Spurs dare Thunder to stop them

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Spurs score 66 points in the paint en route to a Game 1 win over OKC

SAN ANTONIO — A year ago, it was Russell Westbrook being taken down after a contentious run-in with Patrick Beverley that resulted in torn knee cartilage. A player who had never missed a game in five seasons was zapped from the lineup.

This time around, it’s Serge Ibaka lost for the rest of the playoffs after his legs tangled with Chris Paul in the Game 6 close-out against the Clippers. Another ironman, Ibaka had sat out only three games due to injury over the past four seasons.

Somebody, it seems, keeps holding that door wide open for the Spurs to get their crack at a fifth championship in franchise history.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, playing the role of ushers was the Thunder, who did everything but lay down a trail of rose petals to lead the Spurs to the basket and a 122-105 victory.

Sometimes things turn out exactly the way you expect them. The sun comes up in the East, gravity works when you step out of bed in the morning, water is wet and the Thunder are a vastly different defensive team without their top jumping-jack, shot-blocker and rim protector.

So the Spurs simply went through OKC’s interior like it was an all-you-can-eat buffet line and did everything but stuff a few desserts in their pockets on the way out the door.

If it wasn’t layups, it was dunks. If it wasn’t running floaters through the lane, it was little pull-up jumpers.

The night after a hologram of the late Michael Jackson sang and danced at the Billboard Music Awards, it was 38-year-old Tim Duncan turning back the clock to give everyone a reminder of his greatest hits.

Tony Parker did what he always does — whatever is necessary. Kawhi Leonard ran like a one-man stampede. Boris Diaw made himself right at home in the low post. Even Tiago Splitter at one point simply reached out and ripped the ball out of the grasp of OKC’s Nick Collison, then turned and rammed it through the hoop.

What are you going to do about it?

That was question the Spurs might as well have been asking the Thunder after they rolled to a dominant 66 points in the paint.

And without the long arms and hungry appetite of Ibaka to roam the middle and protect the rim, it was a damn good one.

There is, after all, only so much even the prolific Kevin Durant and Westbrook can do.

The Thunder might not be totally exposed without Ibaka, but let’s just say they might as well be showing up at the prom wearing only a necktie.

“Sometimes it’s hard to focus on something like that and you’re going to do that or you’re going to shoot 3s tonight or you’re going to go in the paint tonight or you’re going to do this,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “You take what’s given, play the game, respect the game and whatever’s there, try to take advantage of that. It just worked out that way.”

Funny how that happens a lot with the Spurs, who play almost every game like it’s part of a coaching clinic, moving the ball from side to side, making the extra pass, finding the cracks in the defense and running through them like water.

In the previous round of the playoffs, the Trail Blazers wouldn’t double-team Parker, dared him to shoot from medium range to beat them and so he did, only stopping to score when his arm got tired.

The Thunder turned an 0-2 deficit to the Spurs into four straight playoff wins and a Western Conference title in 2012 by coming hard at Parker on the pick-and-roll, forcing him to give up the ball and limiting his ability to make plays.

They used the same approach this time around, but were only successful in the first half of the strategy. When Parker gave up the ball, it was to whomever he wanted, wherever and whenever he wanted.

“I don’t know if it was that easy, but we were taking what we were given,” said Duncan, who hit 6 of 7 shots in the first quarter for a dozen of his 27 points. “We knew getting into the middle and being able to attack a little more than we have, that’s kind of what’s been there historically against them and we were just able to make some shots tonight.”

They were able to make those shots because Collison, for all his dogged determination and want-to, is simply not the kind of intimidating force and athlete as Ibaka. Collison and center Kendrick Perkins create a huge deficit on the OKC front line in terms of scoring. When the Thunder went to a small lineup with three guards and two small forwards to boost their offense, the Spurs matched them and then one-upped them with Diaw taking Caron Butler down low and tying him into pretzel knots.

“That’s really what we were focusing on, knowing that Serge Ibaka was not there,” Diaw said. “A team that’s not in the paint is a lot different than a team that focuses on securing the paint.

“Right away, we went to Tim and we did a great job. We scored some baskets…We had a great passing game all night…We scored 120 points tonight. We know it is going to be a better game on Wednesday…We know it is going to be a different game.”

Or will it?

The sun comes up, gravity works, Ibaka is gone, the gaping hole yawns in the middle and that door is wide open for the Spurs.

Sometimes things turn out exactly the way you expect.

33 Comments

  1. mee(a)t says:

    Ibaka’s disappearance in the WCF is the biggest scapegoat i’ve seen all year. Scott Brooks have Collison and Addams to give the Spurs trouble and he rarely uses them together. This guy seriously put KD in the five to play small when Duncan and Splitter was still in the game….OKC didn’t lose because Ibaka was gone, OKC lost because they literally didn’t have much defense.

    • The Truth says:

      The truth is if OKC loses any of it’s main three either Russ, KD, or Ibaka, they are done for, well maybe not so much with just losing Ibaka. We saw how far OKC went without Russ last year. That’s the weakness of OKC (after losing Harden). They really don’t have very good reserves. Now if Spurs lose one of their main guys they still can play very well, an example of a well built, well coached team.

  2. GoOKC says:

    Thunder is the best team in the west if they are complete. Spurs were lucky last year because of Westbrook’s injury. This year they are lucky because of Ibaka’s injury. And they will lose again against Miami. Spurs play worse than last year. During the regular season, they had a very clever strategy to bead the weak teams and lose from good teams. But everything comes to an end if you are not capable to do something.

    • LinGerized! says:

      It’s not the Spurs fault to overused your player during 82 games season and grinding playoffs. Just ask Pop about the ‘minutes restriction’. Even without Ibaka, its still 5vs5 basketball play.

    • Kalbo!! says:

      how about OKC being lucky getting thru memphis & clippers being an 8-player team? let alone the loss of z-bo in game 7? stop making excuse as your team is not making such lame excuse for themselves. bitter fan and just not very knowledgable to even have the right to comment here.

  3. ion57 says:

    I’m getting rather tired of the constant reminder of Ibaka’s
    absence being a contributory factor. We all know OKC is obviously
    not as strong, but each of those OKC players are professional athletes that get
    paid excruciating money to perform. It’s high time they start earning their pay-cheques
    and make up the difference. Last time I checked they have 5 capable players including 2
    All-stars out on the floor (Westbrook and Durant) and Kendrick Perkins (which sat on the
    bench for a good portion of the night – at the coaches decision for
    a smaller lineup) – not the spurs fault (as they have faced adversity in times
    past with many of them including the big 3 out with injuries in playoff time.
    I’m sorry I don’t feel sorry for OKC and Spurs deserve the credit where its due.

  4. alamoaggie says:

    it’s not like the spurs haven’t had their own bouts with health or bad luck holding them back. tim duncan was lost for the entire playoffs with his first big knee injury in ’00. the spurs looked like they were going to the finals in ’08 until manu, their best player that year, sprained his ankle against the lakers in the WCF. ’09, ’10 and ’11 all consisted of playoff injuries to parker (broken hand, sprained ankle) and manu (broken nose and elbow) plus tim’s steady decline because of his knees. it wasn’t until ’12 when they got younger, more athletic players (pus tim’s improved health) that they went from being a first-round team back to true contenders. the thunder’s run with post season injuries is unfortunate, but they won’t find any pity from the spurs.

  5. uchi6907 says:

    It’s rediculous to waste time for such a discussion as if spurs won the game as a result of a loss of one of key opponent pplayers. It is a entire season – regular season and playoff. If you lose players before or in the playoff for whatever reasons, it is your problem, your player’s problem. You are not a good team because you had to overuse your players to obtain a playoff seat, or a better seat. Spurs often had injured or illed players in playoffs in many seasons, why nobody sympathize? Any team coming into playoff either in a better or worse situation deserve it, because it is simply a result of entire season performance.

  6. Dennis Lippy says:

    Justice would definitely be served if the Spurs pasted OKC and whoever comes out of the East…………They were robbed of #5 last year by the worst non-call and then a terrible call with 29 seconds left and Miami with no time outs………The play I am referring to is the Manu breakaway and mugging by Ray Allen and someone else which was not called and the tie-up of Allen after he retrieved the ball which was whistled for a foul sending him to the other end of floor with no time expiring to shoot to free throws……..The Spurs were up by 5 at the time and if the foul is called and Manu shoots free throws, whether he makes them or not, the Heat must go the length of the floor and score with no way to stop the clock……..If Manu makes even 1………GAME OVER!…………..SPURS were robbed last year absolutely………..TIME FOR JUSTICE!

  7. billy bob says:

    spurs in 4! payback !

  8. LakerNation1 says:

    Well it’s not over just yet!spurs know that they are vet team,on the the other hand OKC just didn’t go the whole year just to get to the wcf to get swept its gonna be along series i dont care who wins if the spurs win they deserve to move on and chase that 5th ring,but on the other hand i dont think okc came this far to get swept i dont see that happen i see a game 7 who ever gets to the NBA Finals out of these two teams will win it this year the heat look tired to me and i would push the ball post up wade ever chance i get thats the heat weekness trust and belive the west will bring back the ring this year wear it belongs then The LAKERS WILL TAKE IT BACK AND TIE THE CELTICS FOR THE MOST NBA BANNERS!

    • Kalbo!! says:

      I was getting impressed reading through your comment until i get to the last sentence.. A half-laugh.. Aha! (sarcastically)

    • Kalbo!! says:

      I think the Fakers were supposed to do that when they started spending a lot to pile up superstars. Howard, Nash, Young and even coach D’Antoni. It’d probably go on and forth and you’re confident because you knew that one day some day, they’d finally get all the stars necessary just to be another contender team. How pathetic of an organization can that be?

  9. spurs fan says:

    spurs in 5

  10. Game Time says:

    OKC doesn’t have someone like Harden, no offense Reggie, that can disrupt the Spur’s 2nd unit. No they are also without Ibaka so I highly doubt they can turn things around like in 2012. Their best hope is to have KD go monster every game and hope Indy knocks out Miami…which is likely to happen if 40FT attempts keep happening.

  11. Batigol says:

    Don’t forget to mention the huge impact of Ginobili’s comeback after having a por series vs Portland. With manu fired, the Spurs are a completely different team… #weginobilieve

  12. 36yrfan says:

    So where is the ‘mouthpiece’ “okckd –whatever”…… nothing to cry about ? …..officials ?……..coaching?? ……. ‘dirty play’ ??? Really !!

  13. lakerslakerslakers says:

    the heat will three peat because whoever gets out of the west will be so banged up it will be a cake walk.

    • 36yrfan says:

      hey slaker…….counting your chickens before they hatch now , are you…….I believe your “bron-brons” are down 1-0 already in the weak-east conference finals……right !! lol

    • Pete says:

      not a chance lakerboy, Pacers will come out as the conference champs ”
      and you’ll know who will be the new champion.

  14. MR210 says:

    Thunder have NO counter. All they have is to rely on Westbrook and Durant to score 40+ each…which is asking too much.

    Two man game can’t beat the Spurs.

    If OKC can play some type of Defense and keep Spurs under 100 – maybe (and that’s a big maybe) OKC might have a chance if Spurs have an off-shooting night.

    Otherwise, I just don’t see any outcome where OKC wins series.

    If your best argument for OKC winning is they beat Spurs 4 times during regular season – you obviously don’t understand regular season basketball vs. playoff basketball.

    GO SPURS GO – DRIVE FOR FIVE!

  15. boris dj says:

    A lot of unjustified hate on Collison going around. yes he didn’t score but OKC made their run with him in and Brooks inexplicably pulled him. His +/- was better than the other starters and he was making things difficult for the SAS defense. A lot of the time I have no idea what Brooks is doing with his substitutions.

    • 36yrfan says:

      ….cooooooool stat of the day……..score ZERO points…….take BAD shots….. and have “+/- better than the ‘rest’ of the starters” ….. bet that made him feel Great !!!……………….AND he made things ‘difficult’ for the SAS defense……WTF…………..you kidding right ?? …….

    • Kalbo!! says:

      don’t mind that idiot 36yrfan.. he’s like i’ve said, an idiot..

  16. okcDoke2014 says:

    Spurs looked primed to advance to the finals ! I can not wait to see how Thunder adjustments for game 2

  17. Congratulations Blinebury.You didn`t mention the Spurs trio ages`.Well done!By the way.Ibaka is not the only reason th Spurs won,because Serge is not a one-man team.The Spurs will win the WC with or without Ibaka.

  18. iamironman says:

    I didn’t expect anything less from the Spurs. OKC can shoot all they want but they are not outscoring San Antonio. Spurs are too good not to take advantage of scoring in the paint. If this goes on, this could be a sweep or 4-1 at most.

  19. brian says:

    This has to be one of the most enjoyable articles i have ever read on this site! Great writing, very funny, loved it!

  20. StriveForFive says:

    The #StriveforFive continues! Ain’t no way OKC beats the SPURS. Watch ACTUAL Greatness, a team that has been on top of the mountain for the past 16 seasons, is going to go all the way this year.

  21. Amir Raz says:

    Westbrook tore his meniscus.