Spurs strike quick against Thunder in West finals Game 1

5/19/2014

By KIRK BOHLS

By KIRK BOHLS

Austin American-Statesman

SAN ANTONIO (MCT) — The Spurs lost every single game to the Thunder in the regular season.

All four of them, but who's counting? No one now.

To recap, San Antonio held Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to 30 points on 39 shots in the first game, but their Thunder teammates got it done. In Game 2, the Spurs were missing teammate Kawhi Leonard, out after a trip to the dentist. Not even Tony Parker's 37-point performance was good enough for the Spurs in Game 3.

Finally, Parker and Tim Duncan both sat the entire fourth quarter as Oklahoma City won by 12 at home in what was the second game of back-to-back nights for the league's top seed.

Gregg Popovich couldn't have cared less, knowing the NBA has yet to award a championship trophy following the regular season. His Spurs appear to be getting ever closer to the real trophy that eluded them a year ago, throttling the Thunder 122-105 in a San Antonio textbook Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Monday night.

That was regular-season then, and this is must-win now.

And these Spurs are a different animal in these playoffs — and a healthy animal at that with Parker apparently recovered from his tight hamstring — as they turned in a beastly offensive performance that could well become a pattern in these Western Conference finals. Oklahoma City, so reliant on the firepower from its All-Star tandem of MVP Durant and Westbrook, couldn't pick up the slack with its other three starters accounting for all of five points and Serge Ibaka unavailable.

The Spurs, on the other hand, got 36 points from their next three starters after Tim Duncan's team-high 27 points and — take your pick — 16 from either Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

"It's the defense, guys," Thunder coach Scott Brooks insisted. "We scored 105 points."

Still, OKC's Nick Collison, starting for the first time all year, and Thabo Sefolosha didn't dent the scoreboard, both going scoreless. Kendrick Perkins managed a mere five points. Still, Oklahoma City topped the century mark but had no defense for a San Antonio team that led the league in threes and hit nine of them on Monday but more importantly pounded the paint with 66 points inside.

The Thunder were without Serge Ibaka and as a result couldn't sustain any surge in this game. They led briefly by two points Monday night before being buried in the lane by San Antonio.

Without its injured power forward to put up any defensive resistance inside and score from mid-range, Oklahoma City was no match for the wave after wave of talent from a deep San Antonio team that pounded the ball in the paint and delivered its highest point total in 13 post-season games.

Ibaka's absence was felt at both ends of the court. With the 6-10 Thunder power forward out with a severely strained calf, the Spurs attacked the rim relentlessly, and Tim Duncan went off with 21 points in the opening two quarters and finished with 27 points.

So did the Spurs specifically penetrate to penalize the Ibaka-less Thunder?

"No," Popovich said. "Sometimes it's hard to focus on that. You take what's given. It just worked out that way."

It couldn't have worked out any better for the home team. By game's end, the bigger, more versatile Spurs had scored an incredible 66 points in the paint, 40 of which came in the first half.

Boris Diaw, however, said of the absence of Ibaka, who ranked second in the league in blocked shots, "That was really what we focused on. We wanted to go right after 'em."

The Thunder may have to adjust on the fly because they're not accustomed to life without Ibaka, who has missed just three games because of injury in his five-year career. Oklahoma City had been allowing its playoff opponents just 44 percent accuracy and 35 percent marksmanship from behind the line, but San Antonio was more formidable, hitting at a 57 percent clip and 53 percent from long distance.

"Serge is out. He's not coming back," Brooks said. "Contrary to what San Antonio thinks, he's not coming back. We're all men here. We're not going to make an excuse. We have a day to get better."

But that could be a tall order for an Oklahoma City team that went short for much of the game and put Durant on a center at times. That's a yoeman's task, even for the MVP.

And the Spurs have plenty of options. Remember, this is a San Antonio team that beat Golden State by scoring just 76 points in November.

"We did what we always do," Popovich said. "You can't change who you are."

And why would he want to?

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