By Randy Renner
I was on a radio show on Sunday talking Thunder-Spurs and at that time I said I thought the Thunder would stumble in Game 1 down in old San Antone.
Stumble because they'd never played a big time game without Serge Ibaka, he's only missed three games over the last four seasons, and I figured there'd be a lot of different and unusual lineups used and I just thought the Spurs, playing at home, would be able to meet the challenges better than the Thunder.
Game 2 is when I thought the Thunder would have things figured out and come away with a win.
Well, after last night's 122-105 Spurs beat down, I'm not totally sure there IS a way to figure things out.
Ibaka's loss left a gaping hole in the middle of the Thunder defense and the Spurs drove into it all night long. San Antonio scored 66 of their 122 points in the paint.
In the regular season the Thunder averaged giving up 40 paint points and in four games against the Spurs the number was up to 45. Last night the Spurs had 40 by halftime.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich wouldn't admit his team had drawn a bulls-eye in the paint, "we never go into a game thinking we have to shoot a bunch of threes or get into the paint, we just take what the game give us."
Pop may not have admitted it but a couple of his players did.
"That's what we were focusing on," Boris Diaw said, "knowing that Serge wasn't in there."
And Spurs point guard Tony Parker didn't try to hide that strategy either, "obviously it makes a huge difference when Ibaka's not there. He's one of the best defenders in the NBA."
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks started wily veteran Nick Collison in Ibaka's place, just as many of us figured he would and Nick as usual gave it all he had, but he doesn't have nearly the hops Ibaka does and was not a significant threat to come swooping in at the last second and play swat-a-shot like Ibaka can.
Still I liked the Collison starting decision but a couple of other moves, or non-moves maybe, by Brooks were a bit mind boggling.
I tend not to criticize coaches very much in general because I'm not privy to what's discussed in team meetings, I can't watch full practices and I'm not given a copy of the game plan and the scouting report.
That being said I certainly found it odd that a pairing that worked so well against the LA Clippers in Game 6 of that series (Collison and Steven Adams on the floor together along with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson) wasn't trotted out there at all against the Spurs.
And Perry Jones played only garbage minutes right at the end of the game. Some of us figured Jones would see quite a bit of action since he's about 6-11, can play at least decent defense and can hit some perimeter shots.
Don't understand what was going on there. Maybe that will be an adjustment heading into Game 2. Brooks, as is his custom, didn't get specific about what needs to change moving forward just that, "we need to play better, we need to be better on defense."
That's certainly true and Brooks gets hammered usually when he says generic things like that but I tend to believe rather than not knowing what specifically needs to be done Brooks just doesn't want to tell us what specific adjustments he's going to make so he just tells us (the media) the old 'we need to be better' line.
Brooks made several adjustments in Game 1, tried a lot of things (just not the two I wanted see). He started with a big lineup, then went small and then super small with four guards and Kevin Durant essentially playing center.
The super small group got the Thunder back in the game and actually put the Thunder up by a point in the third quarter but Durant and Westbrook seemed to run out of gas in the fourth quarter after shouldering the burden of scoring most all the points (21 of 23) in the third quarter and taking on the added defensive assignments.
The general problems were the big lineup played solid defense but couldn't score enough and the small lineup could score but couldn't defend well enough.
So now Brooks will have to tinker and add or take away (maybe both) from both those lineups trying to find whatever combination can work.
The one ingredient that could solve the problem of course is the very one he can't use.
"Serge is out," Brooks said again during the postgame news conference, "he's not coming back."