We knew the absence of Serge Ibaka would be tough to overcome for the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, thanks to the lineup data that showed just how easily San Antonio was able to score when he was off the floor during their regular season matchups.
What we weren’t certain of is just how quickly and forcefully the Spurs would be able to take advantage.
Without a rim protector on the floor and with the Thunder opting for small lineups to try to keep up offensively for most of the night, San Antonio scored a ridiculous 66 points in the paint, on the way to shooting better than 57 percent from the field while cruising to an easy 122-105 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Spurs took nearly half of their 87 shots right at the rim, and went 31-of-43 from the restricted area, good for 72.1 percent. By contrast, the Thunder only made a total of 37 shots, and instead were forced to try to keep pace with a high number of free throw attempts, and above average shooting from three-point distance.
Nick Collison got the start for Oklahoma City in place of Ibaka, but proved to be ineffective almost immediately. He badly missed a couple of the open looks Ibaka normally knocks down at a high percentage, and did nothing in the early going defensively to earn an extended stay on the floor. Scott Brooks decided to go with incredibly small lineups to try to match San Antonio’s offensive output, but it didn’t solve the problem of slowing the Spurs down.
Oklahoma City was able to make a run in the third quarter, thanks to more traditional lineups forcing the Spurs into longer possessions offensively, along with some firepower of their own, courtesy of Russell Westbrook. The explosive guard attacked the rim time and again in the period, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the third while bringing his team back.
But a 10-0 run from the Spurs to close the third had the lead back up to nine before the period was finished, and with the Thunder out of answers, San Antonio ran away with it in the fourth, pushing the lead to as many as 23 points before the game was finished.
Kevin Durant made some momentum-killing shots to keep his team close, and finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. But he was just 5-of-12 in the second half, and it seems as though his team will need transcendent performances from the reigning MVP just to have a shot against these Spurs.
After the Pacers took Game 1 in the East from the Heat at home, it felt like caution was warranted before jumping to conclusions — it’s just one game, and it’s likely to be a long series. But after watching the way the Spurs offense rolled over a Thunder team missing its key interior defender, Game 1 in the West feels like we could see three more just like it.