In a matchup that had basketball purists salivating, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-98 in Game 1 of the 2012 Western Conference finals.
The young Thunder gave a valiant effort, and even took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter. But they appeared to tire down the stretch, as the wily Spurs outscored them 39-27 in the final period.
Manu Ginobili was the key for the Spurs. In the first half, he guided them through a rough patch offensively. In the second half, he closed the door by setting up teammates and draining timely buckets.
Although the Thunder let this one slip away, they have nothing to hang their heads about. This matchup has "seven-game series" written all over it, and if Scott Brooks and the Thunder make a few minor adjustments, they will challenge San Antonio every step of the way.
Tweets of the Night
With Thabo Sefolosha wreaking havoc in the first half, Chris Palmer of ESPN pointed out something interesting:
Can't spell Thabo Sefolosha w/o s-t-e-a-l. (Seriously, check.) He's got 4 already.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) May 27, 2012
I'm not the biggest Ray Ratto fan, but you have to give the veteran sportswriter some props for this tweet:
Trying to follow Spurs-Thunder on Twitter is difficult when five every eight tweets is "Joey Crawford deliberately burned down an orphanage"— Ray Ratto (@RattoCSN) May 27, 2012
Duncan's missed more bunnies than a drunk Elmer Fudd. Ahem.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) May 27, 2012
Derek Fisher played very well in Game 1, prompting Not Bill Walton to bust out this great stat:
If his resurgence keeps up for a few more weeks, Derek Fisher will have as many rings as Michael Jordan and 3.5 more than Vanessa Bryant.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) May 27, 2012
But the tweet of the night goes to Around the Horn panelist Bomani Jones, who had these thoughts after Kevin Durant elbowed Stephen Jackson in the fourth quarter:
you have no idea how apologetic i'd be if i bowed stephen jackson in the face. i'm apologizing now.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) May 27, 2012
The highlight of the night goes to Durant, who threw a beautiful wrap-around pass to a cutting Serge Ibaka.
Grades for Key Thunder Players
Kevin Durant: B
Early on, Durant showed why he is the best scorer in the league, going for 21 points in the first three quarters. However, he faded in the fourth.
Thanks to some stiff defense from Stephen Jackson, the Spurs limited Durant to just six points (mostly on free throws) in the final period.
Russell Westbrook: C-
It was a rough night for the enigmatic point guard.
He struggled with his shot, turned the ball over on reckless drives to the rim and even pulled a JaVale McGee by shanking a dunk in the third quarter.
Westbrook will have to play much better for OKC to win this series. If he slows down a bit and lets the game come to him, he will be much more effective in Game 2.
James Harden: C
Harden couldn't find any sort of rhythm throughout the game, which was odd given that he's one of the smoothest players in the league.
He clanked 10 of his 17 shots, and although he hit 5-of-9 three-pointers, three of those came after the Spurs had wrapped up the victory.
Grades for Key Spurs Players
Tony Parker: B+
Parker struggled against the length and athleticism of the Thunder defense. He only hit 6-of-15 shots and committed four turnovers.
Luckily for San Antonio, he found other ways to contribute. In addition to his 18 points, Parker pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists.
Tim Duncan: B
Duncan was a monster on the glass, but he had a tough time dealing with the defense of Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
Like Parker, he shot just 6-of-15 from the field. However, he did grab 11 rebounds, and he was able to provide San Antonio with just enough offense to succeed.
Manu Ginobili: A+
Ginobili was dominant in the early going, scoring at will in the first two quarters. He cooled down a bit in the second half, but he maintained his aggression throughout.
Ginobili finished with a solid stat line (26 points, five rebounds, three assists) that doesn't quite do justice to his overall impact. If he continues to play like this, the Spurs will be nearly impossible to beat.
Game MVP: Manu Ginobili
With Duncan and Parker struggling offensively, Ginobili's strong performance couldn't have come at a better time.
He routinely schooled the young Thunder defenders, and hit a couple fancy back-breaking layups in the final two minutes.
James Harden may have won the Sixth Man of the Year Award this season (and deservedly so), but Ginobili apparently isn't ready to relinquish his title as the best bench player in the NBA.
Oklahoma City will attempt to even the series Tuesday in San Antonio. The game starts at 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on TNT.