When the news broke after the round 2 series against the Clippers that Serge Ibaka could be out for the rest of the playoffs the Oklahoma City Thunder knew they would have to adjust. After dropping game one of the Western Conference finals to the Spurs last night it is clear they will need to adjust quicker. The Thunder tried their best to hang with the veteran laden Spurs but were thoroughly taken apart by Tim Duncan and company.
The Spurs big three of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan reminded the Thunder they still have it last night in game one of their Western Conference finals matchup. The Spurs grabbed an early lead at home through a hot 8-9 from the field start from Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard played excellently, in addition to the big three, as he had 16 points, six rebounds and three steals and made both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work on the defensive end. After being very quiet in the previous series against the Blazers Ginobili returned to form to give the Spurs 18 points off the bench going 3-4 from behind the arc.
One thing the Thunder can take away from last night’s loss is that it will be very unlikely that the Spurs continue to shoot 53 percent from three. On the other hand though, it is also very unlikely that they will get another 16-point performance from Derek Fisher. Finding that consistent third scorer will be key for the Thunder because at his age Fisher cannot be counted on to play 26 minutes a night as he was forced to last night. Reggie Jackson is the likely option to pick up the scoring in Ibaka’s absence and he played well last night. The problem with playing Jackson, Westbrook and Durant all together comes on the defensive end as that leaves them very small against the Spurs very balanced offensive attack. In game one, coach Scott Brooks experimented with a good amount of different lineups, at one time even playing with Durant as the makeshift center. These looks made it very easy for the Spurs to attack them on offense all night long and that’s exactly what they did.
The Thunder will undoubtedly need to improve on the defensive end if they want to have a chance in this series going forward. Ibaka’s absence is enormous for them and last night just proved exactly that. Ibaka has developed into not only one of the best shot blockers in the NBA but an excellent third scoring option for OKC. Without Ibaka they are left very thin down low with only Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Steven Adams as legitimate post players. All three of those players can take on some of the defensive responsibilities, but none of them can be counted on as scoring threats down low. The Thunder have to find a way to guard Tim Duncan or he will continue to pick them apart all series, and because of the lack of scoring coming from the Thunder big men he will be able to save much of his energy for the offensive end.
Game one showed the Thunder that to beat the Spurs they will need to focus much more on playing team defense. Everyone knows the Thunder can score with anyone, but now they need to buy into playing a much more team oriented defensive style. After dropping game one the Thunder need to find some sort of answer to replace the injured Ibaka, and that will be hard to do against a team that is so well coached in the Spurs.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius