May 19, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tiago Splitter (22) dunks the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of the Western Conference Finals in the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs out-executed and outperformed the Oklahoma City Thunder down the stretch en route to a 122-105 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs had their way with the Thunder for most of the first quarter with Tim Duncan leading the way. Although the Thunder downplayed Serge Ibaka’s absence before the game, the lack of his presence in the paint was extremely noticeable. With the Thunder doubling Tony Parker on every pick and roll, the Spurs and Duncan took advantage by getting the ball to him early and often.
Although the Spurs lead ballooned in the second quarter, the Thunder finished the half well and were only down by eight at the start of the third. Things got interesting when the Thunder took a 76-75 lead with 5:06 left in the third quarter.
The reason the Thunder were able to get back into the game was in a large part due to the Spurs stagnant offense. The Thunder did do a much better job defensively so they deserve some credit, but for the most part the Spurs were just forcing things on offense and had little to no ball movement up until the Thunder’s lead.
That is when San Antonio turned on the jets. For the remainder of the game, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 47-29.
— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) May 20, 2014
The Spurs really laid the hammer down in the fourth quarter, largely due to the success of the Spurs small lineup. This lineup included Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Danny Green/Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli, and Boris Diaw. With the Thunder going small, the Spurs took full advantage of the mismatch that Diaw presented down in the post. By the end of the game, the Spurs had managed to score 66 points in the paint. 66 points! That’s a ridiculous number.
Due to their feasting of the dinner buffet known as the Thunder’s paint, the Spurs shot 57.5% from the field while also shooting a solid 52.9% from three. The Spurs beat the Thunder in almost every category of the box score, including rebounding (40-37), assists (28-19), and turnovers (9-16). While this victory was certainly exceptional, it only counts for one game. The Spurs have a lot of work to do going forward in order for them to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals. From a player’s standpoint, I have a few observations regarding each Spur and their performances last night.
The Big Three
May 19, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) in game one of the Western Conference Finals in the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
For starters, Tony Parker had a terrific game. Some people were getting on to him for not leading the Spurs in scoring, which I do not understand at all, but he obviously did not need to for them to win. The biggest thing for Tony going forward is making the right decisions for his team and taking what defenses will give him.
Last night, Tony did a wonderful job of taking the right shots at the right time. Since the Thunder doubled him on almost every pick and roll, which is what the Miami Heat did in last year’s Finals, Parker was able to tally up 12 assists. His hamstring injury was hardly noticeable in the game, so hopefully he will continue to progress throughout this series. Manu Ginobili’s performance was a tale of two halves.
As Aaron Preine of Project Spurs tweeted , Ginobili finished the first half a sorry 0-3 shooting with one assist and one turnover. In the second half, Ginobili came to life and more than made up for his poor showing with a strong final two quarters.
Tale of two halves for Manu: 0-3 FG, 1 AST, 1 TO in the first half. 7-9 FG for 18 PTS, 2 AST, 0 TO in the second.
— Aaron Preine PS (@DukeOfBexar) May 20, 2014
It was refreshing to see Manu’s shot, which seemed completely lost in the Portland series, come back in the second half. It helped that the Thunder did not have Ibaka down low to alter some of Ginobili’s hard-pressed drives, but the fact that Manu played better than he did in all of the Portland games combined is a great sign for the Spurs.
Tim Duncan was the main beneficiary of Ibaka’s absence. With defenders like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Steven Adams, and even Kevin Durant on him, Duncan went to town early and often.
Duncan finished the night 11-19 shooting for 27 points. I expect the Thunder to make some sort of adjustment going forward (maybe gives some minutes to Hasheem Thabeet?), but Duncan is going to have to continue his paint dominance in order for the Spurs to keep the Thunder on their heels.
On the defensive side of the ball, Duncan and the other bigs have to make a more concerted effort to get back on defense on fast breaks. I understand he is a 38 year old stud, but Westbrook and Durant are always looking to attack after missed Spurs shots.
If it was only one or two times, then Duncan could be excused, but Westbrook had at least four to six easy layups because the Spurs did not have any sort of rim protection in transition. I expect nothing less than for Popovich to point this out during film and for Duncan and the other bigs to adjust.
The “Other Guys”
May 19, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) in game one of the Western Conference Finals in the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 122-105. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Danny Green built off his Game 4 and 5 performances against the Blazers by finishing the game with 16 points on 6-7 shooting with four of his makes coming from behind the arc.
If you didn’t already know, Green is an exceptional spot-up shooter, especially on fast breaks. He also has developed a pull up three in transition, which he more often than not hits. Green needs to continue to look for his shot, because when he is hitting threes, the floor opens even more up for his teammates.
The Kawhi Leonard we saw last night was the Kawhi Leonard I said the Spurs were going to need in this series. He was super aggressive from the opening tip, which was a good and bad thing.
I have said in the past that Kawhi needs to get some early buckets to build his confidence and keep him mentally engaged from the beginning of the game, but it has to be done in a controlled aggression. He can’t be flying around like a bull in a china shop, *cough Russell Westbrook cough* which is what he did a few times early in the game. He also over dribbled a few possessions, but those are all small mistakes that should not put a dent into his overall production.
I stated in my preview of this series that Kawhi needed to make Durant work on defense so that Durant would have to expend energy. Kawhi must have read my preview (or he is a bright guy, which he is of couse, but I would like to unrealistically think he read my preview) because he outright stated that that exactly was what he was trying to do (Paul Garcia PS @PaulGarciaPS).
On defense, Kawhi did an excellent job on Durant. Sure, he lost him a few times and gave up a few wide-open threes, but for the majority of the game Kawhi was in Durant’s grill and made life tough for him. If Kawhi can continue to hound Durant on defense, be a menace in the passing lanes, and fill up the stat sheet on both sides of the ball, then the Spurs are going to control this series. Kawhi has taken his game to the next level ever since the Portland series, so I expect him to continue to do his thing.
Last but not least is Boris Diaw.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the Land Walrus due to the unique skill set he brings to the Spurs. He is often seen as a second point guard on the floor, he has the ability to spot up and hit open and contested jumpers, and he has the footwork and body control of a post down on the block. In this series, Boris looks like he will be utilizing his post skills more than anything else.
When the Thunder went to a really funky and small lineup that included Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, and Kevin Durant, Diaw was used as the 5. Sorry, but Durant’s resemblance to Slender Man is even more accentuated when he is defending the Land Walrus (AKA Cake Eater, AKA Boris and his Boobs). While Durant may have the length to bother Diaw, he definitely does not have the strength to keep him away from the basket.
Diaw has to continue to be aggressive down in the block when he is matched up against Durant or against Butler/Jackson/Westbrook on switches. That is a huge mismatch the Spurs exploited last night and will continue to exploit if it is continually going to be there. Diaw has to be up for that challenge and remain aggressive.