Whenever the No. 1 and 2 seeds meet in the Conference Finals, its expected to be a close and hard-fought series. With that said the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder gave fans a reason to pay close attention to this series on Sunday when the Thunder visited AT&T Center to begin one of the most anticipated match ups in the West all year.
Before Sunday’s game the Thunder were 4-1 in playoff games this season that were decided by three points or less. Riding a 47-46 lead going into halftime, fans were expecting another crazy finish, something that Thunder fans have become accustomed to.
The Spurs “Big Three” of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili kept the game close at home, but they didn’t sweep the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers just to come close to beating a young and talented team like the Thunder. The Spurs have been dogged all year for resting their older players, but it seems that experience is a better indicator of how the Spurs have been playing compared with their age.
Age looked to be a big factor affected the play of the Spurs after the third quarter, as San Antonio let the Thunder lead build to nine points. The Spurs shot 25 percent from the field in the 12 minutes following halftime and just looked finished.
Despite a weak showing in the third quarter, Parker, Ginobili and Stephen Jackson all stepped up to put their team up 1-0 at home. Parker closed out the game with seven points (2-3 from the field, 3-5 from the free throw line) four rebounds and three assists. Closing out tight playoff games is an aspect of playoff basketball that the Spurs have experience with it, and it showed with a huge 39-point quarter from San Antonio.
Part of the reason why the Thunder struggled on Sunday was the performance from their “Big Three.” Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 27 points, Russell Westbrook and James Harden shot a combined 38.6 percent from the field, taking 68.7 percent of the team’s shots. It’s fine if those three want to take that many shots (as they have done all season), but it’s crucial that if they’re struggling from the field someone else needs to step up.
The Thunder may have an age advantage, but in order for Oklahoma City to finally make the moves necessary to advance to the Finals they need to be able to depend on their other starters and bench players if Durant or Westbrook are having an off day.
Comparing the failings of the Thunder’s “Big Three” with the success that the experienced Spurs “Big Three” had on Sunday, it’s easy to tell how the game was won by San Antonio. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined for 60 points on 47.7 percent shooting from the field. Duncan also managed to record a double-double, grabbing 11 rebounds in the 101-98 victory over the Thunder.
The Thunder are right now treading in unknown territory. They haven’t trailed in any series throughout the playoffs thus far and face going down 2-0 to the Spurs on Tuesday night in San Antonio at 9 p.m.
The Thunder will have to win at least one game in San Antonio to advance to the NBA Finals, but in order to do that Serge Ibaka must be a force both defensively and offensively. The Thunder won’t be able to beat the Spurs with just Durant, Westbrook and Harden alone. Players like Derek Fisher, Nick Collison and Ibaka will have to help out on offense whenever their main offensive producers are being engulfed by the Spurs dominating defense.