SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs were planning to attack the lane whether Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka was playing or not. The fact that the Thunder’s athletic defender was absent only made things easier for them.
Tim Duncan scored 27 points and San Antonio took advantage of Ibaka’s absence to dominate the paint, beating Oklahoma City 122-105 on Monday night in the opener of the Western Conference finals.
Tony Parker did not appear limited by a hamstring injury, scoring 14 points and having 12 assists in 36 minutes.
“We always want to try to penetrate,” Parker said. “We always want our ball movement, that’s how we play — kick and pitch and stuff like that. You know, obviously it’s a little bit better with (Ibaka) not being in the paint, but we’re still going to try to penetrate and make stuff happen.”
The Thunder got their usual offensive outputs from All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who scored 28 and 25 points respectively. But Oklahoma City’s remaining starters, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, combined to score five points with 13 rebounds and one assist.
But it was defensively were the Thunder struggled without Ibaka, who will miss the remainder of the postseason after suffering a calf injury 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. It was the highest shooting percentage allowed by the Thunder in the postseason since relocating from Seattle.
“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. 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 suffered a Grade 1 left 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.
“We knew that we have to play our best game to compete against them, and I think it’s great to have an appropriate fear,” Parker said.
San Antonio played nearly perfectly offensively and Oklahoma City still rallied to take a 76-75 lead on Westbrook’s 17-foot jumper with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.
“We don’t believe in moral victories,” Durant said. “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.”