Spurs 101, Thunder 98: Gregg Popovich Made Adjustments, Scott Brooks Didn't, and San Antonio Rallied to Victory

Spurs 101, Thunder 98 was a tremendous and bizarre first game of the Western Conference Finals. After the Spurs grabbed a first quarter lead, the Thunder owned the next two quarters. With their vastly superior athletic ability, Oklahoma City outscored San Antonio 53-38 in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and led by nine headed into the 4th.

At this point, Gregg Popovich, the Spurs’ Hall of Fame coach, decided he’d take the game over. With starters Danny Green (0-6), Kawhi Leonard (3-9) and Boris Diaw mostly non-factors, San Antonio went small – four guards with Duncan – and ran circles around the clueless Thunder. An 18-3 run was the difference, and all the while, OKC coach Scott Brooks made no adjustments. He left the NBA’s best shot-blocker, Serge Ibaka, on the bench (just 21 minutes played) while the Spurs essentially ran a layup line in the halfcourt offense. Yes, Brooks has left Ibaka on the bench late in games this season, but how many uncontested layups do you need to see before deciding to defend the basket? It would have made sense to insert Ibaka (zero fouls) for Perkins (five fouls), but I would have also gone Westbrook/Thabo/Durant/Ibaka/Perkins and forced the Spurs to adjust.

Offensively, the Thunder let Russell Westbrook (7-of-17, five assists, four turnovers) and James Harden (7-of-17, four turnovers) do what they wanted in this dreadful 4th quarter (San Antonio scored 39 points), and that was a horrible decision. The two repeatedly turned the ball over brazenly attacking the basket, or missed a wild shot in traffic. Their shooting numbers are somewhat skewed due to a few made 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds after the game was decided. Worse yet for Harden was that his 6th man counterpart, Manu Ginobili, led the Spurs with 26 points. With Parker and Duncan (12-of-30) struggling against exceptionally athletic defenders, Ginobili carried the Spurs.

Yes, Kevin Durant (27 points, 10 rebounds) struggled in the 4th quarter against … wait for it … “nasty” Stephen Jackson, but the help defense San Antonio employed was outstanding. When Durant got by him – that is, when he finally got the ball from Westbrook and Harden – he was met by another defender or two. Where was the iso on the block? Pick and roll? It’s as if Brooks didn’t call a play the entire 4th quarter.

The Spurs have won 19 games in a row.

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