Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> You’re Scott Brooks. You have no Serge Ibaka. You’re going against a well-oiled offensive machine in the Spurs. What do you do?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pray? Find someone to “Gillooly” Tim Duncan? Get my resume in order? Comedians can have a field day with that question, but to Brooks, the Thunder and their fans, this is no laughing matter. It’s a damn shame, really, that we won’t see the two West titans at their best. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I up Reggie Jackson’s court time as much as possible, getting creative with the matchup and rotation challenges. I use Nick Collison more than in Game 1, too, and I put a priority on getting more than five points from three starters — if only to hush up Charles Barkley.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While it may be more of a long-shot puncher’s chance, I think the Thunder have to roll the dice by going to a small lineup and try to beat the Spurs with their transition game. By playing Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha together, OKC is at far too much of an offensive disadvantage. They scored a total of five points in Game 1 and their upside is not significantly better.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Brooks has to just keep going with his gut and putting the guys out there he thinks can get the job done. In a real sense, if the Thunder were told they had to be without one key player in this series — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka — I think they’d say they could make do best without Westbrook. That’s nothing against Westbrook, who is having a tremendous postseason, but rather just how important Ibaka is to defending the Spurs personnel and what they do. Brooks went small a lot in Game 1. He might try to stay bigger in Game 2 and keep Collison on the floor.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Feel confident that Steven Adams will not shrink from the moment. Nick Collison moved into Ibaka’s starting spot, but a coach knows what he will get from Collison. I have to know what I will get from the rookie suddenly being placed into a larger role. He played a lot in the conference semifinals, valuable experience. But four to seven games against the Spurs is a new kind of test for Adams.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Play Nick Collison until he bleeds. In the regular season, no Thunder player had a better per-possession plus-minus than Collison. Simply put, the Thunder were at their best when he was on the floor. He doesn’t have the length or athleticism that Ibaka has, and it’s the Thunder’s length and athleticism that the Spurs have had trouble with over the last few years. But the list of back-up bigs who are better than Collison is a short one and, down 1-0, it’s not yet time to panic.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I unleash Steven Adams on the San Antonio Spurs and the entire world and let him play wild and free and as physical as possible without getting arrested by the San Antonio PD. Game 1 showed us all how little respect the Spurs have for the Thunder’s rim protecting ability without Ibaka. The amount of time you have to adjust between games in the conference finals is precious, so anything too complicated requires a time crunch that the Thunder cannot risk. So I go with my main man Blunt Force Trauma (aka Steve Adams)!
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Well, as you found out in Game 1, you can’t outscore San Antonio. The Thunder tried to go small, which didn’t really work, and they tried to go big, which worked marginally better. So I’d go as big as I can, using Perkins and Collison as much as possible. I’d even dust off Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb and ask them to at least play some token defense. So what I’m saying is, I’d go big and try to defend, and hope to hold San Antonio under 100, and then hope Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant can keep me close enough to make it a game. Without Ibaka you’re basically fighting uphill, but you’ve got the MVP, so maybe you have a chance.
Karan Madhok, NBA India: I get back to the drawing board, burn every piece of tactical analysis and planning that I’ve done for my team in the past, and start over. Not having Serge Ibaka against the Spurs hurts, but the Thunder need to think positively instead of wallowing over their lost power forward. If I was Scott Brooks, I would give this current line-up a shake-up, move Kevin Durant to the power forward position, and go small in the perimeter by giving a starting spot to either Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson. Instead of trying to beat the Spurs with post defense, the Thunder need to counter Spurs’ offense with offense. This isn’t going to be easy, and as Scott Brooks, I’ll be hoping that the open shots fall for Sefolosha, Lamb, Jackson, etc., and that Durant and Westbrook flirt with triple-doubles every night. Improbable, but not impossible.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: It’s tough because they’ve lost a 2-way player, a guy who’s your third offensive option and your best defender. Even if it didn’t work out well in Game 1, I’ll insist on starting Nick Collison at PF. Because it keeps the Thunder unchanged, including off-the-bench options. Obviously everybody else needs to give extra effort on defense. But it’s the best you can do at this point, since the time has passed to experiment with different lineups.