Western Conference Finals: Game 2 Report

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The Spurs had already shown that they were capable of comfortably beating the Thunder a few days ago. Their victory in Game 1 was as comprehensive a win as the Spurs have achieved all post-season. In that game, the wounded Thunder might be forgiven for their trepidacious start to the series. They were obviously unsure as to how they were going to deal with the absence of Ibaka, searching down the bench for a suitable player to guard Tim Duncan, and not finding one. They didn’t survive without Ibaka and it was confirmed that the Spurs would exploit everything they could inside. They went away from that game naturally crestfallen, but at least they now knew what they were up against. They needed to find a way to keep the Spurs from running riot in the paint, it was obvious that it was the most important thing to rectify.

As it turned out, the insight that the Game 1 defeat gave the Thunder made absolutely no difference. The Spurs spanked OKC 112 – 77, the equal worst loss for the Thunder since their inception. They were utterly dominant in the paint, again, with Duncan finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds, despite sitting out almost the entire fourth quarter. Tony Parker was sublime, scoring 22 points and waltzing into the paint to score numerous times, slipping around defenders like a man made of liquid mercury. Danny Green had his best night of the playoffs, scoring 21 points and draining seven 3-pointers. Ginobili, Diaw, Leonard all had solid nights, and all the other role players performed admirably for the Spurs, as usual. The Thunder were at sixes and sevens from the second half onwards. With a 25-8 run to end the first half, the Spurs effectively quashed what had been a fairly close game up until that point. The Thunder had managed to keep with the Spurs, even leading at the end of the first period. But the ease with which San Antonio were able to score was always an ominous sign, and it was only a matter of time before they would pull away. Once they did, it was over for the Thunder. Westbrook and Durant only scored 15 points apiece, and Sefolosha had a second scoreless game in this series. Collison again started, but finished with only 2 points, and found absolutely no joy trying to nullify Duncan.

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It was a back and forth opening quarter, a pace which favoured the Thunder, and Westbrook in particular, with his athleticism on the break being a key part of the Thunder offence. They found it predictably difficult trying to break down the Spurs in half court situations, the Spurs content to focus fully on Durant and Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard smothered Durant playing exceptional defence, and Westbrook was being bashed around, taking a number of shots to the face, and generally getting upset and frustrated. The Spurs, as a contrast, were cruising. It is very hard to see the Thunder disrupting Popovich’s team in any of the coming games because when scoring inside is so easy for them, it breathes confidence throughout the team as a whole. That’s just what happened in this game, and it was actually Green’s perimeter sharp-shooting, and the odd 3-pointer from Diaw and Ginobili, that finished off the Thunder. Ginobili’s single 3-point bucket was a pearler as well, after offensive rebound, the Argentine retreated to the 3-point line and popped an audacious attempt with a defender in his face. As it dropped in effortlessly, the Thunder players slumped even further down into their shoes.

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The entire fourth quarter was garbage time for the Spurs reserves, such was the lead they commanded. In truth, Parker, Duncan and co. didn’t really need to get out of  first gear and the 2-0 series lead was secured at a canter with the Thunder limping horribly behind. It is very difficult to see how Oklahoma City will overcome Ibaka’s absence. Collison, as should have been clear after Game 1, is surely not the answer. It was going to be hard enough to beat the Spurs even with their primary shot-blocker, and games where Westbrook and Durant go missing will make even the hope of winning something only a fool would cling to. It’s amazing how much Ibaka’s injury has blindingly illuminated his value to the team.

So, home the Thunder go now, downcast and bereft of inspiration. With Durant and Westbrook in your team you always have a glimmer of a chance, but really you’d be betting on the Spurs sweeping this series.

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