Serge Ibaka was sorely missed as San Antonio drew first blood against Steven Adams' Oklahoma City in game one of the NBA's Western Conference finals today.
With power forward Ibaka sidelined with a season-ending calf injury, Tim Duncan and the Spurs feasted in the paint for an emphatic 122-105 win in San Antonio.
New Zealand rookie Adams had a mixed time of it in his 17 minutes on court.
He started strongly, making his first two shots and sending Boris Diaw to the locker room with a swollen eye, following a heavy, but accidental, shot to the face.
But the big Kiwi had a tougher time of it in the second half, exposed defensively at times by the veteran, crafty Spurs. Adams finished with four points, two rebounds, one block and one assist.
It was a very difficult assignment for Adams, who was asked to anchor the defence in small lineups, without the experience of Ibaka or new starter Nick Collison by his side.
With defensive star Ibaka in the lineup, the Thunder had swept the Spurs 4-0 during the regular season.
But the absence of the Spanish international threw coach Scott Brooks' rotations out of whack, and San Antonio's master coach Gregg Popovich took full advantage.
The Spurs shot a red-hot 57 per cent, scored a mammoth 66 points in the paint and led for virtually the entire game as Hall of Fame-bound Duncan finished with a team-high 27 points (11/19 field goals).
The Thunder scored only 32 points in the paint.
Game two of the best-of-seven series is in San Antonio on Thursday before the action shifts to Oklahoma City for games three and four.
"Obviously, it makes a huge difference when Ibaka's not there," said Spurs point guard Tony Parker (14 points and 12 assists).
Said Brooks: "We're all men. We have to step up and play much better. [Ibaka's] not coming back. We take pride in bouncing back."
The Spurs led 67-59 at halftime before Kevin Durant (28 points) and Russell Westbrook (25) dragged the Thunder back with some third-quarter brilliance.
The Thunder led briefly in the third, as the bigger frontcourt duo of Collison and Kendrick Perkins momentarily put the clamps on the ageless Duncan.
But the Spurs kicked again late in the third, helped by NZ-born Australian centre Aron Baynes, who got the better of Adams in their brief tussle.
Adams, as the only Thunder big man on court, was twice dragged away from the paint as Argentine southpaw Manu Ginobili (18 points) then blew by him for layups.
Oklahoma City were still in it at three-quarter time, down seven, but Adams went to the bench and Durant and Westbrook ran out of steam as the hosts pulled away for a clinical win.
The $850m Transmission Gully will be ...Related story: Ball gets rolling on Transmission Gully
View obituaries from around the region.
View marriage and birth notices from around the region.
• Reporters: News, Business, Sport, Features
• Newsroom 0800 366 7678
• Website ideas: Email or tweet us
• Place an ad: Email or call 04 474 0000
• Subscribe: Email or call 0800 50 50 90
• No paper: Call 0800 50 50 90
• Start or stop your paper
• View the Digital Edition
• Make dompost.co.nz your homepage