It was very important for the San Antonio Spurs to get off to a strong start against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dropping the first game of a seven-game series at home is tough to come back from, so the Spurs went ahead and won, keeping their record-breaking win streak alive and showing why they’re still the team to beat in the NBA playoffs.
Obviously, the game wasn’t flawless. The Spurs were down by nine after three quarters and needed a furious fourth quarter comeback to pull out Game 1, but let’s look at what they did right.
What went right
To quote San Antonio’s favorite NBA analyst, Charles Barkley: “GINOBILI!!!!!!!!” In my series preview I said that the 6th man battle was going to be one of the big matchups to watch. I gave the advantage to the younger James Harden but in Game 1, Manu proved me wrong. Ginobili had 26 points on 9-14 shooting. When he made that buzzer beating 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter, you had a hunch that it was going to be a special game for Manu. He was the clear leader of the team last night. Not sure where the Spurs would have been without him.
The Spurs’ execution down the stretch was incredible. They went into the fourth down 9 but scored 39 points in the quarter to pull out the win. The Spurs were unstoppable at the end of the game and turned their 9-point deficit into a 10-point lead with 2 minutes to go. The final score of the game wouldn’t have even been close if the Thunder hadn’t been on fire in the last 16 seconds. I thought since the Spurs hadn’t really been in any close games all playoffs that they might falter if they were under pressure down the stretch. Instead they showed why they’re the best executing team in the NBA.
Going into the series, I thought that the “big man statistics” would skew a little bit towards the Thunder because of the presence of Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and even a little bit of Kevin Durant. That wasn’t the case. The Spurs outrebounded the Thunder 50-43 and outscored them in the paint 50-26. The Spurs really controlled the inside and that’s going to be huge for them going forward. The Thunder can’t expect to win this series if they’re going to be settling for jump shots. They may win a game or two because they’re a strong shooting team, but you can’t base the success of your team on your ability to shoot from outside. If the Spurs continue to own the paint, this series will be over even quicker than most people thought.
What went wrong
Obviously the huge area of concern for the Spurs was turnovers. The Thunder led the NBA in turnovers during the regular season, but if you watched the game last night, you wouldn’t think that was the case. The Spurs turned the ball over 17 times and it was a big part of why they struggled through the first three quarters. Oklahoma City is such a great fast breaking team that the Spurs will have to limit their mistakes if they want to keep winning.
Free throw shooting was another area of concern. The Spurs shot 68% from the line. I would venture to guess that at least one more of the games in this series is going to be decided by less than five points, so the Spurs’ ability to shoot free throws may become a big factor. Granted, a lot of the poor shooting from the charity stripe was because of Tiago Splitter’s 1-5 performance, but if they want to use him down the stretch, he’ll need to be practicing his free throws.
I would also like to see someone on the Spurs step up on Kevin Durant a little more. I said before the series started that you can’t devote too much attention to him or he’ll find ways to get his teammates to beat you, but a lot of his shots last night were just too easy. The Spurs should always have a hand in Durant’s face when he’s shooting,
The Spurs showed last night that even when they play less than their best for three quarters of the game, they can still come back and beat you. The Thunder are going to have to play a full, flawless 48 minutes if they want to take any of these games away from San Antonio. Game 2 is tomorrow night, we’ll see if the Spurs can keep their streak going.