The San Antonio game plan for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals was simple. Crowd Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden and put the onus on the offensively challenged Oklahoma City big men.
In theory it’s an excellent well-conceived idea by Gregg Popovich and the Spurs coaching staff. But what Popovich didn’t anticipate was 22 out of 25 baskets from Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison. Ibaka was the biggest headache for the Spurs, as he made all 11 field goals he attempted and finished the night with 26 points.
When Popovich was asked how effective Ibaka was Saturday night he said, “Eleven for eleven, that’s pretty big effect.”
Ibaka was spectacular but Perkins wasn’t too shabby either, hitting seven of nine shots for 15 points. He had scored just 12 in the first three games. Add Collison’s eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and you have the recipe for victory and a 2-2 series.
So what’s the game plan for Popovich for the pivotal Game 5? “Maybe they’ll do it again, but I don’t think so,” the Spurs coach said. “We’re going to play the same defense, and if they don’t shoot as well it won’t be because of our defense it’ll be because they didn’t shoot as well. ”
San Antonio’s prove-it-to-me-again game plan will either send the Spurs into the NBA Finals or it will lead to a disappointing finish to a postseason that saw them run off 10 straight victories. Popovich is not about to scrap his defensive plan just because Ibaka couldn’t miss.
Ibaka’s perfect night was the first 11-for-11 playoff game since 1985 when Celtics forward Scott Wedman tossed a perfect game against the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
“Obviously you try to put your attention on the big three [Durant, Westbrook, Harden] and you try to do a great job on them first, naturally. Their bigs came through and were outstanding. I think they were 22 of 25 or some crazy thing. If you do a shooting drill with nobody guarding you I don’t think you can do that.”
Former Toronto Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said the Spurs have bigger issues than scheming against Oklahoma City’s frontcourt players.
“Where are San Antonio’s shooters? They gotta find their rhythm again,” Mitchell said on NBA TV’s “Game Time.”
“Oklahoma City has taken them out of their comfort zone. They’re not getting those open shots because Tony Parker doesn’t have any driving lane,” Mitchell said. “[Parker] is not making that first pass that makes Oklahoma City rotate. Right now Oklahoma City is staying at home guarding their guy. Unless San Antonio can put them in rotation and get them out of position it’s gonna be tough for them to score.”
Mitchell added: “They were hedging toward Tony Parker and he kicked it out. Oklahoma City feels they’re athletic enough to get to San Antonio’s shooters. Ginobili is the only one who can pump fake and drive all the way to the basket. [Oklahoma City] is saying ‘if we can get Tony Parker out of the paint we can get to their shooters.’ And some of San Antonio shooters are gonna have to sacrifice their threes, show and go, that means take one dribble, get in the paint, and them make Oklahoma City rotate.”
Game 5 is going to be a war, and whoever wins Monday night will most likely win the series.