San Antonio Spurs eliminate turnovers, edge Thunder


May 27, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guards Russell Westbrook (0) and Derek Fisher (37) against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half in game one of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT

The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder by three points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on the strength of their 39-point fourth quarter outburst.

It was a methodical victory, one that was considerably more difficult than the majority of the Spurs’ wins on their 19-game winning streak. After San Antonio was held to 16 points in the third quarter and 62 for the first three quarters, it was pretty apparent that this Thunder team was going to make it very difficult on the hometown Spurs. Actually, given the relative ineffectiveness of the Spurs offense, it seemed that Oklahoma City was going to continue to use their athleticism — they scored 17 points in transition — against the less gifted Spurs until their emerging defense was rendered mute and unable to cope with the dizzying abilities of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook.

Scott Brooks utilized this specific facet to his advantage, implementing a lot of smaller, agile lineups with Durant at the 4. Without two lumbering big man, the Thunder offense is allowed to roam freely and with blind abandon. Of course, these lineups aren’t favorable lineups defensively but the offensive advantage seems to outweigh the disadvantage of sticking a 6’9″ small forward at the 4. Durant doesn’t have the requisite girth to guard most power forwards for extended minutes but the idea is that their defensive output will be irrelevant. Shifting Durant over allows for Harden and Westbrook to play together and the floor-spacing Derek Fisher to also log minutes at the 2. Their rebounding doesn’t take too much of a hit because Durant rebounds well enough to not make him a liability.

It was San Antonio who helped initiate the explosive Thunder attack. They committed 14 turnovers in the first half, the majority of which spurned a furious foray to the rim or free throw attempts. The pace was frenetic — which doesn’t exactly hurt the Spurs but it appeared that Oklahoma City took more advantage of the pace — and the Spurs’ offensive execution was shoddy.

They cleared up their offensive mess in the second half and, with a small, perimeter oriented lineup of their own, took advantage of the Thunder defense. Ball movement kicked up and Stephen Jackson’s persistent defense on Durant, along with other impressive defensive contributions from the bench, attributed to the slowly dwindling lead.

Oklahoma City’s offense went into a brief funk and San Antonio continued to churn out solid offensive possessions predicated on the brilliance of Manu Ginobili (sorry for taking so long to mention him). Ginobili finished with 26 points, five rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers.

Oklahoma City continued to rely on their small lineup and Kendrick Perkins, tasked with defending Tim Duncan and the incessant Spurs pick-and-roll attack. Perkins shouldn’t be blamed for the success of the Spurs’ pick-and-roll but he was slightly at fault, along with defensive mishaps on the perimeter, for San Antonio scoring 0.89 points per possessions on pick-and-rolls.

It was a little interesting that Scott Brooks continued to trot out Perkins with his smaller lineups because he’s an offensive liability. The Thunder weren’t defending well with him in the lineup and going to Serge Ibaka and, to a lesser extent, Nick Collison could have given them the offensive spacing and defensive fortitude to quell San Antonio’s attack. Certainly interesting decision nonetheless.

In a perhaps more important development, Jackson limited Durant to zero field goals in the fourth quarter. That marks the third time in Durant’s postseason career that he was held without a field goal in the final quarter. Jackson did an excellent job attaching himself to Durant’s hip and exerting a lot of energy to fluster the league-leading scorer. Jackson didn’t play too well against the Clippers but Jack will very important in this series. His length and flexibility gives San Antonio many lineup options with him entrenched at power forward that can both attack offensively and defend capably. Durant got his points but he missed more than half of his shots.

The Spurs will surely live with that kind of efficiency in Game 2.

Game notesOnly two teams have began the postseason on a better run than the 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs … Both those teams made the NBA Finals; the 2001 Lakers finished the deal … The Spurs committed 14 turnovers in the first half, tying their highest total in the first 24 minutes … Oklahoma City scored 15 points off turnovers, 13 of which came in the first half … The Spurs outscored the Thunder by 14 points in the paint in the final quarter … San Antonio was +14 with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker on the court in tandem … They were -11 otherwise … San Antonio’s 39-point fourth quarter was the most they’ve scored in a fourth quarter since Feb. 13, 2008, a 41-point comeback against Cleveland … Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook shot 38.6% from the field …