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Lack of Ibaka has Thunder scrambling to find lineups that work (going small sure didn’t)

May 20, 2014, 1:38 AM EDT

Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha AP

Thunder coach Scott Brooks had no good answer.

The absence of Serge Ibaka was everything Thunder fans should have feared — the Spurs scored 66 points in the paint (tied with the most OKC gave up all season), and San Antonio hit 25-of-29 shots at the rim after shooting just 50 percent there in for regular season meetings. The Spurs scored at will and with that handily won Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals 122-105.

All game long Scott Brooks tried to find a lineup answer to the loss of Ibaka, and nothing worked.

He started the regular guys just with Nick Collison at the four — when asked why before the game Brooks said, “Why not?” — but the Spurs dared Collison to take the shots Ibaka knocks down and Collison was 0-of-3 from the floor in the game.

As expected Brooks tried to go small. Down 11 just 6:37 into the game Brooks goes small with a lineup that had Kevin Durant at the four and Kendrick Perkins at the five (Perkins was replaced by Steven Adams a couple minutes in) and that group had some short-term success closing out the quarter on a 20-12 run.

But over the course of the game the multiple small-ball lineups that had Durant at the four were -9 and couldn’t stop the Spurs from scoring.

Brooks even went with an ultra-small lineup with Durant at the five for seven minutes (Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler and Durant) and that group put up 16 on 50 percent shooting, scoring points in 7 minutes, knocking down three from beyond the arc. And that group was -1 as it could not slow the Spurs offense in the least.

So what does Brooks do now?

Well, for one play Nick Collison and Steven Adams together — when Ibaka went down in Game 6 against the Clippers he leaned on that frontline pair for 17 minutes together and they were +16. That combination didn’t play one minute together in Game 1 against the Spurs.

To play those two, especially if Thabo Sefolosha is also on the court, is to ask Durant and Westbrook to completely carry the offense while getting extra attention from the Spurs — but they are going to have to do that this series anyway. Brooks can slide Reggie Jackson or Caron Butler in at the other guard slot to provide a little more offense and see if that works. But the fact is KD and Westbrook are gong to have to put up monster numbers this series for the Thunder to have a real chance.

One other lineup note: The starting five “big” lineup the Thunder used got them back in the game to start the second half — it was ultimately +4 in that stretch. Yes, that group got blitzed to start the game but in the second half they settled down and did protect the paint better.

The picture Game 1 leaves us with is that going big seems to work better for OKC. That puts a lot of pressure on Durant and Westbrook, but as noted they already had that pressure on them. It’s not new.

Serge Ibaka is not walking through that door for the Thunder. Brooks needs to trust the guys he’s got. It’s go big or go home.

Data via NBA.com.

  1. essfjay - May 20, 2014 at 1:45 AM

    quit giving the thunder excuses. bulls have played with out drose and we get no pity or sympathy. tough luck for thunder fans injuries happen hopefully they all stay healthy for next year..

    • muathjam21 - May 20, 2014 at 2:05 AM

      It’s not an excuse – it’s a fact. Losing your best defensive player just before the Western Conference Finals is a HUGE factor. As with the Bulls losing their MVP-caliber point guard. Losing one starting player makes a bigger difference in Basketball than it does with Baseball or Football (sans QB).

      • antistratfordian - May 20, 2014 at 2:38 AM

        That’s interesting. The only way the Heat could lose their best defensive player is if they lose LeBron James.

        KD winning MVP over James – in any season – is a complete joke.

      • 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 3:21 AM

        I hate to agree with that anti but errrrrrrrr! You’re somewhat right.

      • ranfan12 - May 20, 2014 at 4:02 AM

        Which team would be higher in the conference if they didn’t have their MVP? Heat, or OKC?

      • thomasvanek - May 20, 2014 at 6:32 AM

        The thing is anti that if Ibaka was on a team with LeBron he would no longer be the best defensive player on the team. Use your head.

      • fanofthegame79 - May 20, 2014 at 8:13 AM

        I’m not sure why people thought that the Thunder would be able to compete once Ibaka went down. He’s their third best scoring option (on a team lacking scoring options) and he is the best defender – that’s close to impossible to replace. For those comparing the Bulls and the DRose situation, it’s similar – the Bulls were never considered “title contenders” once Rose went down.

      • sportsfan18 - May 20, 2014 at 8:17 AM

        anti…

        it’s fine to be a fan, but can’t have your blinders on 24/7

        LBJ IS the best player in the world…

        But, LBJ did NOT have the best season this year. There is a difference between being the best player in the world and showing it night in and night out on the court in a particular season.

        The Heat have been in a grind, playing into the Finals for several years in a row and they took a different tact this year by resting D Wade a lot and trying to be healthy for the playoffs.

        The Heat won 12 LESS games this season compared to last season. Does this mean they are worse than last year? Not necessarily to me as I think they made a conscious decision to play this season differently. They weren’t hellbent on having the #1 seed or winning 65 games etc…

        In that same light, LBJ wasn’t hellbent to put the pedal to the metal this year either.

        LBJ led the league in PER each of his 4 MVP seasons.

        This year, LBJ did NOT lead the league in PER (Durant did) and LBJ did NOT win the MVP.

        So, just because a player is the best in the world, they still have to go out and get on the court and prove it.

        Think of it this way antistratfordian, if LBJ had to sit out a year due to injury, he IS still the best player in the world, but he obviously CAN’T be the MVP of that season as he didn’t play.
        Well, LBJ did play this season, but not in a manner worthy of the MVP.

        Durant played the MOST total min’s in the league this season overall, by 99 min’s, which is MORE than 2 full games over the 2nd place guy in total min’s played.

        Durant had the most FG’s made and attempted

        Durant has the most Free throws made and attempted (by a lot)

        Of course Durant led the league in PER and in scoring

        Now, LBJ had another wonderful season, but NOT as great as his other seasons when he was the MVP.

        LeBron’s rebounds, assists, blocks and steals all went DOWN this year from last year…

        LeBron committed MORE fouls and turnovers per game this year compared to last season…

        LBJ slipped a notch from his levels this past season in terms of his overall game.

        His defense slipped a LOT from previous years too.

        When LBJ was on defense this season, he gave up 105 points per 100 possessions to those he was guarding.

        Last season, LBJ only gave up 101 points per 100 possessions to those he was guarding and it was only 97 points per 100 possessions two years ago and 102 points per 100 possessions his first season with the Heat.

        So, out of his 4 seasons with the Heat, he played his worst D this past season by a good margin.

        KD gave up 104 points per 100 possessions on D this past season, a point better than LBJ was.

        So, the greatest player in the world, LBJ, did NOT have the best season this year.

        Even the BEST in the world still gotta prove it on the court night after night and his game and that of the Heat overall dropped off a bit this season and the Pacers took advantage to get the #1 seed (Heat LOST 12 MORE games this yr than last year) and KD took advantage and eclipsed LBJ for the MVP.

    • 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 3:13 AM

      @ essfjay

      The Bulls also have Tom Thibodeau as coach.

    • 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 3:15 AM

      Also, granted, you do have a point….but…

      I do feel sorry for the Bulls. They probably could have made the finals once or twice by now if it wasn’t for them being snakebit.

    • chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      Bulls lost their first round playoff series to the Sixers, after DRose went down the first time. iIRC, they lost it 1 – 4 .

      Its much different, when a team has time to adjust to the injury, as they do in the regular season.

  2. muathjam21 - May 20, 2014 at 1:55 AM

    This series was a toss-up with Serge Ibaka in the lineup. It’s gonna be tough, but this is the time when Durant needs to show why he was chosen as MVP.

  3. antistratfordian - May 20, 2014 at 2:31 AM

    Hmmm. The Heat do not have a player like Serge Ibaka either and they beat the Spurs, so perhaps now is the time for Brooks to queue up last year’s Finals to see how Miami did it.

    That is where he puts together footage of LeBron and and emails it to Durant and says, “Start doing this.”

    • 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 3:19 AM

      No, they have All-Star Chris Bosh instead of an Ibaka. Poor Heats.

      • antistratfordian - May 20, 2014 at 3:37 AM

        Yes, but I’m saying that when it comes to post defense the Heat still don’t have anyone like Serge Ibaka – so if Brooks wants to see how Miami was able to keep the Spurs paint points down, maybe he should have a gander at that series.

        And, btw, in the last 3 seasons (inlcuding this one) Chris Bosh was neither a 1st, 2nd or 3rd Team All-NBA selection or a 1st or 2nd Team All-Defensive selection.

        Serge Ibaka was 1st Team All-Defensive in all three of those seasons.

      • 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 3:41 AM

        anti

        I was kinda being sarcastic/trolling. I agree with you. I’d take Ibaka 101x/100 over Chris Bosh.

      • savvybynature - May 20, 2014 at 9:36 AM

        Miami didn’t keep the Spurs paint points down though. If you remember Duncan abused Miami in the Finals even worse than he did the Thunder last night.
        You just like to keep interjecting random things about the Heat because you are still butt hurt that Lebron didn’t win the MVP, but the Heat have nothing to do with this series (and Durant totally deserved MVP btw it wasn’t even that close).

    • azarkhan - May 20, 2014 at 9:47 AM

      The Heat have LeBron James. That’s “how Miami did it”.

      • antistratfordian - May 20, 2014 at 4:12 PM

        Well they only have one of him, and he wasn’t always in the post. The Heat were able to keep the Spurs paint points down somehow – they didn’t clone LeBron and put him everywhere.

    • unxpexted1 - May 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Well lets start by having both teams healthy. Take Bosh out of the equation and I’m pretty confident the Heat lose that series.

      • antistratfordian - May 20, 2014 at 4:21 PM

        Bosh has been taken out of the equation for Miami in multiple series, and they still won. So I don’t know why you would be so confident in the Spurs case. When a Heat starter goes down, LeBron just expands his game to make up for it.

  4. goldmember21 - May 20, 2014 at 2:32 AM

    Cry me a river thunder fans.

  5. innovativethinking87 - May 20, 2014 at 2:42 AM

    Thunder fans are just lucky to have an NBA team period

    • chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      I kinda think OKC earned having a team. There was no luck involved.

      • bucrightoff - May 20, 2014 at 1:30 PM

        You’re right no luck was involved. Just straight theivery. That’s why I, and everyone else, badly wanted them to go with Bandits as the team name. What a troll name that would be to Seattle fans.

  6. 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 3:17 AM

    Dangit, it’s gonna be Heat/Spurs part 2. Heat get their 3rd in a row. LeBron stays. No fun.

    • the1nonlyk - May 20, 2014 at 7:36 PM

      wow malt lebron lover much?

      • 00maltliquor - May 21, 2014 at 2:52 AM

        I recognize the greatness of LeBron, but I’m more of a Kobe guy. I’m really pulling for someone to dethrone the Heat this year, especially so I can see what happens to this current core. They win, everybody including LBJ re-signs. I want more drama then that! lol

  7. campcouch - May 20, 2014 at 4:15 AM

    trade for Love.

  8. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 20, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    It’s not about whining or making excuses.

    It’s just what it is. Ibaka plays a huge factor, to deny that is sheer stupidity… or ignorance.

    But here is where character-building comes to play. With the coming of such adversity, the entire Thunder team — and not just KD — should step up. That’s where the Thunder Pride will be coming from.

    I still go for the Spurs in this series even if Ibaka is playing but beating the Thunder won’t definitely be a piece of cake… the loss of Ibaka just made it relatively easier to do.

    • 00maltliquor - May 20, 2014 at 5:14 AM

      great comment

  9. rrhoe - May 20, 2014 at 7:21 AM

    Too bad they just can’t turn to Kendrick Perkins.

  10. aboogy123456 - May 20, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    Yesterday I commented that a key to this series would be how much Brooks plays Sefolosha, and he only got 15 minutes. If the Thunder are lacking interior shot blocking, then it makes sense for them to play Sefolosha even more because he’s such a great perimeter defender, and can prevent penetration. The Thunder have very few two way players so it’s a difficult balance, but Brooks seems to have no clue how to figure it out. You just don’t sit someone that good on defense.

    • chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      Sefolosha is a huge offensive liability. Last season, he hit 42% from three, that was enough to draw a defender and make them account for him. He’s not doing that this year, he started the season off, got a little better, but then missed 17 games to injury and never got his three point shot back.

      And his ability to keep a player in front of him , has fallen off lately. He’s getting blown by more than in the past. He’s like the rest of the Thunder, the depend upon Serge to clean up mistakes.

  11. timberwolvesbrisin - May 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    Love for Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb.

  12. chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    So much for questioning the decision to sign Ibaka before they resigned Harden. Ibaka’s value to the Thunder was obvious last night.

    Ibaka is/was far more valuable to this team than Harden. While Ibaka is a not a top 10 player in the league, as is Harden, his skills fit the Thunder much better than what Harden could bring. A lot of Harden’s value was wasted because his skills were redundant with KD and Russ.

    • Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 20, 2014 at 8:52 PM

      Well said. My thoughts too. The Thunder did the right thing of keeping Ibaka instead of Harden. IMHO, great defensive players are hard to come by unlike scorers and shooter.

  13. papichulo55 - May 20, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Okc has the better athletes. Their game plan needs to make this a series that depends on athleticism more than match-up strategy. They need to make the Spurs prove that they can run for 48 minutes.

  14. bougin89 - May 20, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    Scott Brooks: “But, but, but if we play Collison and Adams at the same time how do we make sure Perkins is on the floor?”

    • chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM

      Neither Collison nor Adams, can handle Duncan. Duncan eats either one alive.

      One of the main reasons , Thunder fought back into the game in the third qtr, was because Perk shut down Duncan.

      • bougin89 - May 20, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        Perkins has played much better than the last two years in the playoffs. That being said, he was basically the worst player in the league, almost ever, in the playoffs last year.

        Even this year Adams and Collison both have better defensive ratings than Perkins.

        BUT mainly I was just joking about how much Scott Brooks loves Perkins.

      • chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        I realize its en vogue to make jokes of Brooks playing Perk. Its also shallow.

        But Brooks is not playing a video game. He has to not only design X and O’s , he more importantly has to manage people, know their personalities. And he knows that for those times when he really needs Perk, he has to keep Perk engaged in those times when he doesn’t. Especially a player with Perk’s personality.

        You can’t sit him on the bench, and then put him out there when he’s needed, doesn’t work.

      • bougin89 - May 20, 2014 at 12:13 PM

        When has Perkins proven to be needed? Seriously, when?

  15. papichulo55 - May 20, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    OKC needs to make the Spurs run for 48 minutes. OKC is younger and more athletic, and needs to use this advantage. Stop trying to match moves with Coach Popovich. OKC needs to try to gas Duncan, Parker, Ginobli….

    • chawbacon14 - May 20, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      Thunder began dominating the Spurs, in the 2012 WCF, when they found how to defense the Spurs. Thunder lost first two games of that series, then swept the Spurs. Sebastian Pruiti wrote about that series on his old blog, NBA Playbook,you can find that , here

      http://grantland.com/the-triangle/how-did-the-thunder-finally-stop-the-spurs/

      Regular season games since, have been mostly a repeat. It starts with defense, and its all about defending the Spurs.

    • azarkhan - May 20, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      The Spurs always play at a fast pace, so OKC isn’t going to run them off the court. Plus, the Spurs have a deep bench, which allows Popovich to rest his starters.

      It’s more likely that Durant and Westbrook will wear out as the series progresses, simply because OKC relies on them so much for scoring (they scored 50% of OKC’s points last night) I think we saw that in the 4th quarter, when the Thunder only scored 23 points to the Spurs 33.

  16. golfrangeman - May 20, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    I said it before and I’ll say it again the best way to beat the thunder is make it as difficult for Westbrook and KD as you can. I firmly believe that both players will eventually get out of control and try to do too much. They just don’t trust there teammates especially when there down.
    The spurs on the other hand have great ball movement and seem to really trust there teammates and more importantly there coach.
    That being said Westbrook and KD are so good they are capable of winning games maybe even 4 but the odds aren’t with them.

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