Spurs dominate the paint in Ibaka’s absence, cruise to blowout Game 1 win over Thunder

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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.

Enraged Jason Smith restrained from Mario Chalmers (video)

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During the Wizards’ win over the Grizzlies last night, Mario Chalmers tried to stop Jason Smith from shooting after Smith had been called for travelling. It’s a fairly common tactic, one pioneered by Kevin Garnett. Players don’t want their opponents to gain confidence by seeing the ball go through the net, even after play stops.

But Chalmers held onto Smith’s arm, and Smith took umbrage.

NBC Sports Washington:

I think it’s more likely, after halting Smith’s shot, Chalmers was trying to hold up Smith rather than yank him down. But I can’t know Chalmers’ intentions, and holding up a falling person by his arm isn’t very effective.

The double technical foul called seems about fair.

PBT Extra: Two months from trade deadline watch DeAndre Jordan and… Paul George?

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The NBA trade deadline got moved up this season to Feb. 8 so the league can avoid the spectacle of DeMarcus Cousins being traded during the All-Star Game and then doing an uncomfortable press interview afterward where he had to be told of the situation.

That means we are less than two months away from the trade deadline, and in this PBT Extra I look at the big names that could be on the market.

The Clippers seem likely to move DeAndre Jordan, the only questions are where and what will they get back? But three other teams have big decisions to make about their stars: Oklahoma City with Paul George, New Orleans with DeMarcus Cousins, and Memphis with Marc Gasol. Right now none of those guys are on the market, but that could change.

Trey Lyles dunks on Jayson Tatum then disrespects him far worse (video)

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Trey Lyles made a nice play in the Nuggets’ loss to the Celtics last night, driving by Jayson Tatum then dunking on him.

On the other hand, that swirl around Tatum’s head was not very nice at all.

Three Things to Know: Paul George returns to Indiana, gets bailed out by OKC defense

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Paul George returns to Indiana, gets booed, and gets win… thanks to Thunder defense. Russell Westbrook got his triple-double (10 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists). Paul George got some measure of satisfaction with a win on a night he returned to Indiana and was booed mercilessly by the Pacer faithful.

But George didn’t earn them this win, at least on the offensive end. This was a typical Thunder win because it was their elite defense bailing out an unimpressive offense. Again. The Thunder’s big trio of Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony remained in an offensive funk they cannot shoot their way out of, going a combined 10-of-45 from the floor Wednesday, or 22.2 percent.

What the Thunder can fall back on is their defense — second best in the NBA this season (100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Indiana came into the game with a top-10 offense and OKC held them in check. The Pacers scored 7.7 points per 100 less than they have averaged for the season. Victor Oladipo, who had been destroying teams for a week, shot 9-of-26 on the night with George as the primary defender on him most of the game. However, Oladipo did lead a charge from 11 down with just more than 5 minutes to go to make it a game late. Then came the big play of the game: Down three with 10 seconds to go, the Pacers tried to get the ball to Oladipo, but it was George who tipped and stole the inbounds pass, followed by hit two free throws after being fouled, to ice the game.

The Thunder got a huge performance from Steven Adams, who had 23 points but more importantly nine offensive rebounds — Oklahoma City grabbed the offensive board and got a second chance on 35.4 percent of their missed shots, and that was the difference in this game.

This didn’t feel like a game where the Thunder turned any corners, but it’s a win on the road and the Thunder will take that without asking any questions.

2) Rockets have yet to lose since Chris Paul returned, win streak reaches 11 after beating Charlotte. It’s not as simple as “Chris Paul came back and Houston can’t lose.” First off, they were winning a lot before he came back. Second, if you’re going to credit something credit the Houston defense, which has been the best in the NBA over the last 11 games (allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions).

That said, Chris Paul dropped 31 points and 11 assists on Charlotte, torched the Hornet defense, and did it effortlessly as always.

It’s this simple: Houston is a legit contender and the team best poised to knock off Golden State this postseason. How they match up with the Warriors in a series is a question left for late May. We’re a long way from there. But that big question is not going to be answered until then, and the Rockets have answered all the other ones thrown at them so far.

3) Gordon Hayward got his boot off. Celtics’ fans fever dreams of Gordon Hayward returning from his horrific dislocated ankle injury in time for the playoffs — giving Boston a better shot at dethroning LeBron James and the Cavaliers — got a boost on Wednesday.

Hayward is out of his walking boot.

Not to put a damper on those dreams (well, kind of actually) Hayward himself said if things don’t progress he will be back in the boot, and there remains no official timetable for his return. Hayward, his agent, and the Celtics have all said not to expect him back this season… but if you’re a dreaming Celtics fan that just sounds like a PR statement, a managing of expectations so butts are covered if he’s not back.

Hayward is reportedly working hard on his rehab. He talked to Kobe Bryant and Paul George early in the process, guys who know about bouncing back from injury, and both told him to go at rehab hard every day like it was preparing for a game. Do everything the doctors and trainers say. There would be good days, bad days, but work the process. By all accounts, Hayward is doing just that.

And that still doesn’t mean he will be back for these playoffs. We all saw that injury, right? If he’s not back this season, nobody should blink. That was nasty. But he is out of his boot and walking normally, and that’s a good sign because what everyone wants to see is him back on the court. Whenever it happens.