Manu Ginobili has spent almost a decade as the NBA’s undisputed King of the Unconventional (Lefty) Sixth Men. Tonight, facing the greatest challenger to his throne, he made his strongest statement.
Scoring 11 points in a come-from-behind fourth quarter, all on layups and free throws, Ginobili showed James Harden how much he and his beard still have to learn. He set the tone for a Spurs team that spent the first three quarters firing three-point bricks and lofting lazy passes before realizing that there was plenty of wide-open territory right in front of the rim.
The Oklahoma City Thunder now trail the Spurs 0-1 in the Western Conference Finals, and have mostly themselves to blame for blowing a wonderful opportunity. If Game 1 was a fishing trip, here’s how the Thunder kept tossing back their catches.
Caught: A wonderful break when Danny Green, who had shot 45.7% from the three-point line this postseason, went 0-6 under tremendous close-out pressure from OKC’s perimeter defenders.
Tossed Back: Those same aggressive close-outs eventually opened driving lanes for Ginobili and Gary Neal (12 points).
Caught: The Spurs’ worst ballhandling stretch in months, as 13 first-half turnovers came in every conceivable manner, including fumbled dribbles, bad passes, and spectacular blocks or deflections from the active OKC hands.
Tossed Back: Those same Spurs coughed up the ball only three times in the second half, catching onto Oklahoma City’s aggressive traps and eschewing their pick-and-roll attack in favor of a floor-spreading, slashing approach that took advantage of the Thunder’s foul trouble.
Caught: An off night from the foul line by the Spurs, who entered the game hitting 74% of their postseason free throws but managed only 68% (17-25) tonight, including an air ball from Tiago Splitter.
Tossed Back: The Thunder couldn’t draw enough fouls to capitalize on their superior (82%) free throw marksmanship. They found themselves practically having to present X-rays to get to the foul line, while also feeling the brunt of Joey Crawford’s need for attention when he whistled them for several charges that could have gone either way.
Caught: Derek Fisher’s hottest shooting night since the last Bush administration. The clubhouse leader hit his first six shots en route to 13 points.
Tossed Back: Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to hit just 14 of 38 attempts, and even that number got artificial padding from several off-balance three-point heaves when the game was out of reach in the closing seconds. Neither could buy a basket (or a call) in the paint, as the Spurs defenders positioned themselves in just the right spots to alter the same drives that shredded the Lakers and Mavericks.
The Thunder proved they can play with the Spurs, looking poised and confident for the first 40 minutes. They lost their best chance at the one necessary road win, though, and will need to quickly bounce back from their biggest postseason setback in time for Tuesday’s Game 2.
Continued aggressive defense will give them a chance, but they need to remember that this opponent, unlike the previous two, can and will adjust as the game goes along.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.