The Western conference finals move on to game 2 as the San Antonio Spurs feel pretty confident about their 1-0 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder, who seem like a two-man team going up against a well oiled machine, and no matter how good Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be; without a huge defensive improvement and at least one more player that helps them offensively, this might be a shorter than expect series.
Players’ worth is usually measured during their absence. Serge Ibaka not playing meant the Spurs were able to score 122 points with Tim Duncan putting on a show with 27 and the team as a whole shot 57.5% from the field and 52.9% from beyond the arc. Sure, we’re not going to see that kind of shot making every night, but the Spurs got what they wanted on offense for almost the entire night except for a stretch in the third quarter.
That stretch probably showed the only lineup that works right now for the Thunder defensively. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, obviously, with Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins in the paint while Thabo Sefolosha provides size and defense on the wings, but without his open shots dropping, too much falls on the shoulders of Durant and Westbrook. As talented, skillful and athletic as they might be, a full game of attacking the basket or taking contested shots just isn’t going to work.
Scott Brooks can’t play like that all night and tried different things. His super small lineup with Durant, Butler, Fisher, Jackson and Westbrook was a disaster. Fisher and Jackson did score 29 points together, but the Thunder were still looking for those mid range shots they were missing due to Ibaka’s absence. Worse – their defense had no chance stopping the Spurs with so many mismatches created with that experiment.
Maybe Tony Parker isn’t completely healthy. He scored 14 points but was overwhelmed by Westbrook whenever he attacked him and had long minutes of disappearing. Unlike the Thunder, there are those who make up for his problems: Manu Ginobili was playing with that killer instinct he possesses at times, hitting his biggest shots just when the Thunder were having their run during the third quarter. Kawhi Leonard is no longer underrated, and anything he does on the floor on both ends shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. Danny Green was a monster on defense and got too many open shots, getting into his NBA finals form.
The Spurs did still give up 105 points. They way they struggled in the second half against that big and aggressive lineup created plenty of running opportunities for the Thunder, who attacked the rim as Westbrook and Durant combined to score 17 points in the third quarter. The Spurs can’t give up on what worked for them so well for most of the game and suddenly try to look like a different team. There’s a reason all of this has been working for so long, and hitting a wall shouldn’t deter them from that.
Scott Brooks is always criticized for the lack of adjustments he makes. It’s always ride the Durant-Westrbook train and hope for the best. Without Ibaka, his options are limited, but it might mean using a lot more of Steven Adams and Nick Collison than he would like to. Small lineups seem to be wrong for this series no matter what he tries, so unless Perkins or Adams turn into scoring machines, while hoping for the usual Durant/Westbrook explosion, this team seems to be in quite a lot of trouble.