Thunder searching for Ibaka answer

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: OKC coach Scott Brooks talks about how Serge Ibaka’s absence impacted Game 1

SAN ANTONIO — Thunder coach Scott Brooks delivered a straightforward message to the San Antonio Spurs, some of whom apparently manifested visions of injured Oklahoma City power forward Serge Ibaka swooping into the arena and swatting shots as if he were Godzilla.

That, obviously, didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen.

“Contrary to what San Antonio was thinking, he’s not coming back,” Brooks said of Ibaka, who is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs, regardless of how deep the Thunder go. “He’s not coming through those doors.”

Ibaka wasn’t even in the building. He was back home, relegated to resting his damaged left calf muscle and watching Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on TV. Or at least as much of it as he could stand as the Spurs ran a layup drill through a wide-open paint in the opening half on their way to a 122-105 victory.

In the aftermath, maybe Brooks’ message was intended more for his own club. It is a horrible time to be without your chiseled, 6-foot-10 defensive eraser and offensive safety valve. Ibaka’s absence seemed to serve as a giant mind tease early on as the Thunder looked lost defensively in just their fourth game in four years without Ibaka.

“Your body tells you a few things, just send them Serge’s way,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “We have to get out of that mindset. Tonight’s the first night playing without him, so we have to figure a few things out.”

Tim Duncan was the beneficiary of an OKC starting lineup that included the considerably less-athletic Nick Collison playing in the 24-year-old Ibaka’s starting spot next to Kendrick Perkins. That lineup was a bust from the get-go on both ends. OKC tried to get Collison comfortable early, but he launched two hellacious bricks from either baseline on the Thunder’s opening few possessions.

The other end was a Texas massacre, save the bloody mess of a chainsaw for the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel for which the Spurs have become famous.

Duncan had 21 of his 27 points in the first half, going 9-for-11 from the floor, and 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the opening quarter. He had eight points in the first five minutes. His first bucket was an 18-footer. The eight baskets that followed in the first half came from no deeper than eight feet and four were no farther than 3-feet from the rim.

Imagine the 38-year-old Duncan’s delight to work against the Thunder’s 20-year-old rookie backup center Steven Adams, a mostly impressive youngster who saw just 17 minutes after logging 40 in the Game 6 clincher over the Clippers. He acknowledged he “screwed up” on pick-and-roll coverages and will have to be better.

The Spurs scored 66 of their points in the paint — 20 more than OKC typically gives up with Ibaka on the floor. They had 38 at halftime, more than the Thunder managed the entire game (32).

“Well, we play team defense, we don’t just rely on Serge,” said Kevin Durant, who had 28 points and found himself checking Duncan at different times. “He does a great job blocking shots, but it’s all because of our team defense.”

It wasn’t all a horror flick, and the first nine minutes of the third quarter is the example the Thunder will look to duplicate if they’re going to make this a series. It’s the only quarter that OKC held San Antonio below 30 points — 22 on 8-for-22 shooting. Combined with Russell Westbrook‘s accelerated aggressiveness to attack the rim, the Thunder, once trailing 63-48, led 78-77 after Durant’s 8-foot runner with 4:44 to go.

Brooks spent the first half experimenting with different lineups and twice had success in the first and second quarters with small-ball fivesomes. But as the Thunder plowed ahead in the third quarter with the original starting lineup, Brooks may have stuck with them just a bit too long.

In a flash, the lead was gone for good. Manu Ginobili got in the lane for a floater, Duncan tossed in another layup as Westbrook missed a couple tired-looking shots and turned it over.

But the defensive blue print is there, even if it emerged for only a small window of time in the opener. It was the only quarter the Thunder scored more fastbreak points than the Spurs because they were finally able to get into transition off missed shots and four of the Spurs’ 10 turnovers.

“We just got to do a better job of closing the paint off,” said Westbrook, who had 25 points, 12 in the third quarter, and seven assists. “We did a better job in the second half of just putting more pressure on them, making it tough for them to get inside the paint.”

Now they must figure out how to sustain it. Because everybody knows Ibaka isn’t walking through that door.


  1. squala96 says:

    Having come from 15 down to lead the game at a certain point, it goes to show that OKC can still compete without Ibaka. There were just too many mismatches to Duncan’s advantage. Small ball certainly didn’t work (seriously, three point guards on the floor at the same time?). Plus with Danny Green and Manu suddenly finding their grooves, Game 1 was theirs. Making appropriate adjustments can see the Thunder win Game 2; I really think they have a genuine chance.

    • 36yrfan says:

      … think that is all it takes , huh, just a few adjustments……… even with Serge, the Thunder were NOT the favorites to win the series…… why should they be …… couldn’t beat the Spurs for the home court EVEN after winning the 4 regular season games……. geeeesh, how much of an advantage (minus 4 in the loss column) do they need??? So how do the ‘old’ Spurs do it(19 game winning streak, with the best record in the NBA) and the much heralded team with all of the ‘young legs’ (and the mvp) NOT be able to do it…………here is how— in a word— TEAM !!

  2. OKC supporter (not a fan) says:

    In game 2 we will witness Thunder adjusted. It will be tougher without Ibaka, yet he is not in all games and it would have been way more difficult without him against LAC. Spurs are old, so should be possible. Need to tire them a bit and then see how and who. I see a lot of people here predicted Spurs in four, five, six, seven… Well which one is it? Maybe the same probability for OKC in 5,6 or 7. The good is we don’t know and we will soon see. Thunder showed this year that they are ready. They “shut down” under pressure two great enemies in MEM and LAC. And what SAS did – Dallas and Portland – sorry fans, but even MEM would stopped SAS, not to mention LAC. OKC is a deep team with a great coach and they are destined to be Champs soon.

    • Lunac says:

      Hilarious. The spurs may be older but you can’t tire them. Pop’s rotation goes ten deep, and everyone contributes. 2 can’t beat 5, sorry. The thunder’s future is bright but their time isn’t now.

      • n1777410 says:

        spurs demolished Memphis last year when Memphis was a better deeper team with a better playoff seeding and a much better coach 4-0.okc struggled to beat Memphis in 7 games so we wouldn’t have had any trouble with the grizzlies and it would have been over way before game 7.and as far as okc being deep they were ranked 6th in the nba in bench scoring while the spurs have been ranked1st for the last 3 years

      • okckd35 says:

        who cares how the spurs play memphis, has 0 bearing on this series. its a game of matchups. when okc is healthy they are the one team that can match up and stop the spurs as evidenced in the last 3 years

    • 36yrfan says:

      …oh, great ….an athletic ‘supporter’…..

  3. let's be honest says:

    Funny how all the talk is on Ibaka. Sure he makes a difference. But c’mon, how about the horrible officiating that almost kept OKC in the game? There were soooo many bogus calls, non-calls or blown calls that were obviously not in the Spurs favor. Even the commentating had a biased viewpoint (if you ask me).

  4. RON says:

    Kevin Durant is an extraordinary player. Until he makes his mark to get a ring, his career will not be fulfilled. At the end of the dasy winning the big one is what all player aspire to do. The whole purpose of the season is to progress to the pinnacle of Glory. As is in the words of Maximus “AS ONE!”

  5. Darrell Darrellson says:

    I think OKC could have looked a lot better in this game but Brooks makes horrible adjustments. Why not just put Collison in there and go about business as usual. Dont go to him for the first shot of the game so he can shoot it off the side of the backboard. Collison isnt signed to OKC for offense to be ran through him. OKC tries to get the bench to score a certain amount of points first and then they tell KD and Russ to try to put up 30 a piece and thats how they win. It doesnt have as much to do with Ibaka as the sports media wants to think. Hes a very solid big and every team needs that. He should be replaceable on a teams roster or it is just a dysfunctional roster from the beginning. I think thats what were seeing here.

    • 36yrfan says:

      Correct indeed !! Maybe they should have just let the rookie get schooled by Timmy and learned a few valuable lesson for his future career !! So what if he fouls out, he would have taken up more room playing as a true center and they could keep the ‘regular’ rotation off the ‘bench’……. Plus, you just Can’t have a team with 2 starters with Zero points…….if they are ONLY there for defense, then why did the Spurs get any shot they wanted ?? I think the team made a BIG mistake in letting Harden sign with the Rockets, as he was darn near unstoppable…….. off of the bench , like the Spurs do with Manu…… Well, tonight is another game entirely and the Spurs will be ready for whatever ‘adjustment’ Brooks and his staff make………..Good luck to both teams and may the best team win and NOT have the officials play a large role !!!! GO_SPURS_GO !!!! !

  6. marlon green says:

    FIrst of all no one jumps on other superstars teams for rings except for Lebron. Second the Spurs are just the better TEAM from top to bottom. The spurs big 3 dont have to put up big numbers in order for them to win. OKC has to have big games from Westbrook and KD just to stay in the game. Reggie Jackson is good but other than that KD and Westbrook just dont have enough help.

  7. Summergal74 says:

    So the Thunder took a beating last night in game 1. They started out playing OK. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durrant were phenominal, but the defense fell apart after a while. They allowed the Spurs to score 64 points in the paint and they couldn’t contain Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. Tim Duncan was another one who had his way with OKC as well. However, In spite of Serge Ibaka’s absence-which now creates a void that needs to be filled, this series is far from over. It’s not how you start that matters but how you finish. If OKC can make some defensive adjustments they can turn this around and keep their championship hopes alive. Hopefully Scottie Brooks will have things figured out by Game 2. Go Thunder!

  8. Paul&Jack says:

    Obviously Ibaka played too much in the regular saison
    Brooks need to learn from Pop the Jedi Master
    Spurs in 4

  9. joe dodson says:

    Paul George is Overrated

  10. overTHERE says:

    Lamb hasn’t been utilized enough, now you want him to find a groove he hasn’t had since being benched by Brooks way early? He’ll get blown by on defense right to the ibaka-less paint.

    You really want to throw Perry Jones in? Maybe against the spurs 3rd stringers but not against the starters or 2nd unit. He’ll get victimized by this Spurs unit. You’re not talking about a non defensive, low bbiq team here. You can’t throw out the whole script when one guy goes down or you lose one game. When Spurs played OKC, Kawhi barely played but when he did he was very good as he usually is, I’m wondering if this was a ploy by Pop to keep him off enough film because they don’t seem to have an answer for his all around game. Brooks should have prepared for stuff like this even if he wasn’t forced to, Pop had all his starters out for periods of the season mostly due to injuries but I think it really changed the dynamics of the team, especially the bench.

  11. OKC says:

    Scott brooks has no idea what he is doing. If your shot blocker is absent then u replace him with another shot blocker like adams or thabeet, how can you expect collison to fill that void? OKC can win this series if scott brooks wakes up and plays big with the guys he has. As long as Durant and Westbrook get minimum help on offense they will be fine on that end. Perry Jones could play good minutes against the spurs with his athleticism and length, but instead scott brooks elects to put durant as center with 4 other guards. Yep that makes perfect sense. -.-

  12. Miami Heat Fan says:

    Even with Ibaka, OKC will not beat the SPURS in 4 games… HEAT VS SPURS on FINALS!

  13. joshuasiegel says:

    The Spurs will run away with this series. Their past 6 wins have been blowouts; I have never seen them this strong. I think they’ll win in 5, maybe 6.

    • squala96 says:

      Lest you forget the Thunder had a 4-0 record against the Spurs in the regular season. But unfortunately, San Antonio will win the West by default again, like last year.

      • joshuasiegel says:

        I think it’s unfair to say they’ll win and have won by default; regular season means nothing in the playoffs. Yes it’s easier without Ibaka, but I think the Spurs are too strong and determined to be beat this year. Even without Ibaka I expected a close game…

  14. mj says:

    Hey lbj.
    It’s more like “you need to play with DWade and CB to win rings.”

  15. Troy says:

    Does not matter if OKC has Ibaka or not. they will lose the series.

  16. cp10 says:

    We’ll see, it’s a series and there’ll be adjustments. Ibaka’s probably doing some layup drills himself, lol.

  17. MR210 says:

    Let’s be realistic – MVP can only do so much.

    Tonight he put up 20+ points and forced to play defense in the paint, and on the perimeter. Took a toll on him.
    It would take multiple games for both KD and Westbrook to score 40+…and it would take Spurs to have cold shooting nights.
    Then, maybe OKC can win a game or two…

    But OKC really has no counter – no backup plan. The expression on the faces of KD and Westbrook in the post-game interviews said it all – they looked and sounded defeated already.

    Coach Pop and the Spurs have an answer for everything – they did their experimenting in the regular season with various guys missing games all season long and still held on to best record in league.

    During the Post Season is not the time to start experimenting with different lineups – especially with the caliber teams remaining like Spurs/Heat/Pacers…

    Spurs in Five – this is a repeat of the Blazers series. Two young, scoring superstars…but without much help elsewhere. See what happened to Portland…


  18. Duke says:

    I think many people don’t realise that even if Ibaka was playing, the Spurs would still have a very good chance at beating OKC, Why? because of Kawhi Leonard. He is a much better player and in effect erases any Ibaka advantage. Fans will blame losses on Ibaka’s absence but the numbers prove that the Spurs are stronger than they were a year ago. Leonard, Belinelli and Patty Mills will be enough to win this series for the Spurs. Spurs in 6

  19. Xp says:

    KD is never going to Miami not even for Norris Cole or anybody else

  20. TheKush says:

    No one person can replace Ibaka I think Perry Jones and Lamb should be tested in game 2 I thought Brooks would have given them more time in game 1. I don’t like Caron Butler on OKC because he doesn’t drive he becomes so very predictable and he has this habit of just standing at the three point line. I think Scott Brooks needs to give those young guys a chance I think he should have done it in game one but I guess he had to go with the proven players first. You can’t put Durrant on Duncan just leave perkins on him OKC actually looked good playing big with Collisson and Perkins. If OKC is going small I say try Perry Jones. Also for goodness sakes give Kevin Durant some rest and don’t fall into the same trap that the Blazers fell into tiring out their best players.

    The genius of POP is he doesn’t run the normal pick and roll sequence that other teams run which forces teams to defend the entire game. If you’re OKC and and you want to slow this down you have to trust your young guys I mean what’s the point in having them if they’re not going to play. Ibaka isn’t coming back give those guys a chance their long at the very least they can play some defense actually even if they get in foul trouble and slow the game down the spurs aren’t a fabulous free throw shooting team actually no one player on the spurs takes that many free throws muck up the game OKC matches up very good against this SPURS team if they use their length. Sam Presti seems to recruit long players every season well this is the team to use those long players against. At the very least OKC’s length should clog the lanes and the more comfortable those young guys get the more they’ll understand what the Spurs are doing.

    Play Perry Jones and Lamb and please limit the minutes of Butler he hasn’t been effective. People keep blaming Perkins but Butler to me is the guy I see as the achilles heel in this series for OKC. Play those younger guys give them a chance this is not a series that you want to run a tight rotation with older guys.

  21. Pacers fan says:

    Spurs vs. Pacers in the Finals!

  22. lbj says:

    Kd needs to. I’ll trade future hall of famer naurris Cole and 3 future 1 st round picks.u need to play with the king to win rings

    • 36yrfan says:

      lbj……..back I see…..why don’t you go find a bronbronlovin’ blog to express your mancrush and please stop with the “come play with the queen” cr*p…….(too darn hot ‘n sticky in SBeach) He won’t be there much longer anyway……………lol…………..another ‘exit–stage left’ it will be for his lowness…..

  23. JIRO says:

    OKC, better to exit now than being humiliated by the Heats in the Finals

    well, but if somehow the Pacers found a way to get to the Finals, that’s another story

  24. Kam says:

    The Thunder will come back from this, Do not underestimate OKC they will bring the spurs to their knees and KD will show why he became the MVP. Thunder in 6 or 7

    • sabotage says:

      KD became an MVP just because he score a lot. He doesn’t have any record that he is good at guarding other teams best players just like Lebron is doing right now.. so yeah, Duncan and Parker are gonna eat them at post. Lebron at his age is chsing down block on everyone!.

    • 36yrfan says:

      …….as usual, what is Missing is DEFENSE…….. maybe someday kids will grow up learning to Guard someone instead of just shooting alot of jump shots …….Serge provided much of the thunders D…… BUT it still would not have been enough to take 4 from the team-first mentality of the spurs…..

  25. okcDoke2014 says:

    It is looking like if Thunder lose game 2 this series is done in 5 or 6

  26. Yusa says:

    KD and Westbrook looks exhausted and was eaten alive by their frustration in the early minute of the 4th. Too bad Spurs will steamroll them all the way to their ticket in NBA Finals. Spurs most at 5.