Going Small Cost Thunder Big

SAN ANTONIO – Serge Ibaka had a good look at what went on during the fourth quarter of Game 1 in the Western Conference finals.

He could see Tony Parker dart into the lane and practically bring down rain with those 10- to 12-foot floaters. He could see Tiago Splitter go to his left, go to his right, gather rebounds and loose balls and put them in for layups. He could see Tim Duncan roll to the front of the rim and see Manu Ginobili make all of those singular herky-jerky moves that would produce back-breaking buckets.

Ibaka, a first team All-Defensive selection, had an unobstructed view of it all from his front row perch on the bench of the Thunder. While the Spurs scored 16 points in the point and rallied from nine points down in the fourth quarter to take a 101-98 win on Sunday night, Ibaka had the best – or worst – seat in the house. The 6-foot-10 jumping jack did not play a single minute of the final minute as San Antonio repeatedly took the ball inside and took the game.

“I wasn’t surprised, because last night wasn’t the first time we’ve been doing this. It was a coach’s decision,” Ibaka said very diplomatically at Monday’s practice. “That’s what it is. I am not surprised because we have been doing it all season.”

While it’s true that Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks has often gone to a small lineup to take advantage of a speed and quickness mismatch when Kevin Durant moves to the power forward spot, this appeared to be a situation when it backfired. The Thunder were never able to take advantage of Durant at the offensive end and left themselves vulnerable on defense to the Spurs repeatedly attacking the basket.

“When we win, nobody ever says, ‘Why did you play him?’ ” Brooks said with a shrug. “When it doesn’t work out, you always think about another option. It was nothing against Serge. I felt that we had success in the past and I thought we had enough defense out there because they were playing small. They had three 3-point shooters out on the floor and it’s hard to put Serge in the game. I have to make that decision and live with it. But it wasn’t anything against Serge.”

The Thunder used the same small lineup in the fourth quarter of the Game 5 clincher against the Lakers in the previous round of the playoffs. But going small there puts the burden on a big front line of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and forces L.A. to either go away from a strength or try to keep up. With a deeper roster, the Spurs have more options for success and were already playing small.

Ibaka had already blocked two shots and changed a handful of others in the first three quarters and often had the Spurs thinking twice about even venturing into the lane.

“We definitely gave up a lot of points around the basket,” Brooks conceded. “I don’t know if fatigue was a factor. Ginobili was making a lot of those special plays that he’s made in his career. He probably just had his best game in the playoffs and he had it against us.”

The question remains whether Ginobili could have had that kind of game and finish if the Thunder hadn’t held open the door.

“It’s not really about that,” Ibaka said. “They were just playing really good. It’s not me or Perk (Kendrick Perkins). We just need to do a better job of stopping the ball out from getting into the paint. We were worried too much because we know they are a very good 3-point team. We need to stop ball outside.

“It is coach’s decision. He knows better than me. It just depends. Sometimes he goes with Perk small and sometimes he goes with me small. Sometimes he goes with Nick (Collison). It’s how he feels, how he sees the game going on. It’s not how I see it.”

But it was where Ibaka saw it – from the bench – that might have mattered most in the Thunder letting Game 1 slip away.


  1. Wilt the Stilt says:

    Aha OKC gettin’ it handed to them because Pop is the man! Mike Brown made Brooks and the OKC players look like Hall of famers last series but they are gonna get spanked by the Spurs. Also enough of that OKC doesn’t have any experience theyve been in the playoffs for years now and they have the same team from those seasons… if anything the Spurs outside of their big 3 have a bunch of young guys and roll players that haven’t won a ring so no more experience talk please OKC put up or shutup!….. I still think Westbrook was a crackbaby…. lol… jk… not really…

  2. Butch says:

    The only mistake that i saw in game 1 especially in the 4th qtr are the missed force shots taken by westbrooks and harden .

  3. Swissforce says:

    Watching the game in the final quarter I didn’t understand why Harden was still out there. The Thunder were struggeling defensively and he couldn’t buy a basket on the other end. Put Sefolosha back in and Ibaka.
    Yes Harden is a much bigger threat then Sefolosha offensively; on any other night! Thabo had a sizzling first quarter but because he’s always under the radar (including the ones of the commentators) nobody noticed. Take a look at the box sheet and you will start to look for the Swiss army knife!
    I noticed this during the Lakers series: With Thabo on the bench Kobe took over; of course he was also making shots with Thabo’s hand in his face, but the overall offensive performence of the opponent seems to be off, as soon as Nr. 2 is on the court for the Thunder.
    You may argue that OKC needed points in the fourth, and that’s why Harden was playing, but being up by nine points and his poor shooting night, I would have gone more defensive minded. As others had mentioned, why change the roster that got you that far against a well executing Spurs team and a Ginoboli who was infuego!
    And on the other hand I think that Westbrook, Durant and Harden were looking for each other too much, because no one was consistent at that point. Take James out and get some stops and easy buckets of the transition thanks to Thabo and you will have your confidence back and only two guys who can do what they do best!
    I admire Harden as a player, but I’d rather have a defensive stopper (or two with Ibaka) in and a youthful offfensive fouls creating Harden on the bench. You have two of the most leathal shooters out there, you don’t have to worry about your scoring…

    • Hoopzaah says:

      Harden is a bench dude. He’s on fire if starters are on fire and is supposed to bring fire if starters are struggling. If starters were to handle the game until the end (although the minimum difference in the final score, the game was decided by half 4th quarter) they would be broken not for that eve but for the rest of the series and also works as some sort of punishment because the defeat is always stars’ fault.
      Because of that i expect OKC to bring everything in today. And with that, Harden will jump from the bench throwing rocks into a lake.
      If the Spurs get this one they’ll be in the finals for sure!
      But its my humble opinion 🙂
      About the Heat… Pfff, they’re great all right, but i just hope they lose because they don’t know how to count steps and traveling seems to be part of that ball house rules. Dr. Naismith must be spinning mad in the basketball Valhalla if he ever seen LeBron taking 5 steps to the hoop XD

  4. duranmonquiy says:

    I think that the okcareaaa good teem but hsouldjust quit and go home peaceto the world

  5. ism says:

    “The 6-foot-10 jumping jack did not play a single minute of the final minute.”

  6. kiwisepp says:

    I thought, in this game, RW was to blame. In a critical period in the 4th quarter, He misfired 3 jumpers and committed one offensive foul. Spur was pulling away from this point. It was costly.

    As a PG, RW should try to find an open teammate.

  7. Bongoman55 says:

    Play large or small, SAS are much more balanced and deeper. The OKC Thunder are good but does not adapt to the aggressive coaching of POP. Spurs in 6.

  8. LOLakers says:

    It doesn’t matter what they do the Heat are easily winning it all this year!!! Time’s up for the Sperms and the Blunder won’t see the trophy until Lebron James retires in ten years!!!! Sorry to spoil the party for you Sperm and Blunder fans but it’s no use getting hyped up when you’re both going to be let down!!!

  9. Alex says:

    All i have to say is Go SPURS GO

  10. smiley says:

    Pop is the zen master and has some great and smart players even if they are old!

    Brooks lost the game by going away from Ibake foul trouble or not!

    Giving up 39 points in the final quarter after being up 9 is inexcuseable!

    I want OKC to beat the Heat in the championship final…If OKC losses to the Spurs then the Spurs better bring it and beat the Heat so they disband! LOL Come on western conference beat those darn Heat! 🙂

  11. Barkley's Shiny Head says:

    The Spurs have quite the deep bench. They are like a bunch of James Hardens down there. I think that if Ibaka was in, it would have been a huge deal just to have his inside presence felt by SAS. Less Ginobili drives and better one on one defense against the Spurs reserves.

  12. BobbyC says:

    Yea, we will hear Tony, Tim’s and Ginobili name for a long time to come. I believe that if the Spurs can reduce their turnovers and be better atht the free throw line, they will have a much better game. With that going, and then their bench and them three lighting it up, forget OKC,

  13. Curtis says:

    I dont know how the thuinder expect to win this series after playing real well after 3 quarters. And then in the fourth quarter the so called money quarter where everything can be on the line as it was in this game. And you have a 9 point lead going to the fourth quarter and then you give up 39 points in the fourth quarter and lose the game. They gave this game away it is as simple as that. Sure you have to give credit to the spurs for coming back and winning the game but I give more credit to the thunder for blowing it and letting the game slip away had well in hand and let slip away right through their fingers. Because of this horrible loss another loss could be waiting right around the corner.

  14. Hoopzaah says:

    Serge said it like a pro. He never mentioned that they would have won if he was on the field.
    But then again, it’s about Pops and the “nasty” speech “Are we having fun yet?” and the game just changed.
    It’s cool that everybody points out ways of keeping this series alive but lets face it, play big and 3s will rain, play small and hacky-wacky Manu will drive left, Parker will rainbow floaters over the bigs, Timmy will, well, school them hahahaha.
    Hell-of-a conf finals we have here weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
    I seriously doubt SA is gonna give away home court advantage to OKC. They’re just balling too much to anyone to handle.
    Can’t wait for today’s match!!! Chuck is gonna drink that wate!! ahhahaha

  15. Willy says:

    Ya ya ya, like I said! It came down to turnovers or lack of! Watch the Spurs reduce that number again. Danny Green will light it up also!

  16. Tomás Rodríguez Granillo says:

    OKC destiny lies on Westbrook. If he keeps it cool and thinks the game, they have a legit chance to beat the Spurs. If he rushes and loses his head forcing tough shot after tough shot, then they are going to inevitably lose. Ibaka´s defense and interior defense is important, no doubt, but more crucial for OKC aspirations is Westbrook decision making in crunch time.

  17. PC says:

    Indeed, it is all about making a choice and sticking with it and living with it regardless of success or fail. You make a choice and don’t look back. If the results were not what you expected, come back with a better strategic plan while making a choice. Everything comes down to a decision that a coach has to make.

    OKC Coach simply stuck with what worked in many situations in the season and playoffs. OKC played phenomenally, but SAS just had it better with the scoreboard. The outcome could’ve been the same with Ibaka in the final period. It’s not about the one difference-making player offensively or defensively. It’s all about being the grind-it-out physically as a collective unit. It’s about who wants it more. It’s about whose willing to be “nasty” and take one for the team.

  18. thegillgrylls says:

    come on thunder. im sick of hearing about tony parker and tim duncan. school these idiots!

    • Mark says:

      I guess you’re going to be sick of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili all seires long! 😉

  19. Jason says:

    first al spurs are a way better team then the thunder by far because they dont panic i have been watching them all year the chemistry is high the iq is unreal they play together and their team has the deepest bench they never panic i will say it again they never panic by far for the last two years they have the best record of all the teams and if manu and tim didnt get hurt last year this would be a repeat for there second championship and with the longest winning streak of regular season and playoffs

    the rookies playing with these veterans oh people thought they were to old lol tim duncan has played better then any of the allstars that got voted in lol Tony parker will win the finals mvp along with the whole team winning the championship

    for warning next year i see the spurs with the best record and on the next championship again!!!

  20. David says:

    Fran, I watched the game and didn’t pick up on that. But you’re absolutely right. I remember thinking it strange that Ibaka was chained to the bench, but couldn’t put two and two together.

    The Spurs scored 39 points in the fourth quarter. If you were Scott Brooks and had just watched the offensively limited Tiago Splitter score inside on three successive trips down the floor, wouldn’t you at least THINK about putting Ibaka into the game? The Thunder defense dominated the Spurs through three quarters. Part of the shift late in the game came through some great Spurs adjustments. Part came through the Thunder’s inability to return to what had been working for them early.

    I’m more of a Spurs fan than a Thunder supporter, but would like to see this one go to seven games.

  21. Keith says:

    Mistakes like leaving Perkins in and benching Ibaka is what will lose the Thunder the series. The teams are close enough talent wise where the difference will be in who has the better coach…and that is the Spurs. After seeing that Perkins wasnt defending the lane and we all know he’s not a scoring threat, Brooks left him in anyway. 12minutes and you cant concede that the lineup you have on the floor isnt working? Ibaka is more mobile, a better on ball and help defender and he can hit a 15footer consistently. If Brooks has to make changes “for the next game” in this series, the Thunder will lose this series. Up by 9+ points going into the 4th quarter and you decide to change the lineup that has gotten you the lead? I was so pissed watching the end of the game…I was thinking Ibaka must have fouled out while I wasnt looking or pissed the coach off some kind of way…lol.

    I dont think the better team won Sunday nite…the team that was better coached won the game Sunday nite

    • Matt says:

      I agree and disagree with your argument at the end of your comment. In the game of basketball you don’t have to be the better team to win you just have to win full stop. The spurs know how to close out games with their defense and clutch players, the thunder are still learning. I hope this goes to 7 games, because if it does no matter the outcome, the Thunder will make the finals next year

  22. lazy frean says:

    i think coach scott brooks should used serge ibaka and perkins at the same time iin that fourth quarter and then point guard will be westbrook,harden,center perkins,forward ibaka coz he can shoot a jump shot and other forwad is kevin durant,,i watched the game i saw ginobili doesnt hesitate to go in the paint coz perkins never blocked his shots so hes sonfidence rose up..i just hope coach scott brooks can make some adjustment nxt game..tnx

  23. jude says:

    im rooting for the spurs. for me its coach decision as to who he likes to be in the court. the difference is that the spurs’ bench is so deep that whoever OKC players inside they can create a match or a mismatch offensively and defensively. talent-wise, OKC’s big3 are better than the spurs individually with the spurs big3 but as a team spurs is better. the big3 of OKC have almost the same work.. slash and shoot.. unlike the big3 in the spurs they have different positions. even if ibaka is out there? he cant easily guard the fundamentals at the middle.

  24. QuestionMark says:

    I would have slid Ibaka to the 5 spot and KD at 4 and Perkins on the bench because Ibaka led the league in blocks, Parker and Manu would have thought twice before driving, Perkins isn’t much of a shot blocker.

    • Johnwe says:

      No disrespect to your comment. But, I believe Scott Brooks knows his team better then most of the blogger in NBA.com.
      Not to mention that it’s always easy to say you would have done this or that after the game.
      In the heat of the game, during battle, during war….. its difficult to think rational.
      Scott Brooks and the Thunders played on hell of a game. They just fell short to a team that has been there and done it before that’s the only difference.
      If the Spurs win it all this year and both teams meet again in the playoffs next year again.
      I am very sure it will be a different story because then the Thunders will have the experence just like the spurs.

    • Roland0 says:

      I think Ibaka was seated because even though he is an excellent shot-blocker from the help-side, he is not as good a one-on-one defender. Having him in instead Perkins, would mean him having to guarding Duncan, which would be a difficult match for him.

    • EpicLakersFan says:

      I completely agree #QuestionMark. So true. Not only will the Thunder will out run the Spurs, Serge will protact the paint. The only risk is Durant might have trouble guarding Splitter or possibly Duncan. I’m a hardcore Laker fan but i want OKC to win the tfe series. Most LA fanswant revenge but you know.

  25. Hg says:

    Everybody has 20-20 hindsight; everybody has to have a scapegoat; can’t it be accepted that regardless of the outcome, OKC played one heck of a game, and SAS just got the better of the scoreboard.
    It may have or may not have had anything to do with the coaches decisions. If he had played Ibaka the results could have been the same. Plus The coach has got to make decisions doing the game.