By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO – Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said “there’s a good chance” that veteran backup forward Nick Collison will likely replace defensive anchor Serge Ibaka in the Thunder’s starting lineup in Game 1. The assumption is Brooks will utilize “small-ball” lineups often to attack the San Antonio Spurs with waves of athleticism.
“Obviously we’re going to do a lot of the things that we’ve done throughout the season, change some things up a little bit,” Brooks said following the Thunder’s morning shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 1 of the Western Conference finals (9 p.m., ET, TNT). “We can play it different ways, but we’ve done that all year long; playing small, playing KD [Kevin Durant] at different spots, playing Russell [Westbrook] at different spots. We have the ability to do that, and obviously with Serge being out, we’re going to have more opportunities to do that.”
The Thunder swept the regular-season series from the Spurs and have been dominant in head-to-head matchups running off four consecutive victories after falling behind 2-0 in the 2012 West finals. Ibaka played a major part of that dominance.
But the Thunder have options, as Brooks said, to form different lineup combinations. During the playoffs, their third-best scoring lineup, which is also one of their best from a field-goal percentage standpoint, includes Collison with Durant, Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and rookie center Steven Adams, who figures to get plenty of work in this series.
The Thunder plan is to play solid defense — a key being close out at the 3-point arc where San Antonio can be deadly — rebound and get in transition as often as possible to force the Spurs into an exhaustive up-and-down game. San Antonio has a stable of young players, but also still relies heavily on 38-year-old Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, 36, and Tony Parker, 32, who is also dealing with tightness in his left hamstring stemming from the end of the second round.
Parker has had five days of rest since he played only limited minutes in Game 5 against Portland. He has said the injury won’t keep him out of the lineup for Game 1.
“I don’t think nothing’s wrong with Tony Parker. I expect him to play at his best like he’s always been doing,” Durant said. “Little injuries like that don’t stop guys from playing. That adrenaline starts pumping. Once you throw that ball up you don’t even worry about whatever nagging injuries you have.
“But whatever lineup we use, we’re going to have to play extremely hard and move the basketball. If we do that then everything else can fall in line perfectly.”