Team Basketball beat individual ability; Old Guard beating New Guard. The San Antonio Spurs simply played better as a team, with Manu Ginobili stepping up to carry them when it got rough, while the Oklahoma City Thunder simply lost the game because they played like a group of guys with nothing in common but the jersey.
Look at the big three numbers on both sides – The Thunder, with the more talented and younger big three, finished a bit below their regular numbers. Kevin Durant had 27 points, James Harden had 19, Russell Westbrook finished with 17. They usually don’t need much in terms of points from the rest of their guys, while their top 3 usually finish with at least 67-68 points.
On the other side, the Spurs are not just about how much Duncan-Ginobili-Parker score. It’s the +/- game and how they change everything when they’re on the court together. Manu Ginobili led the way with 26 points, Tony Parker had 18 and Tim Duncan finished with 16 points. The sum? Thunder win 63-62. But the Thunder’s biggest advantage is their ability to score with ease when Durant/Westbrook/Harden get hot. In the fourth quarter, each basket came in agony.
Unlike the Spurs, who simply played their ‘European’ kind of basketball. Ginobili thrives in it, while Tony Parker waited for things to open up and spaced to be created so he can finally leave his mark on the game. Spacing and passing. We saw a lot of this from the guys in white, especially after Popovich made his ‘Nasty’ speech. Like he willed his players to start playing harder.
And when the Spurs took that extra step as a steam, the Thunder folded into their own shell. I’m pretty sure the isolation moves and desperate drives weren’t what Scott Brooks had in mind. When he used a small lineup, including a waiting Derek Fisher in the corner, he had this in mind – Russell Westbrook and James Harden driving to the basket, getting the double team, and finding an open Fish for the shot. Fisher played his part, finishing with 13 points and 6-8 from the field. He just didn’t get enough passes. Three charges and a combined nine turnovers by the two were what Brooks got instead.
Kevin Durant tried to take matters into his own hands, but Stephen Jackson did what the standard defense books say to do with Durant. Simply be in his face, under his chin, between his arms at every second of every play. Durant tried to get rid of the ball by either pulling up for quick shots or simply giving the ball to less capable hands after tiring out from driving into the paint and getting fouled.
Are the Spurs the better team? Again, it’s about the word team. Because as the final moments of the game chose to show, the Thunder don’t need to play like one to win basketball games. They simply run like the wind and shoot three pointers. When they get hot enough, that just might be enough to win. This is NBA basketball. Having the superior top-talent is enough to win plenty of times. But not in Game 1. And if the Thunder don’t change some things regarding the way they address the Spurs aggressive defense and motion offense, their favorites label will fizzle out very quickly. Maybe it already has.