By Randy Renner
When Thunder head coach Scott Brooks spoke to reporters just after his team's shootaround today he again declined to reveal who will be introduced at power forward in the Thunder starting lineup.
After practice Saturday he indicated it could be one of several different players, he started by naming Steven Adams and took the list all the way down to Derek Fisher and Caron Butler who we all know good and well won't be spending any time filling in for Serge Ibaka.
Today in San Antonio, Brooks still wouldn't say for sure but he may have softened his stance a tad admitting, "there's a good chance," it could be Nick Collison who goes out with the starters instead of coming into the game at his usual time, about halfway or so through the first quarter.
On Saturday after practice in Oklahoma City Brooks talked at length about what Collison brings to the table.
“Nick can make the simple play immediately without having a second to react whether it’s a dribble hand off or just a swing-swing pass or a pin down,” Brooks said then. “He obviously has great experience, a feel for the game and great chemistry with our scorers with our screening, and his ability to make plays off a backdoor cut. His IQ is very high and he has a great understanding on how to play and a great understanding of doing whatever it takes to win mentality.”
In the deciding Game 6 of the Clipper series it was Collison who came in when Ibaka went down with his strained calf muscle and Brooks also put Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams on the court with Collison, a lineup that had been used just six minutes, SIX MINUTES, previously during the entire season.
Over the next 15 minutes In Game 6, that group scored 42 points and allowed just 24 on 41 percent shooting, turning a 7-point deficit into an 11-point lead. Extrapolated to a 100-possession pace, the lineup’s point differential was +64.3.
You can bet Brooks and his coaches know that stat and I'd expect to see that group on the floor together at some point tonight. It should also be interesting to see how the Spurs respond to it since they've never played against that particular group.
Another thing about Collison and Adams on the floor together is rebounding efficiency.
They played together for 494 minutes in the regular season and during that time the Thunder rebounded 33.4 percent of their own misses, compared to 26.5 across the whole season. Collison and Adams can also set screens and roll hard to the basket, allowing the Thunder to spread the defense even without a great perimeter-shooting big guy on the floor. Which will help offset the absence of Ibaka.
More Notes On Tonight's Game
- Thunder guard Andre Roberson will be on the active roster tonight for the first time in the playoffs and it's especially nice for him since San Antonio is his home town.
- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the fourth time in NBA history where one team, in this case the Thunder, was 4-0 or better versus another team in the regular season and then met in the Conference Finals. Each of the three previous times, the team that swept the regular season won the playoff series as well.
- The first game of a playoff series on the road has been tough on the Thunder, they've never won one. In fact the Thunder/Sonics have lost 10 straight Game 1s on the road.
- The Spurs don't have much of a problem with first games, they've won nine straight Game 1s, some of them were played at home, some on the road, didn't matter.
- How important is it to win Game 1? It would be huge for the Thunder if they can tonight because of the absence of Ibaka, but through the years the Spurs are 22-4 in best-of-7 series when winning Game 1 in the Gregg Popovich era (6-7 when they don’t); the Thunder have a 5-2 series record when winning Game 1 since moving to OKC (3-2 when they don’t).
Of course we all remember one of those Spurs losses and one of those Thunder wins came in the Western Conference Finals in 2012. The Spurs won Game 1 (and Game 2 for that matter) in San Antonio and then the Thunder took the next four games to win the series.
And we'll finish this up with word from San Antonio that point guard Tony Parker, despite some lingering stiffness and soreness in his hamstring, will play tonight. Did any of you have any doubts that he would? The big question is how effective he can be with some of those lingering effects, going up against Westbrook.
Tipoff will be shortly after 8 o'clock Oklahoma time tonight. Coverage starts on TNT at 7pm.