of Manu Ginobili. The resemblance really is uncanny, down to the flopping.
For three quarters, the Oklahoma City Thunder executed its offense beautifully. In the fourth quarter, it has devolved back into the “my turn” offense that has been its downfall in previous playoff runs.
The Spurs are scoring a lot more too, but all wasted possessions offensively are the major reason the Thunder have lost their lead.
TNT really covering every angle tonight.
Tiago Splitter was a 69.1 percent free throw shooter on the season. Then the playoffs happened, and since? 35.0 percent.
So, yeah, this happened:
Gotta appreciate the double-leg slap and sad face after the miss.
Kendrick Perkins has a passion for scowling. Even in his wedding photos, he's at best kind of making a slightly moderate smile.
After fouling Tim Duncan in the second half against San Antonio, he outdid himself in interesting facial gestures:
Edvard Munch would approve:
Back during those great playoff battles with the Phoenix Suns, the San Antonio Spurs were able to persevere specifically because they over-emphasized guarding the three-point line. San Antonio closed out so aggressively that they were willing to concede open mid-range jumpers.
Now, in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder have done the same to the Spurs. This is surprising, given how poorly the Thunder guarded the three-point line against the Spurs in the regular season.
Gary Neal just dribbled right up to the three-point line and took a horrible shot, a rare bad attempt by a Spurs player. Whenever that happens, Gregg Popovich does something like this.
I hope, for Neal’s sake, that he didn’t look over there.
The Thunder have done an incredible job on Tony Parker thus far, holding him completely out of the paint. The Spurs need to make an adjustment. Some ideas.
1. Start the pick and roll out higher on the court, giving Parker more room to get a head of steam.
2. Have the big man dive more aggressively to the rim instead of popping to the elbow. Tiago Splitter did a nice job of this in the second quarter. (cc @BKoremenos).
3. Use Manu Ginobili more often.
I think option 1 is the best, but we’ll see what the Spurs do.
During the three regular-season matchups between these two teams, the Spurs shot 54 percent from three-point range. They’re just 4-11 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, including 0-3 in the third quarter.
The Thunder deserve a ton of credit for over-covering the shooters. It’s now time for Tony Parker to adjust and become more aggressive.
For large parts of the first half, the Thunder played extremely small line-ups with only one big man on the floor.
As a result the tempo of the game was sped up, which caused some trouble for the San Antonio offense, as the Spurs turned it over 13 times.
San Antonio got a huge boost off the bench from Manu Ginobili, who had 10 points on 4-7 shooting, including a spectacular step-back three-pointer as the first quarter ended.
Ginobili has dramatically outplayed his fellow left-handed sixth man, James Harden, who has only 3 points on 1-9 shooting. The Thunder's two other stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have picked up the slack, scoring 23 points, albeit on 22 shots.
With his team now having committed 13 turnovers in the first half of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich should be incensed. Instead, he obviously heard a very good joke and doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s smiling.
As noted in our series preview, James Harden has killed the Spurs during the regular season. He’s 1-9 with no free-throw attempts thus far in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
We obviously know nothing.
In response to Manugasm, the Thunder are now playing the following lineup.
That lineup played zero minutes together prior to this. Welcome to the small-ball portion of this broadcast.
Manu Ginobili in the first eight games of the playoffs: 11.3 points, 4.5 assists, 40 percent shooting.
Manu Ginobili in Game 1 vs. the Thunder thus far in less than 10 minutes: 10 points, 4-6 shooting, one assist.
Welcome back, Manu.
Manu Ginobili’s first few possessions included a bunch of turnovers and really sloppy dribbling. His last three possessions of the first quarter: swished fadeaway jumper, layup after splitting the help defenders on a pick and roll, fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer.
I will stop doubting Ginobili now.
Thus far, the Oklahoma City Thunder have defended Tony Parker beautifully in pick and rolls. Their default strategy is to hang their big man back to prevent Parker from zipping to the rim. This is working because whichever big man is guarding the pick and roll is positioned perfectly — not so high to allow Parker to turn the corner, but not too low to give Parker an open jumper.
If the Thunder big men keep positioning themselves this well, it’ll prevent open three-point looks.
James Harden's beard is so big that it houses a lot of small objects. For example: Joey Crawford's whistle, apparently.
I'd make a joke about James Harden's beard here, but I don't want Reggie Miller to kill it. (Note to Reggie: when the guy next to you, in this case Steve Kerr, makes a joke about a bird falling out of Harden's beard, it's annoying when you repeat the joke at the top of your lungs. Stop it).
There aren't too many players in the NBA who can block a shot like this. There are even fewer point guards. Welcome to the Western Conference Finals, Tony Parker.
Here’s what makes the Spurs so dangerous: they are so good at converting off your missed shots. The Thunder’s defensive activity in half-court situations thus far in Game 1 has actually been excellent. They’re sliding their feet, getting hands in the passing lanes and smartly helping off weakside shooters to cut off driving lanes.
The problem: the Spurs have scored six of their 10 points in transition situations. We’re not talking about layups here, more early offense that comes from the defense not being set. This was how the Spurs really killed the Clippers, and the Thunder have to be alert and find their men quickly.
As we prepare for a matchup between the two best teams left in the playoffs, we explore seven questions that will decide the outcome.
The Spurs haven't lost in 46 days, but haven't faced a challenge like a best-of-seven series against the Thunder. How can San Antonio reign supreme?
It won't be easy to defeat the red-hot Spurs, but if Durant and Westbrook have a big series and the Thunder can play solid straight-up defense, Oklahoma City has a chance.
The Western Conference Finals will begin Sunday with Game 1 between the Spurs and Thunder.
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