The Spurs picked up where they left off in game 1, picking up a huge 112-77 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at the AT&T Center Wednesday night.
After Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant scored the first five points in the game, San Antonio took control, with Parker slicing the Thunder defense and the Spurs' bigs controlling the paint. The only warning sign came from Duncan, who simply couldn't buy a bucket. But with the benches checking in, San Antonio seemed to have a great opportunity to create some separation.
Surprisingly enough, it was the Thunder who got an early lift from its subs. The Spurs kept generating good looks but weren't hitting from outside. At the same time, some untimely turnovers allowed OKC to run while Steven Adams and Caron Butler provided the scoring punch on the half court. Despite Durant and Westbrook combining for 4-14 from the field, OKC held on to a two point lead at the end of the first, 26-24.
The Spurs' subs showed more poise at the start of the second period. Green hit a three and Ginobili and Splitter drew some fouls to get OKC bigs in foul trouble. The Spurs' defense tightened and they regained the lead but couldn't pull away, not even as the starters returned. With 6:18 to go on the quarter, the game was tied and the Thunder hadn't really gotten much from their Big Two. It wasn't looking particularly good for San Antonio. But after some making some mistakes to start the game, everything simply clicked into place for the Spurs.
Ginobili and Parker got things going, scoring the Spurs' next ten points. Then two Green triples sandwiched a Diaw reverse layup, all assisted by the Spurs' two perimeter Hall of Famers. Westbrook and Durant tried to stop the onslaught but in one of the more Manu sequences ever, Ginobili pulled up for a crazy two-for-one three that connected and then drew an offensive foul on Westbrook as he was trying to answer with a triple of his own. After being unable to pull away for 18 minutes, San Antonio managed to go into the break up 14 fueled by a flurry of excellence by two of their Big Three.
Now, because of how the last three playoff runs have ended, I'm always prepared for the worst. An OKC run didn't seem just possible to me; it seemed inevitable. They went on one in the third quarter of game 1, after all. "If Westbrook and Durant do what they do best and go on a scoring binge, they could trim the lead in a couple of minutes. And if one of their role players shows up, they could actually steal the game. If they go to OKC with a tie, it's a series." That's pretty much what I was thinking as I waited for the second half to start.
Instead, the Spurs not only avoided a third quarter collapse, but actually extended the lead and put the game away. The recipe was the same: Tony Parker and Danny Green doing most of the damage, but this time with some Timmy sprinkled in for flavor. The Thunder went cold at the wrong time and the lead quickly ballooned to 20+. They put up a fight for a while but the Spurs were relentless. They lowered the defensive intensity a bit but did enough to deny quick, easy shots and the Thunder were unable to reduce the deficit. On the other end, OKC simply couldn't get stops consistently, not unlike what happened in game 1. The result was a 35-point beat down.
The final score does a great job of illustrating how utterly the Spurs dominated the game after the initial 18 minutes but it can't show how defeated some Thunder players looked. Scott Brooks, notorious for not knowing when to throw in the towel and keeping his starters in, decided to wave the white flag in the fourth quarter. As a result, no Spur played more than 29 minutes.
I still remember what happened the last time the Spurs went to OKC leading 2-0 in a conference finals series. But this feels different. OKC is worse than they were then because of the loss of Ibaka (and Harden). And these Spurs are better. When you are going against two remarkable players like Durant and Westbrook and on such a tough place to play in as the Chesapeake Energy Arena anything can happen. But the Spurs are in as good a spot as any team could hope to be in going into game 3.
Just in case it's necessary to highlight how important having Ibaka out there was for the Thunder defense against the Spurs, here are the distribution and efficiency shot charts from the Spurs vs. Thunder match ups in the regular season and in the 2013/14 conference finals.
Noticed how the Spurs are taking pretty much the same percentage of total shots at the rim but converting at a much higher rate? That's what happens when a defense loses its best defender against a smart offensive team.
- I was too busy praising Tony Parker's and Manu Ginobili's ability to create shots for themselves and others earlier in this recap but there's something to be said for the Spurs' role players' finishing ability. Danny Green in particular was huge in this one. Green finished with 21 points on 11 shots thanks to his seven threes in ten attempts. I hate it when this cliché is used to describe why a player is hitting shots but in my eyes, Green is shooting the ball with more confidence. Whenever he sees a sliver of space, he just lets it fly. And the Spurs are better for it.
- Speaking of clichés I hate, I wouldn't describe Tiago Splitter's play as soft right now. Tiago finished with nine points, ten rebounds, four assists and three blocks. The Spurs have, by a pretty wide margin, the best three bigs in the series. How crazy is that?
- The Big Three combined for 57 points, 17 boards, ten assists and 104 years. They also now stand alone at the top of the list for post-season victories for a trio. What we are seeing is truly special.
- Asides from Duncan, two Spurs finished with more shots than points: Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli. With Manu and Boris playing well, their struggles weren't as noticeable but those guys need to return to form for the Spurs' bench to be as good as it can be.
- Kawhi Leoanrd picked up a dumb second foul midway through the first quarter as he wrestled with Kendrick Perkins after a pick. The Spurs survived without Kawhi, mostly with Ginobili on Durant, in no small part because the Thunder simply didn't look to exploit that match up. But Kawhi needs to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble in the future.
- There are two ways to see this upcoming two day hiatus. The pessimistic view is that the Thunder will have time to regroup and plan a counteroffensive. Even without Ibaka they are not this bad and they know it. And the break could throw the Spurs out of rhythm. The optimistic view is that the Thunder will be thinking long and hard about this loss and their chances of beating the Spurs. And even though no one has played heavy minutes yet, the Spurs veterans could use the rest. I'm choosing to be optimistic for now.
The series move to Oklahoma, where game 3 will be played on Sunday. If the Spurs can steal an away game after their two wins at home, that would pretty much seal the series. But it won't be easy in front of that raucous crowd that sometimes intimidates officials. I still like the Spurs' chances if they continue to play like this.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Welcome to Loud City