For the San Antonio Spurs, Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was just another day at the office. The Spurs won the series opener against the Thunder 122-105, largely on the backs of the three superstars who have made the organization so successful.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili stole the show (again). It’s hardly a surprise when the three of them play so well, but their consistency is what continues to amaze. Duncan may have been the best player on the court with 27 points and seven rebounds. Parker turned in an equally impressive performance for a point guard with 14 points and a game-high 16 assists to a single turnover. Ginobili was also wildly effective, leading all bench scorers with 18 points. Add in a little Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who combined for 32 points, and you’ve got a blowout.
Previously, I cautioned that the Thunder needed to play better defense to move past the efficient Spurs. They needed to cause turnovers, force San Antonio into mistakes, and essentially outhustle their opponents. Game 1 proved, however, that may be difficult — if not impossible.
The Spurs have played better defense coming into the series and did so again in the opener. San Antonio forced Oklahoma City into turnover after turnover (16 of them, to be exact) and the Thunder shot only 46.3 percent on the night. They were also clearly the aggressors, getting into the paint where they feasted.
Part of the reason for that was the missing Serge Ibaka, who is out for the postseason with a calf injury. The Spurs scored more than half of their points in the paint and without Ibaka to serve as a deterrent, the Thunder were virtually inviting them inside. His nearly nine rebounds per game are also considerable for the team and that type of production is extremely difficult to replace.
Ibaka’s presence defensively is what really hurt the team, but offensively, the Thunder could have used him as well.
Oklahoma City scored 105 points, but only 46 in the second half. While Ibaka averaged 15.1 points per contest this season, his replacement, Nick Collison, went scoreless on Monday. Collison is known as a capable veteran, but simply doesn’t have the firepower to fill Ibaka’s shoes. His uninspired zero-point, three-rebound performance coupled with an equally bad scoreless night from starter Thabo Sefolosha put far too much of the load on stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Those two guys are good, but they can’t carry an entire team against the likes of San Antonio.
At this point, it would be foolish to rule out the Thunder. However, the lack of Ibaka in Game 1 was a glaring hole and the team will need more production from Collison and Sefalosha the rest of the series if they expect to win it.