SAN ANTONIO — There was something missing in the fourth quarter of Game 1.
Yes, points. And defense. And about five other things. But individually, the Thunder’s only first-team All-Defense selection was on the bench as San Antonio piled up points in the paint.
Scott Brooks was ready to admit what most Thunder fans thought when he said Monday that maybe he should’ve played Serge Ibaka more.
“I think every decision you make, if it doesn’t work out, you say, `Why did you do that?”‘ Brooks said. “And I’m with you on that. I wish I would’ve played Serge last night.”
But Tuesday at shootaround, he sort of hedged on that a bit.
“I don’t second guess what I did,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win you always criticize your own self. But I think the decision I made was solid. We won a lot of games that way. Now does that change tonight? We’ll see how the game goes. Serge is one of our best defenders, but Perk is also one of our best defenders.”
Brooks decided to go small in the fourth, a move that was expected. He left Perk in to defend Tim Duncan, while Kevin Durant played the 4. Ibaka only saw 22 minutes in Game 1, with zero coming in the fourth quarter.
“One of the things I said that didn’t get publicized enough is any time you play an NBA game you have a lot of decisions to make,” Brooks said. “And one of the things I know about the team I coach is we have a lot of good players that can finish games. We have multiple ways to play and we won a lot games this year by everybody participating in the win. Sometimes I don’t play Perk. Sometimes I don’t play Nick much. Sometimes I go small. Sometimes I go big. That’s what makes our team good.”
Said James Harden when asked if Ibaka needs to play more: “I think they went small and they got a lot of easy buckets on our closeouts. I think Serge is going to play the fourth quarter a lot more and contest everything at the rim. He’s a great shotblocker. He might change the game a little bit.”
The Thunder’s smallball lineups have been seen as a key to the series, but there are more and more cases growing that maybe going big is better. Which is the gray area of where Ibaka fits in. John Hollinger wisely summarized it as such:
He’s a crazy shot-blocker, though, and that might have helped. Additionally, the Thunder needed his offense more than his defense. Without the threat of a midrange jumper from Perkins, Duncan was able to roam freely on defense and bottle up some of Oklahoma City’s drives to the cup.
In retrospect, Brooks probably should have played Ibaka, and he conceded as much yesterday. But understand that he’s in a choose-your-poison situation when he plays small, which is a big reason Gregg Popovich’s moves are almost always going to look better than Brooks’ in this series — his secondary players are just a lot better.
As Hollinger also noted, the Thunder’s smallball lineup just didn’t perform. It has all season, but didn’t in Game 1. Part of the reason being that the Spurs, unlike most teams, can match OKC perfectly. They can bring in Gary Neal and play Stephen Jackson as a 4 to defend Durant with Duncan manning the paint. There’s no clear cut advantage. The Spurs have a bench ready to equal anything Brooks throws on the floor.
Knowing the way things went in Game 1, I’d expect changes.
A few notes:
- The Thunder’s shootaround was at TMI, a small high school on the outside of San Antonio. Kind of a weird, but neat place to see an NBA team prepping for the Western Conference Finals.
- Check out this stat via 48 Minutes of Hell: “Per Hoopdata calculations, when the Spurs use over 95 possessions in a game, they’re virtually unbeatable — they’re 29-3, with one of the three losses the loss to Portland where Pop sat every starter but Kawhi and didn’t give a crap about anything. However, their record is relatively indistinguishable in the super-low ranges to the mid-tier ranges of possessions per game — to wit, the Spurs are 5-4 at under 91 possessions and 17-9 in games where they use 91-95 possessions. So it appears that slower is better, for Spurs opponents. But it’s extremely rare that the Spurs actually allow their opponents to dictate the tempo and force a game to be as slow as that. Still. The relationship is there.”
- I asked Scott Brooks about that almost verbatim. He said, “We like to play fast, with great shots. When we take tough 2s and play fast it’s not good for us. If we get to the lane and get to the free throw line and get open 3s, that’s great, that’s a great tempo. But when we bring it down and take a contested tough 2, that plays into the opponent no matter who you play against. We have to make sure we play with good pace, but intelligent pace.”
- Perk on if he saw the Spurs get “nasty,” as so many people talked about: “I ain’t know if they got nasty, I just thought they made shots. I didn’t see anything about the way they was playing. It ain’t like they made a hard foul or nothing like that. Nasty, nah. I just thought they started playing more aggressive.”
- James Harden: “It’s important not go down 2-0, period. No matter if it’s San Antonio or anybody. I think we’re very good at coming off losses in bounce back games. We have to come in with that mindset that we have to win this game no matter what. It’s like a Game 7 for us. I think we’ll be ready.”
- Scott Brooks said that one of the reasons the Thunder decided to cut shootarounds down was because the team was going too hard in them.