Western Conference Finals Game 1: San Antonio Spurs 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 98
AT&T CENTER–This game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told his team, was not supposed to be easy. Through three quarters of the opening salvo of the Western Conference Finals, it was anything but.
The San Antonio Spurs coughed up an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers–which the Thunder turned into 19 points–a testament to the length and athleticism of their younger counterparts.
With both passes and 3-point shooters vigorously contested, the Spurs offensive machine was momentarily stalled, its resolve tested for the first time these playoffs. And for the first postseason in years the Spurs have a healthy Manu Ginobili to steel their resolve.
“He’s somebody who we depend on to create and make things happen. Whether it’s shooting, driving, or assisting somebody else,” Popovich said. “That’s what he’s done for us his whole career, it’s very important to us. Without that we have a tough time winning.”
Silent for most of these playoffs, Ginobili entered the game halfway through the first quarter and quickly made his presence felt with a seven point flurry in less than a minute. A step-back jumper from 16 feet, followed by splitting two defenders with an impossible change of direction for a layup, capped by a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the quarter.
Welcome back to the playoffs, Manu Ginobili.
“It just happened. I don’t know how exactly because I haven’t scored like this all season long, but it happened,” Ginobili said. “I just tried to play and attack the rim when I had the opportunity. I made a few 3s and it helped open up the penetration.”
Ginobili’s resurgence came at an opportune time with both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker each struggling through multiple turnover, 6-15 shooting performances.
The trio of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Thabo Sefolosha lurked at every corner, in every passing lane, and near every attempt in the paint. Passes and shots not outright deflected were certainly contested, capped by an abysmal third quarter in which the Spurs only managed 16 points and ceded a nine point lead to the Thunder.
On the ropes, with Derek Fisher nailing shot after shot–one almost a mirror image of his famous 0.4 shot–Popovich implored his team to show him some nasty.
“I thought that we were playing for most of the first half, and even at the beginning of the third quarter, a bit unconfidently,” Popovich said. “So I told them they’ve got to get a little bit uglier, get a little more nasty, play with more fiber and take it to these guys.”
And with that Popovich sent his second unit out onto the floor, complete with two of the nastiest competitors in the NBA in Ginobili and Stephen Jackson.
“My name is nasty,” Jackson said after the game.
As was his defense on Durant, who was denied a shot attempt for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Perhaps the most feared closer in these playoffs, Durant was limited to two field goal attempts by Jackson, leaving him to collect his six points at the free throw line.
Jackson’s five fourth quarter points, one of which was of the nail-in-the-coffin 3-pointer variety, were part of a 52-point barrage from the Spurs bench. A number and advantage the Spurs figure to press as the series goes on.
“It’s what we have done all season. I don’t know what our average was in the regular season but that’s the way we played,” Ginobili said. “We’ve got scorers coming from the bench and that’s what we usually do.”
It’s the way Ginobili has played his entire career, though it’s been some time since the basketball world has had an opportunity to see what Manu Ginobili usually does in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. This 1-0 lead heading into Game 2 serves as a nice reminder.