Entering the Western Conference Finals, you would have had to say that Oklahoma City was the favorite. After all, the Thunder swept the Spurs 4-0 during the regular season and had taken 10 of 11 against them since the 2012 playoffs.
But then Serge Ibaka hurt his calf and will miss the rest of the postseason.
“Ibaka – the rim protector, the guy that has given Tim Duncan so much trouble on the low block, the guy that has altered a lot of Tony Parker’s drives over the past couple seasons – he’s not there,” BasketballInsiders.com NBA analyst Lang Greene said on The MoJo Show. “But the Thunder have two of the top 15 players in the NBA, and the NBA playoffs is a stars league, and stars shine bright on the biggest stage. So this is going to be a challenge for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to bring their hard hats to the game ever night because they don’t have their third piece.”
Durant (28) and Westbook (25) combined for 53 points on a respectable 19-of-40 shooting (47.5 percent) in Game 1 in San Antonio on Monday. Unfortunately for the Thunder, that wasn’t nearly enough.
The Spurs dominated down low – scoring an astounding 66 points in the paint – in a 122-105 win. Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting (57.9 percent).
“He’s lost a lot (over the years). Father Time is undefeated, guys. Father Time will get you,” Greene said. “But I’ll tell you what: It’s a testament to learning the fundamentals of the game. Footwork, working the ball off the glass, all the little subtle nuances of the game – Tim Duncan has that. So that’s why he’s still been able to play at a very high level. Plus, his supporting cast and the system that he’s in have kind of masked a little bit of his aging, especially when you compare him to a guy like Kevin Garnett, who just fell off the cliff this season. (Duncan) still has some game left, but he’s not a guy that can carry a team every night anymore like a Kevin Durant or a LeBron James.”
That’s fine. He did more than his fair share on Monday, as Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Steven Adams were more or less invisible. That trio combined for nine points. They also allowed San Antonio to have its way down low.
The Thunder entered Game 1 allowing 42.4 points per game in the paint through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Spurs almost had that many by halftime.
“I expect San Antonio to do what they do,” Greene said. “They play a methodical style of basketball. It’s a selfless brand of basketball. They don’t care who has the most points at the end of the day. They’re going to spread you out, they’re going to pass the ball around (and) they’re going to (get a good) shot.”
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, was far too reliant on Durant and Westbrook. Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson combined for 29 points off the bench, but Thabo Sefolosha was held scoreless.
Thus, the Thunder’s starting five scored 58 points. Durant and Westbrook scored 53 of them.
It appears that duo will have to play otherworldly if the Thunder have any hope of winning the series.
“They’re going to have to set the pace,” Greene said.
Looking at the Eastern Conference, the Pacers destroyed the Heat in Game 1, 107-96, and will try to grab a 2-0 series lead on Tuesday.
“There’s something about the Miami Heat matchup that they just look at like a prime steak – and you see Roy Hibbert, he’s in there feasting,” Greene said. “He’s been struggling the first two rounds of the playoffs, but he sees Chris Bosh, and he just sees an opportunity to shine. If (Hibbert gives them consistent production), Miami could be in trouble.”