The San Antonio Spurs were planning to attack the lane whether Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka was playing or on the bench, but the Thunder defender’s absence only made things easier for them in the opener of the Western Conference finals.
Tim Duncan scored 27 points as San Antonio took advantage of Ibaka’s absence to dominate the paint, beating the Oklahoma City 122-105 on Monday night.
Tony Parker did not appear limited by a hamstring injury, racking up 14 points and 12 assists in 36 minutes.
The Thunder got their usual offensive outputs from All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who scored 28 and 25 points respectively. However, Oklahoma City’s remaining starters, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, also combined to tally up five points, 13 rebounds and one assist.
Yet this did not help the Thunder’s struggling defense, with Ibaka to miss the remainder of the postseason after injuring his calf muscle in Oklahoma City’s series clincher against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Spurs had 66 points in the paint and shot 58 percent from the field to claim the highest shooting percentage allowed by the Thunder in the postseason since they relocated from Seattle, Washington.
“We’re a no-excuse team,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “Serge is out. He’s not coming back. We have to play better. If we expect to beat one of the best teams in basketball — and a very good offensive team — we have to play and we’re not going to make an excuse.”
The Spurs fed Duncan early with Ibaka out and the veteran responded by shooting 6 for 7 in scoring 12 points in the opening quarter.
Parker, who picked up a mild hamstring strain in San Antonio’s series clincher against Portland, drove the paint and dished to Duncan early before looking for his own shot midway through the quarter.
“That’s part of our game plan,” Duncan said. “He knew that they weren’t going to let him shoot the ball like he did in the last series. They were going to try to take that away from him, so he knew he was going to have to be an assist man.”
Parker scored all but two of his points in the first half as the Spurs beat the Thunder for the first time this season.
Even though San Antonio improved to 7-1 at home in the playoffs — winning their past five games by an average of 20.6 points — Monday’s victory was not easy.
The Spurs also still remember what happened in the 2012 finals, when the Thunder won four straight to rally from a 0-2 deficit.
“It’s great to have an appropriate fear,” Parker said. “They played great against us in 2012, and we know that we have to be perfect.”
The Spurs played nearly perfectly offensively and rallied to take a 76-75 lead on Westbrook’s 17-foot jumper near the end of the third.
“Third quarter was obviously our best quarter, but we didn’t close it out well. It’s Game 1, we’ve got to make adjustments and be better for the next game. We’re not taking no moral victories out of it,” Durant said.
Despite missing his first four shots, Westbrook continued to bull his way into the lane and it paid off as the game wore on. He had 12 points in the third, continually driving past Parker and the Spurs before they could settle in defensively.
With the exception of a pair of free throws by Derek Fisher, Westbrook and Durant scored all of the Thunder’s points in a 23-22 third.
The extended efforts exerted by the Thunder’s two All-Stars eventually took a toll, especially with the Spurs bench coming to life. Westbrook and Durant were limited to seven points in the final quarter.
Durant and Westbrook were a combined 19 for 40, with the former 1 for 4 in the fourth quarter.
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