Western Conference Finals Game 1: San Antonio Spurs 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 98

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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.

  • lvmainman

    Great game by Ginobili, Jackson on D, and Neal in the 4th qtr.

    I said 3 things before this series. 1) Brooks penchant for small ball will help the Spurs because no shot blocking of Ibaka, and no defense of Sefalosha due to Fisher playing, 2) Neal will avg 14 pts due to small ball by the Thunder, 3) Spurs will lose a game due to poor FT shooting

    I’m glad the 1st 2 were correct and I was wrong on the 3rd. Splitter’s FT shooting has gone down the tubes.

    Only played 1 good qtr and still win? Spurs can definitely play better, especially Duncan, Green, and hopefully Bonner.

  • Junierizzle

    Great win. I figured the SPurs would come out rusty and they did. But just like all the other games they eventually wear you down. I would have loved to see Bonner make a shot but I didn’t t care how they won Game 1 they just had to win it. Now they can settle down a bit, cut down the turnovers and execute better.

    My only cause for concern is Green’s shooting but you have to give the guy a slight pass because he may have been a little nervous. I’m sure he’ll bounce back.

    I like our chances. In crunch time Spurs were getting lay ups and OKC were shooting tough jumpers.

  • SpurredOn

    Hopefully this win has shot down the TNT broadcast meme that the Spurs haven’t been tested due to their playoff margin of victory… never mind that their last win was come from behind late win by 3 points on the road, or that the win prior to that saw them overcome a 24-point road deficit. They weren’t tested. I guess the next lazy observation will be that the Spurs’ three season win dominance over OKC doesn’t tell us anything.

  • Nima K.

    What the hells wrong with Splitter’s FTs? Chip! Help the dude! This don’t look good!

  • Stijl

    As I said before to those concerned about Ginobili…the mane of the lion may be matted but his pounce is still deadly.

    About the only thing Chucky got wright was “G I N O B L I !”

    All year at least one or two come off the bench and give the Spurs as in legends of old that 4th musketeer who helps the 3 win the day. This game…Neal. Next…who knows. But rest assured it will be somebody.

    Go Spurs Go!!!

  • Stijl

    by the way…
    “I Want Some Nasty!” T-shirts or caps should be making it’s way to the market in the very near future. Would be cool to see all Spur fans in the center wearing one at the next game.

  • Gus

    1.- On Manu: his first 4 or 5 possesions were TO/blocked shots…But he epitomizes the pounding the rock mantra. What a strong spirit, what a passion and determination.
    2.- I think OCK original game plan was clearly to force Green and Leaonard taking the shots. That was a good plan, and it worked. But they didn’t have an answer for Neal’s quickness and Manu “everything-ness”.
    3.- In the long run Spurs team defense will prevail over one-on-one and + pick and roll ofensive. One bright night from Durant, WestB,Salmon could make a diference in a game por two, but not in the series. If spurs can keep the +95 point per game, we should win. Just a better team.
    Spurs 4-0!
    Saludos desde Argentina!

  • agutierrez

    The only point I would disagree on is that most of our three point misses were tightly contested. Just the opposite: all of Danny’s, all of Matt’s and all of Kawhi’s were wide open. They just missed. In fact, the most contested were Manu’s, which he made. I find it hard to believe those kind of misses will continue and that’s good news for the good guys.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Splitter – 9pts, 6 rebounds in 12 minutes what the hell are you complaining about? Those 9 pts helped in the win. Like the TNT crew said Splitter played well. Lay off his damn free throws it’s not like Timmy was knocking down his shots either 6-15. He and Parker sucked, hell they all sucked the first 3 quarters.

  • Alix Babaie

    Titletown99030507d
    Splitter – 9pts, 6 rebounds in 12 minutes what the hell are you complaining about? Those 9 pts helped in the win. Like the TNT crew said Splitter played well. Lay off his damn free throws it’s not like Timmy was knocking down his shots either 6-15. He and Parker sucked, hell they all sucked the first 3 quarters.

    Dude, you need to chill regarding Splitter, I know you are president of his fan club and all but I don’t think anyone was saying he played like crap, just that he needs to improve his FT shooting to avoid “Hack-A-Splitter” from happening. You are ignorant to say that Duncan and Parker “sucked” to validate your issue. Duncan had 16-11 and Parker had 16-6-8, granted they missed more than they made but Durant’s shooting was even worse and Westbrook was 7-21. The rust was evident but thankfully, the Spurs had Ginobili rolling, some key rebounds by Leonard and Jack contesting KD.

    I think the snippy bickering is a little silly, don’t you?