Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka’

Emotions exposed in high-stakes series

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters: Thunder-Spurs Game 5

OKLAHOMA CITY – As the points mount in sudden flurries and push the fervor of the home crowd to maddening levels for the teeth-gnashing visitors, scenes of frustration have grown tenser and more emotional as this high-stakes Western Conference finals charges along.

Both arenas, the AT&T Center in San Antonio and Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City — the locals dubbed it Loud City years ago — have each become caldrons of frayed nerves and blown tempers in one of the more peculiar series in recent memory in which the home team has won all five games in a rout.

“This is the craziest series I’ve ever been involved in,” said Spurs star Tim Duncan, a veteran of 16 postseasons.

The two teams, though, are thought of as emotional polar opposites: The button-down Spurs exuding poise and professionalism; the hair-trigger Thunder being young, wild and always living on the edge. Yet neither team has escaped the other’s hostile arena with their emotions intact.

It’s easy to understand why. The Spurs, with the Big Three’s clock always ticking down on their championship window, are so close to a return to The Finals and a chance to seize the championship they let slip through their fingers a year ago that the pain of failing now would cut even deeper than the loss to the Heat. The Thunder, its stars both 25 years old, and Kevin Durant breaking through to win his first MVP, believe they would have been the team returning to The Finals for another showdown with LeBron James if not for Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs. What was supposed to be a dynasty in the making is instead trying to stave off elimination.

This roiling undercurrent is setting off even the most composed.

In Game 4 at OKC, with the Thunder blasting the game open, Duncan screamed at his legendary coach, Gregg Popovich, Duncan animatedly gesturing with his arms before fixating his glare elsewhere and turning up the verbal heat on teammate Danny Green.

In Game 5 Thursday night back at San Antonio, Durant screamed at the clock operator when he wasn’t allowed to check in during a second-quarter stop in play. According to USA Today, Durant also engaged a Spurs fan after she yelled at him to sit down. The always volatile Westbrook got on Serge Ibaka over a missed assignment as the chance to back the Spurs into a corner evaporated along with the Thunder’s composure.

“Well, it’s the playoffs, it’s going to decide who goes to The Finals and who wins the Western Conference,” Durant said. “It’s going to be emotional, there’s going to be words, there’s going to be physicality. It’s been a crazy series, yes it has, as far as momentum and teams playing well at home. But in our case, we’ve got another 48 minutes to try to take this thing to a Game 7, and who knows what happens after that.”

During Game 2 in San Antonio, with the Spurs running and the crowd raising the decibel levels to mind-splitting, Westbrook glared at Durant after giving up an easy basket and jabbed his index fingers at each side of his head, a gesture meant to tell Durant to wake up.

Brooks said he doesn’t worry about his team becoming its own worst enemy during the course of a heated game. He said he takes it as proof his team is engaged.

“I know this is probably strange to say this, we’re always at our best when we’re on edge with one another because we are raising the bar high,” Brooks said. “We are competitive. We don’t want to let each other down. Just like when San Antonio had Duncan and Green, it happens everywhere. I know when we’re locked in defensively and our competitive spirit is at a high, our guys are ready to fight for one another and sometimes it takes a kick in the pants to get each other to do that.”

Spurs neutralize Ibaka, put Thunder on the brink

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses Serge Ibaka’s lackluster Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – Judging by how this Western Conference finals continues to unfold – bouncing from homecourt blowout to homecourt blowout — the Oklahoma City Thunder still may get a final shot to win a game here.

If they get that chance, though, they’ll have to pray for a miracle of the sort that brought the hobbled Serge Ibaka back in Game 3. But then, even the Ibaka magic faded Thursday night in San Antonio’s convincing 117-89 Game 5 win that gave the Spurs a 3-2 series lead.

For the first time in eight games with Ibaka on the floor — and for just the third time in the last 15 games dating to the 2012 West finals, when the Thunder stormed out of a 2-0 hole and blitzed San Antonio four in a row — the Spurs figured out how to beat Oklahoma City.

San Antonio’s AT&T Center, first without and now with Ibaka, has become a house of horrors for the Thunder. They’ve been crushed here by 17, 35 and 28 points in this series. Back home in OKC, the Thunder won Games 3 and 4 by a total of 22 points — though it could have been easily twice that much if not for some deficit-munching garbage-time.

“You really think I can explain that?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich quipped.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks was at a loss, too, to explain the home-court blowouts. Brooks was first to make a lineup change in Game 3, getting Ibaka back from his calf injury and sliding guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup. It worked like a charm to get the series even.

Popovich countered in Game 5, removing the big-bodied Tiago Splitter, who had allowed Ibaka to camp in the paint and keep Tony Parker out. Matt Bonner started, but it was Boris Diaw, with 13 points and three assists in 28 minutes, who was trouble all night, stringing Ibaka out and finally opening the operating space the Spurs enjoyed in their first two home routs.

Tim Duncan benefited with 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting, and Manu Ginobili was magnificent again with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting. San Antonio’s 3-point shooters had a field day, going 13-for-26.

The Thunder returned to San Antonio expecting a change, yet oddly Ibaka said he didn’t find out the 3-point shooting Bonner was starting until Kevin Durant told him five minutes before the game, likely long after most of the silver-and-black clad fans in the arena had already gotten the message.

“It just changed their offense a little bit,” said Ibaka, who has noticed little change in the condition of his ailing left calf after playing his third game in five days. “For us it was kind of a surprise. But I’m not going to make an excuse to say ‘surprised.’ When you’re a basketball player, you have to be ready to play no matter what. Now our focus needs to be on the next game, and now we know how they will play and who will start now. So I’m sure we’ll be ready.”

Ibaka missed his looks early and finished 3-for-10 for six points. He was pulled out of his comfort zone in the paint, where the Spurs made good on 20 of their 28 shots. He had only two defensive rebounds in more than 27 minutes.

“It’s tough, it’s a tough loss for us and you need to give them a lot of credit,” Ibaka said. “They played their best basketball. They were better than us. They were more aggressive, but this happens sometimes.”

Nothing’s come easy in this second season for the Thunder, and nothing was harder than Game 5 back in the raucous River City.

“We just didn’t play well across the board on defense,” said Durant, who had 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting, but was again limited at the free-throw line on the road, taking just four making only one. “They spread us out, hit 3s and we were late. We were just a step slow.”

If there is a theme to Thunder’s postseason, it’s been bouncing back. Memphis had them against the wall, 3-2, and the Thunder won the next two. Against the Clippers, Oklahoma City rallied from seven points down with 49 seconds to play in Game 5 and won the series in six.

The good news for the Thunder is that Game 6 of this series is Saturday night back in OKC, where the Spurs have been as lost as the Thunder have been here.  A win then for the Thunder sets up Game 7 on Monday, back in San Antonio, where the Spurs have now won seven straight by at least 15 points.

“Now we have to choose what we are going to give them,” Ibaka said. “… Are we going to give them the paint or … ? But I am sure we are going to do a better job in the next game.”

The season depends on it.

Spurs find it easier to be hard



VIDEO: Behind Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio collects Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — Figuring out this wildly divergent Western Conference finals is getting harder than calculus after the Spurs’ 117-89 win over the Thunder on Thursday night gave San Antonio a 3-2 series lead.

There was a lineup change. There was a personality change.

There were tactical adjustments. There was an attitude adjustment.

The Spurs contested harder on defense. They battled harder for every rebound. They scrapped harder to come up with every 50-50 play. They worked harder at keeping the ball moving and at staying within their carefully constructed offensive identity.

And it worked for San Antonio. Again.

Five games in this series, five blowouts, all by the home team. The average margin of victory is 20.4 points. The Spurs have won their three home games by 26.6 points per game.

“You’re serious? You really think I can explain that?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asked.

For those obsessed by the Xs and Os, the Spurs replaced Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup with Matt Bonner and all through the game kept a stretch-four on the court to keep Serge Ibaka from making the low post and all of the paint his own personal dinner plate.

The Spurs switched defensive assignments, using the bigger Kawhi Leonard to block the tracks of the runaway train that can be Russell Westbrook and trusting Danny Green to give away a half a foot to league MVP Kevin Durant and not be overwhelmed.

They also made the most of Boris Diaw’s broad palette of skills, knocking down 3-pointers, moving shiftily inside for hoops and using a magician’s sleight-of-hand to slide the ball to all of his open teammates.

“It definitely helped,” said Tim Duncan, who broke free for a Throwback Thursday effort of 22 points and 12 rebounds. “Boris shot the ball really well and just the threat of Matt being out there, I think, helped us to keep [Ibaka] out of the lane a little bit and spread him out a little bit. It was a great move by Pop, a little adjustment there, and it obviously worked.”

But only because the Spurs also adjusted the way they played the game — going from lost and timid in OKC to ferocious and confident back home at the AT&T Center.

None of San Antonio’s best-laid plans would have meant a thing if Duncan hadn’t turned back the clock again to do practically hand-to-hand combat to get his dozen rebounds, if Leonard had not thrown off the dazed look of Games 3 and 4 to become locked in, if Diaw didn’t play perhaps the most feverish and significant playoff game of his career.

And if Manu Ginobili hadn’t once more bounced and banged all over the court like a funnel cloud clearing out everything in its path.

Often you can waste time trying to break things down to their smallest parts, rather than sit back and take in the beauty of the entire beast.

“Probably they were not aggressive and we were,” Ginobili said. “Today we were just sharp. We were smart and that’s what we were talking about. It’s the only way we have a shot.”

The Thunder are still younger, swifter and stronger and if the Spurs let them turn this into strictly an athletic affair, they won’t be making a return trip to the NBA Finals, even with the home-court advantage still in their hip pocket.

But a couple of possessions were a perfectly drawn blueprint of exactly what they must do:

  • Once Tony Parker drove the ball down under the basket, whipped a pass all the way back out top to Diaw, who gave a glance at the basket, but then passed the ball on to Leonard in the right corner for a 3-pointer.
  • On another occasion Ginobili raced downcourt in transition  while being dogged and contested by second year man Jeremy Lamb of OKC. He waited as Lamb got up in his face, then he waited some more while other Spurs caught up to the play and offered other options. He waited until Lamb finally took the bait and took a half-step away and then calmly and simply raised up and buried a killer 3 from the right wing.

The Spurs played smart. They played poised. They played hard.

None of that may translate to Game 6 on Saturday in OKC, where San Antonio has lost nine consecutive games. But two nights after not even running in a single fast break play in OKC, the Spurs outran the Thunder 14-4. They devoured the Thunder 48-35 on the backboards. They cleaned up on the inside with 17 second-chance points. For the first time in several years, they thoroughly neutralized Ibaka at both ends of the court.

“It was two things,” Popovich said. “What matters in a game is execution and mental toughness. You have to execute and you have to play with passion. So it’s like the old Dean Smith-Larry Brown thing — play harder than your opponent.”

The rest is easy.

24 – Second thoughts — May 29


VIDEO: Danny Green lets that shooting hand hang in the air after his fourth 3-pointer of the night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Throw that scouting report in the trash bin. Throw it away.

There is no explanation for what we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Five games. Five cakewalks for the home teams. And a bunch of us trying to figure out how two teams could look so unbelievably good at home and then get their respective doors blown off away from home. 

It’s not just us either. It’s the same on the inside. The mighty Tim Duncan, a man whose been doing this for nearly two decades, admitted he’s never seen anything like this series.

“This is the craziest series I’ve been involved in,” he said.

Spurs coach and reigning NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich made his move for Game 5. He made his adjustment (Matt Bonner into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter) and the lineup change did exactly what it was designed to do (specifics will not be shared by Pop), since the Spurs won the game.

Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and the mighty Duncan all did their part to help the Spurs return to the same style and tempo they played in Games 1 and 2.

The average margin of victory in this series is a staggering 20.4 points.

Game 6 awaits in Oklahoma City Saturday night. Can the Thunder get more out of Serge Ibaka, the hero from Games 3 and, but an relative non-factor in Game 5.

Good luck figuring this series out by then …

:1

The Spurs revert back to form and get everyone involved, and things turned in their favor … and the night was, for most the part, antics free.

:2

Manu and the Spurs are one win away from a back-to-back trip to The Finals, a first in the Duncan-Pop-Manu-Parker era.

(more…)

Could be time for Spurs to tweak lineup


VIDEO: GameTime previews Spurs-Thunder Game 5

SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn’t just Serge Ibaka’s miracle trip to Lourdes or a visit to the gods of Thunder that turned around the entire look and feel of the Western Conference finals. OKC coach Scott Brooks also jumped guard Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha and the offense has since been cooking.

While all of the official talk out of the Spurs’ camp the past two days has been about attitude and energy and determination, there is still speculation that Gregg Popovich could come back with a change of his own tonight for Game 5 (9 ET, TNT).

Would the Spurs consider benching Tiago Splitter and getting Boris Diaw’s outside shooting into the starting lineup to try to pull Ibaka way from the basket? Would they think about going small with Kawhi Leonard at power forward? And what of Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner, who came hustled off the bench in Game 4 to make the final score respectable?

“Ask him,” Manu Ginobili said, pointing to Popovich, when asked about lineup changes. “I’m not allowed to say anything.”

Popovich, of course, isn’t revealing anything, except to say, “we’re considering a couple of tweaks here and there, just in the plan. I don’t know exactly where that will be. But we saw some things that might warrant a little tweaking.”

Diaw told the media at Thursday’s shootaround that he was not starting. However, that means nothing.

Diaw did acknowledge that he was successful going against the Thunder’s small lineup in the first two games of the series.

“But since Ibaka came back, they don’t play small as much,” he said.  “So we actually like it when they play small. It’s when they play big that we have a hard time the last couple of games to score inside.  But whatever they give us we got to find a solution.”

Diaw said it makes sense to take advantage of his ability to score from the outside to possibly get Ibaka out of the low post, where he has disrupted and distracted the Spurs whenever they’ve gotten the ball into the paint.

“For sure,” he said. “Shooting from outside, he’s a guy that’s helping a lot so we got to try to keep him out of the paint.

“There are some open shots that we don’t take.  There are also some contested shots that we shouldn’t take, should be more patient, move the ball a little more so we can be open. We have got to pass the ball more. Because it’s what we have been doing all year. So we have got to find a way to move the ball enough so we get open shots.”

Perhaps one good tweak deserves another.

Brooks keeps on pushing right buttons for Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Scott Brooks speaks after OKC’s practice on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – Since everybody else with an armchair coaching degree lobs criticism at the Thunder’s Scott Brooks, including, apparently, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks figured he might as well sneak in a dig of his own.

During his team’s series-evening blowout of the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 4, guard Reggie Jackson rolled his ankle early in the first quarter. Brooks was asked his thought process as Jackson hopped around in pain and feared potentially to be out of commission.

“I was a little worried with Reggie when he hurt it in the first few minutes,” Brooks said. “I didn’t want to make a change in the lineup to get ridiculed, so I wanted to make sure I could get him a couple more possessions.”

Hey-O!

It was a rare shot of snarkiness from Brooks, who took to the postgame podium moments after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich belittled a reporter for asking a supposedly inaudible question because, as Popovich suggested, the questioner was oddly speaking with a mouthful of food. Brooks’ public speaking consists almost exclusively of monotone, mostly polite and low-key responses.

He rarely, if ever singles out players for criticism and steadfastly sticks to a script of optimistic, team-oriented answers. He consistently deflects credit onto his players and almost never inserts himself into the equation.

“No, that was a joke,” Brooks insisted of his spontaneous postgame wit after the Thunder’s light workout Wednesday. “That was my sense of humor. It’s a little dry at times.” (more…)

Pop’s Game 4 retreat is no surrender


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich discusses Game 4

SAN ANTONIO – Let’s face it. If any other coach in the NBA — maybe on the planet — had done what Gregg Popovich did in Game 4, he’d be online toast by now.

Just imagine what would be left of poor little Scott Brooks if he tried that stunt in OKC.

Down by 20 just five minutes into the third quarter, the Spurs’ boss called off his dogs. After all, there are only so many times he can watch them roll over and play dead and still thinks it’s a cute trick.

Trouble is, 19 minutes in this league that is built on runs and streaks and offensive explosions is an eternity and the question was asked in more than a few corners why a coach who once snarled and told his team during a timeout that he wanted “some nasty” folded his tent so politely.

“Thursday,” Pop said.

He meant, of course, Game 5 at the AT&T Center, where the Spurs’ season — if not their era as a championship contender — hangs in the balance.

Yes, Pop surrendered for a night. But just to throw the only punch he’s got left.

If Russell Westbrook brings his 40-point, 10-rebound, five-steal game, maybe it won’t matter much what the Spurs try to do. Not with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka also there to stamp the Western Conference for certain as their domain to rule for the foreseeable future.

Popovich spoke of the Thunder’s superior athleticism and length and noted that it gives you just a small margin of error. That margin was long gone in Game 4 and there was no sense chasing a pipe dream.

All, really, that Popovich was doing was following his instincts and his philosophy on managing playing time and energy expended that he’s relied on for years. Whether it’s November and it’s the end of a five games in eight nights stretch at Miami or it’s late May and the Western Conference finals, Pop watches his veterans and he watches their minutes.

With a 38-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker turning 32, Popovich has never watched and micro-managed minutes more. Not a single Spurs player averaged 30 minutes per game this season.

No matter the specific circumstance, the belief is that no one night of overextending an individual is worth the long term goal of being healthy and fresh for the grueling playoff run.

None of the Spurs looked fresh on Tuesday night. They were all outrun, out-jumped, out-hustled and outworked. Not quite three minutes into the third quarter, there was a sequence where Duncan and OKC’s Kendrick Perkins got their arms locked and tangled in the low post. It evoked a rare angry reaction from Duncan. When play resumed, Duncan turned to put up a short jumper and Ibaka blocked it solidly and even sent Duncan flailing and falling to the floor. Two minutes later, Pop pulled the plug.

While it was interesting to see the Spurs eventually fall behind by as many as 27 and then have the bomb squad of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and Jeff Ayres use sheer hustle to cut it to 12, that’s all it was, interesting.

Steve Kerr mentioned on the TNT telecast that if the lead got under double-digits, Popovich might have to consider returning his to starters to chase the win.

Uh-uh. Not for even a second.

Pop knows his team and he knows the situation his Spurs are now in. There isn’t a strategic adjustment that’s going to turn the series around, suddenly make the Thunder look less youthful and less athletic.

The only chance in Game 5 — and for all intents and purposes, the season — is to meet that OKC athleticism with as much energy as those old Spurs legs can muster.

That’s why it was the right decision, even if it was tough to watch and no other coach in the league could have gotten away with it without taking a public flogging.

One reason: “Thursday.”

The only real minutes left that matter.


VIDEO: Game 5 preview between the Thunder and Spurs

Blogtable: Stopping the OKC runaway

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.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s big challenge | Wish he was here | Runaway Thunder



VIDEO: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 71 points in OKC’s Game 4 win

> How do the Spurs stop this freight train that is OKC? Will being back in San Antonio do it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sure, why not? This has the smell of a home-cooking series (Paul George tribute, not an officiating salvo). I find the dueling forces — San Antonio’s experience and wrecking-machine offense through its first 15 postseason games vs. Oklahoma City’s athleticism and Serge Ibaka-stiffened defense — to be pulling in equal and opposite directions. I think coach Gregg Popovich and his crew can solve Serge (you didn’t really ask us for the coaching counter-move, did you?) but I’m a little leery of the mounting workload. By the time the Spurs had logged 17 games in last year’s playoffs, they already were up 2-1 in The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The way Pop says — by meeting OKC’s energy and aggression at both ends of the floor. Also by getting back to knocking down 3s.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich has his work cut out. He said it after Game 4, the Spurs have to be smarter against such great athletes, meaning they can’t make sloppy passes, they have to protect the ball on the dribble and prevent 21-0 margins in fastbreak points (the margin in Game 4). Long, fast athletic teams seem to be kryptonite for San Antonio. Think about this, eight of the Spurs’ 20 regular-season losses came to the Spurs and Rockets. With Serge Ibaka in the lineup, OKC has dumped San Antonio eight straight times and 12 out of 14. That’s no longer a small sample size. Good luck, Pop.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Being back home will help, but the dramatic turn in the series has not been about location. The Spurs need to play with better intensity, as surprising, maybe even shocking, as that is to say for such an experienced team deep in the postseason. The Thunder haven’t just taken the momentum. It looks like they have taken San Antonio’s heart. I don’t think it’s permanent, but it is a concern. Tony Parker has to respond to Russell Westbrook.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Playing at home will help, but they obviously can’t count on it as the solution. They need to find a way to start making shots in the paint again. The ball has to move and when it gets inside … pump fake! A little Basketball 101 will get the OKC shot-blockers in the air, especially if they’re rotating and recovering, allowing for easier looks inside or open shooters on the perimeter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Short of a lower leg whip on Serge Ibaka (brutal, I know), I’m not sure what legal means they can take to actually slow the Thunder down. A simple change of venue, from the arena in Oklahoma City to the one in San Antonio, might not be enough. I don’t want to be a prisoner of the moment or anything, but the Thunder certainly seem to be on to something right now with the way they are breaking the Spurs down and ravaging them in all facets of the game. It makes that 4-0 regular season record seem much more relevant now that Ibaka is back in the lineup. And it’s also telling just how difficult it is for the Spurs’ best players (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard in particular) to get going in their individual matchups. Danny Green and Manu Ginobili have to shoot lights out in Game 5 to get the Spurs back on the right side of mighty momentum in this series, or I fear we will see a remix of that 2012 playoff matchup between these two.

Spurs letting Thunder party like it’s 2012


VIDEO: Thunder wax Spurs in Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s deja vu all over again.

Hello, 2012.

Can Obama win a second term? Can the Spurs win another game against the Thunder?

There was no need for postgame locker room fireworks this time. Things got explosive early in the third quarter when coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan went jaw-to-jaw over another uncertain pass that led to another sure-thing dunk at the other end.

It’s no longer just about the inspirational presence of Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup.

It’s about the entire energetic, athletic, run-til-the-cows-come-home Thunder lineup. And a Spurs lineup that, just as it did two years ago, suddenly looks like the morning after.

This is no longer a matter of simply asking Tony Parker to play better. It’s about finding a way for the Spurs to regain their poise and effectiveness against an OKC team that in the last two games has come at them like a rolling bundle of butcher knives.

There have been four games played now and four blowouts. But no matter what the series score sheet says, it doesn’t feel like the Western Conference finals are tied at 2-2.

You could say the Spurs have been put back on their heels, if it didn’t look like they were flat on their backs. It’s looking just like two years ago, when the Thunder spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead and then roared back for a reverse sweep.

Remember Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio when the Thunder front line of Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha put up just nine combined points? It pushed Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make a lineup change to get Reggie Jackson on the floor with the starters and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation.

Here was Duncan (nine points) Tiago Splitter (3) and Danny Green (3) managing to squeeze out just a few more drops and the solution is hardly to sound the trumpet for more of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and the Desperation Cavalry.

With the young arms and legs of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lamb and Jackson cutting off angles and jumping into passing lanes, the Thunder have smothered San Antonio’s offense.

With their driving, relentless aggressiveness, OKC has also overwhelmed the Spurs’ defense. Of Westbrook’s 40 points and Durant’s 31, a lion’s share came with them going to hoop and making the Spurs look helpless to do anything about it.

It ended up 21-0 in fast break points. What’s more, in the first half the Spurs did not even run a single transition play. That’s plays, not points.

While Parker came out determined to re-establish his attack mode in the paint, his constant challenging of Ibaka actually took the Spurs out of their offense.

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench. They’d know who Serge was.

“(It was) really unwise basketball … instead of hitting open people that are out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots. We have seven turnovers in the first half, but really 14 because of seven blocks. You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error. You’d better be smart the way you play and you can’t afford to screw up as many times as we did.”

At this time of the season with a core of veterans, there are not Xs and Os to be rearranged on the chalkboard that will deliver a solution. That’s the reason why Popovich pulled Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard when the OKC reached 27 points and it was still the third quarter. He needs to conserve whatever is left in those worn tanks for what is left of the series and maybe the season.

“This has got nothing to do with adjustments,” Popovich said. “It’s about playing smarter and harder for more consistent minutes.”

Not doing that has turned Chesapeake Arena into the Spurs’ own house of horrors.

Since the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs have an NBA-best road record of 62-33 against 28 other teams. But they’re also 0-9 in OKC since then, too.

“I think we should not think like that,” Parker said. “Each game is different, each series, each year.”

So how come it feels like 2012 and we already know how the election and everything else turned out?

24 – Second thoughts — May 27


VIDEO: Serge Ibaka was feeling just fine in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Time travel is real.

Don’t believe it? Just look at how much damage Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder did to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They partied like it was … Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference finals.

What looked to be a whitewash a few days ago is suddenly a series. The Spurs were up 2-0 and in complete control with Ibaka supposedly done for the postseason with that calf strain. Two games later and the momentum has shifted in an entirely different direction with Ibaka, the ultimate rim protector, back in the mix.

Now we have to wait 48 hours to see the next twist and turn in this series. The Thunder reeled off four straight in 2012 to advance to The Finals and face the Miami Heat.

Could we be headed for a repeat performance?

If these two have anything to say about it …

… you never know!

:1

#RelentlessRussWest joins Michael Jordan in that elite playoff category … the 40-10-5 club!

:2

The two true #forcesofnature in these playoffs …

(more…)