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Popovich reaches into toolbox, makes adjustments, Spurs win Game 1

May 28, 2012, 12:18 AM EDT

San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan celebrates in the final seconds of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder in San Antonio Reuters

There’s a reason the Spurs haven’t lost a game since before you sent your taxes in (19 in a row now) — they can adapt and take what you give them. Gregg Popovich is the master of adjustments and this roster is a huge toolbox of options for him to choose from.

He and the Spurs found the right combination in the fourth — they went small which led to an 18-3 run early in the quarter to take the lead. Follow that up with 11 points fourth quarter points from Manu Ginobili to lead the Spurs to 39 fourth quarter points, and the Spurs picked up a 101-98 win to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

One game — especially the first game in a series — is not something fans should overreact to. Still, the way the Spurs have adjusted and adapted to teams over the course of playoff series, it has to be concerning for the Thunder that their opponent is only going to get better.

The first half of Game 1 felt like two boxers trying to feel each other out in the first round. Actually, that may be kind. It kind of felt more like Celtics/Sixers. The Spurs had 14 turnovers in the first half. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to go 9-22 shooting, James Harden was 1-9. The whole game felt wrong.

Oklahoma City’s length and athleticism seemed to take a while for the Spurs to adjust to, especially in the first half when the Spurs seemed rushed trying to push the pace, but in the fourth quarter Popovich found a group that worked by going small (Boris Diaw never re-entered the game, Splitter played just a couple minutes at the start).

“We thought that (small) group gave us the best chance defensively and offensively at the other end for shooting, to get back in the game” Popovich said after the game. “We went down by nine, we thought we needed to generate a little bit of offense.”

That group did give them shooting — the Spurs shot 75 percent in the fourth quarter. More importantly, after the ugly first half the Spurs turned the ball over just three times in the second half. Part of those stats may have to do with Thunder coach Scott Brooks oddly sitting Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka — his two best defenders — for most of the fourth.

The Thunder would not roll over and when it got tight late San Antonio had Ginobili driving the lane and picking up key baskets.

“That’s Manu’s game, he’s a scorer, we depend on him to create and make things happen, whether it’s shooting or driving or assisting for somebody else,” Popovich said after the game. “It’s very important for us.”

The adjustments are on the Thunder now. San Antonio packed the paint when Westbrook or Durant drove the lane, the Thunder have to do what the Spurs do so well and it the open man on kickouts. Then knock down the shot. OKC didn’t play poorly and it’s easy to note all the good looks they seemed to miss. Oklahoma City got 27 points from Durant and 19 from Harden. Derek Fisher stepped up and added 13 points from the bench for the Thunder.

The Thunder only shot 42 percent as a team and didn’t finish well in the paint. They can play better.

But so can the Spurs. To a man they talked about it took them a while to find themselves, that they didn’t shoot well to open the game. And they will adjust. They will come back Tuesday with a better plan. Then they will see what works, Popovich will reach into his toolbox, and the Spurs will adjust.

And it will not be easy for the Thunder to keep up.

  1. Justin - May 28, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    ” Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to go 9-22 shooting”

    They should really have 1 of the 2 Kevin Durants shoot more.

  2. brianjoates - May 28, 2012 at 1:44 AM

    Dont want to see this happen, but the Spurs are going to make quick work of the Thunder in a sweep. The Heat( Lebron and Wade) are going to give it everything to get by Boston in 6. In the finals the Spurs will take it in 5. I hope Lebron isn’t always the bridesmaid.

    • biasedhomer - May 28, 2012 at 10:54 AM

      Sometimes he will be the ring bearer.

  3. turnmymicup - May 28, 2012 at 2:37 AM

    Its only one game. Lets see how OKC bounces back in game 2. If the Spurs go up 2-0 the thunder have a problem on their hands heading back to OKC.

  4. BigBeachBall - May 28, 2012 at 3:07 AM

    turn off the lights, the party is over….

  5. rushbacker - May 28, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    I think Brooks needs to try Ibaka at the five if he wants to play a smallball lineup of his own late in the game. Perkins isn’t enough of a shotblocking presence to alter shots– Ginobli in particular was just getting to the rim uncontested. Might want to play a little more zone, also. The Spurs are patient enough and smart enough to beat it with their ball movement, but if you mix it up, at least you keep them honest– make them take the time to recognize it, and force their young guys to keep making their perimeter jumpers.

    And when Sefolosha’s in the game, I’d use him to apply full-court pressure to San Antonio’s ball handler before settling into your half-court defensive set. You don’t want to wear down Westbrook more than necessary on defense, but I don’t see why you’d ever leave the methodical Spurs offense any more time to operate than you have to– a few seconds wasted in the back court is one or two less passes they can make. If they aren’t on the break, no reason to let Parker and Co. just walk it up and get the floor spaced exactly how they want it before they attack. Doesn’t mean you’ll stop them, of course– but you have to at least make every effort you can to disrupt their flow. OKC showed early that their speed and length can cause San Antonio some problems, but you have to find ways to keep after them for four quarters. This is one area where Pops’ vast playoff experience is a major advantage for the veteran Spurs team.

    Obviously, the other key for OKC is to get Harden going– at least on the offensive end. Yes, he did contribute– but he has to be more efficient, you know SA’s going to be. You could see his jumper wasn’t there– if he can’t hit those three’s, it could be a short series for the Thunder. I don’t expect Harden to slow Ginobli down much– that will have to be a team effort if it’s going to happen, and Brooks might want to consider some combo’s that let Durant or Sefolosha gaurd Manu for stretches. Challenge him with some more length, and spread out the burden of running with him on that side of the ball. These are going to be close games, and they need harden to have some legs left in the fourth when they need another playmaker. We’ll see if Brooks and the Thunder can adjust– they have more than enough talent, but they’ll have to match San Antonio’s playoff savvy and coaching.

  6. furio2929 - May 28, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    Coach Pop. Great work in the 4 th qtr

  7. davincizsp - May 28, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Spurs will win in 5 then sweep Heat in the final. That’s it.

  8. furio2929 - May 28, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    davincizsp Agreed

  9. jimeejohnson - May 28, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    One thing’s fer sure: I don’t miss seeing all those Smell-A celebrities! What time is that Lakers game NEXT SEASON?

  10. schaffershokai - May 28, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Popovich needs a new bag of tricks:

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