Like I said a couple of days ago, if the Thunder shoot 50% or better than the Spurs will be heading home… permanently. Well, that is exactly what happened last night in Oklahoma as the Thunder went on to beat the #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs 107-99 in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and win the series 4-2. The Spurs had more 3’s made, more assists, less turnovers, more steals and at one point were up by 18 points in the game. So how did this team of seasoned veterans lose to the up-and-coming young guns of Oklahoma? It’s easy, OKC wanted it much more.
For the first time all season, OKC coach Scott Brooks, a.k.a Marty McCoach, left his star player Kevin Durant in the game for all 48 minutes of regulation. Durant had 34 points and 14 rebounds, making Brook’s decision look pretty genius.
After the game Brooks went on to say, “It’s an amazing moment for him to play like this in this moment, in this setting, and I wasn’t going to take him out, I was not going to take him out. I don’t care how many times he looked at me fatigued. He has enough, and I think all of our guys have enough to play. You just have to fight through it.”
Huge games from both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were not enough to help San Antonio move on to their 5th Finals appearance in a decade and a half. Duncan put in 25 with 14 rebounds and Parker followed that up with 29 points and 12 assists, but with Manu having his worst game of the playoffs with only 10 points and 1 assist, the Spurs just did not have enough. As a life long Knicks fan, I had grown to despise the slow-tempo style of play the Spurs have had for years, especially when they beat by Knicks in 5 games in the 2000 Finals, but this season was different. Even though coach Popovich stuck to his usual by-the-book mentality, the Spurs had a sort of swagger in their offense that propelled them into the best record in the NBA and the second highest scoring team. I found myself rooting for them when the Knicks weren’t involved, which was most of the season. I wanted to see Tim Duncan get that Final ring on his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame, but unfortunately he and the Spurs came up just short.
I am happy to see a young and talented team make it to the NBA Finals because it gives hope to all of those teams that consider themselves in their “rebuilding” years. So keep your head up MJ, maybe your Bobcats can be here in 5 years…but probably not. OKC will have an extremely tough matchup with whomever comes out of the East. Whether it is Boston or Miami, Durant is going to need a lot of help from his right-hand man Westbrook. Westbrook showed some slight inconsistencies while playing the Spurs in games 1 and 2, but then he got his shit together and played like the all-star he is to help reel off 4 straight wins against arguably the NBA’s best team. Regardless of who comes out of the East, I am extremely excited to see what OKC can do under the biggest spotlight the NBA has to offer.
Last night’s game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder was a great one. It was a game filled with precision shooting and high energy on both ends of the floor. Kevin Durant’s fourth quarter explosion, where he had 18 of his 36 points, helped lead the Thunder to a 109-103 victory. Tim Duncan’s running hook shot over the Thunders Kendrick Perkins, brought the Spurs within 4 points with just under 6 minutes to play in the game. OKC coach, Scott Brooks, called an immediate timeout and that’s when a fire was lit under Durant’s ass. The “Durantula” came out of the timeout with a look in his eyes that let the Oklahoma faithful know that he had the game under control. Kevin took over the fourth with a few pull up jumpers, followed by a couple of drives to the hoop, a late game “and 1″ and a game clinching dish to James Harden for a 3-pointer.”I just want to be calm and composed and poised in those situations and make the right basketball play,” Durant said. “I just try to calm down and go with my instincts.”
Even with Durant’s 36, the Thunder needed a lot more offensive help with their second and third leading scorers, Westbrook and Harden, struggling throughout the game. James Harden and Russel Westbrook shot a combined 6 of 23 for a pathetic total of 18 points. Durant’s offensive help came from the two most unlikely sources on the court. Defensive specialist, Serge Ibaka, or as he is now known, Serge I’Block’a, set a career high in points with 26. The most impressive thing about Serge’s play was his flawless jump shooting. Ibaka shot a perfect 11 for 11 from the field and 4 for 4 from the foul line, while not missing a beat on the defensive end with his average 3 blocks. The Thunder’s other Center, Kendrick Perkins, had his best career playoff game for the Thunder with 15 points and 9 boards while shooting an impressive 7 for 9 from the field.
The Spurs two best players, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, both had below average games. While Parker kept OKC’s superstars Russel Westbrook and James Harden at bay on the defensive end, he could not make anything positive happen on the offensive side. Tony shot a lackluster 5 for 15 from the field and accumulated his worst overall stats of the 2012 playoffs with 12 points and only 4 assists. Duncan on the other hand, had a very good offensive output for the Spurs with 21 points and 8 rebounds on 9 of 17 shooting. Duncan’s issues came on the other end where he couldn’t find a way to stop Ibaka or Perkins.
With Oklahoma’s new-found offensive weapons, what will the Spurs do to avoid being only the 15th team in NBA history to lose a best-of-seven series after being up 2-0? Luckily for San Antonio they have arguably one of the greatest coaches ever in Gregg Popovich. I have no doubt that the Spurs will pick up a game 5 victory on their home court Monday night.
Down by nine and slowly fading into oblivion, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called a time out and sat his team down and asked them to do one thing…”get nasty!”
“I said that?” Popovich said afterward. “The heat of the game, stuff comes up,” Popovich said. “So I talked to them about they’ve got to get a little bit uglier, get a little more nasty, play with more fiber and take it to these guys. Meaning you have to drive it, you have to shoot it.”
Well, the talk seemed to work and the Spurs went on a huge offensive outburst with 39 fourth quarter and took a 1-0 series lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 101-98 win in San Antonio Sunday night. It was a back-and-forth battle all game long and every star found their moment to shine. The Thunder’s “Big Three,” Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and sixth man of the year James Harden, were a combined 5 for 21 from the field at one point in the first half and it looked as if the pressure of the big stage was getting to them. The three of them seemed to get their act together and finished the game shooting 17 of 36 for a total of 63 points collectively.
The problem is that when you are playing a team with the Championship pedigree that the San Antonio Spurs possess, you are not allotted a half of a game to get your shit together. Although Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have carried the Spurs for most of the season, San Antonio had to look elsewhere to close out the game. Parker struggled mightily from the get go and finished with a respectable 18 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds on 6-15 shooting. Parker’s PIC (Partner in Crime), big Timmy, matched Parker’s 6-15 FG% while only bringing in 16 points and 11 boards. Both of these starting lineups are fantastic on a lot of levels, but the one thing that will determine how this series will end up are the teams benches.
One of the most intriguing match-ups of this series was slated to be the battle of the 2 best sixth men in the game, James Harden and Manu Ginobili. Game 1 did not disappoint! During the three regular season match-ups between these two juggernaut teams, Manu Ginobili was sidelined with injuries and never had a chance to face the Thunder, so in his first game against them this season he made sure they knew what he could do. Manu played in most of the second half and was the Spurs leading scorer with 26 points on an impressive 9-14 shooting and 5 of 5 from the line. As each team went shot for shot through the fourth quarter, Ginobili took the ball with a little over 3 minutes left and drove to the hole. He drew a foul from his counterpart Harden and made the basket. That was the point where anyone watching new that the Spurs had taken game 1 as Ginobili tried to do his best Tiger Woods fist pump impression to electrify the crowd. The Spurs bench was extremely remarkable by not only outscoring the Thunder’s bench, OKC 37 SAS 52, but outscoring their own starting lineup, 52 to 49.
Game 1 was a gem and I expect nothing less for the entirety of this series. For OKC to stand a chance they are going to have to find a way to slow down the leagues highest scoring team. If the Spurs want to continue winning as they have been for 19 straight games dating back to the regular season, then all they have to do is what Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich says and “Get Nasty!”
For almost two decades now the San Antonio Spurs have demonstrated exactly what it is like to play as a team. Year after year, the Spurs have proven that it does not matter who is in the game as long as you play as a team. With NBA championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Spurs are looking to add a fifth title to the dynasty that started when San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan as the first overall pick from Wake Forest in 1997. Last night the Spurs finished their second straight sweep of an opponent in the 2012 playoffs and added to their win streak of 18 in a row dating back to the regular season. In round 1, San Antonio demolished the Utah Jazz only to be faced up with the young and talented LA Clippers in round 2. Fear of this high-flying acrobatic team that fans call “lob city,” was nonexistent in the minds of the Spurs as they won all 4 games without missing a beat. At this point I do not see anybody being able to beat this powerhouse team, whether it be the winner of the Thunder/Lakers match-up in the Western Conference Finals or whomever they would face in the NBA finals.
Although this team is clearly led by their veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, San Antonio is a team with endless depth and can beat you from a million different angles. Second in the NBA in scoring, fourth in assists and ninth in rebounds, the Spurs hit on all facets of basketball fundamentals. The Spurs finished the regular season tied with Chicago for the best record in the NBA at 50-16. The incredible thing about that is that they played relativity under the radar all year. I guess that America has just come to expect that Tim Duncan will lead his team to success season after season. This season was extra special for San Antonio because their expectations were a lot lower after losing in the first round of the playoffs last year.
With a roster filled with relatively unknowns, San Antonio found ways this season to pinpoint each players strengths and weaknesses so they could put a solid 11-man rotation together. Role players like Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Daniel Green and Tiago Splitter have embraced their opportunities as secondary options to the Spurs all-stars. Aging veterans like Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner have bought into the idea of supporting rather than shinning, knowing that it will help their ultimate goal of winning a championship. Already tasting one championship in 2007, Matt Bonner has become a huge vocal leader off the bench, as well as providing the Spurs with a deadly 3-point shot. When the Spurs play it is always a complete team effort and it all starts with the marvelous coaching of Gregg Popovich.
With the Lakers trailing the Thunder 3-1 in their best-of-seven match-up, it looks like the Spurs will be facing off with yet another young and extremely talented team in Oklahoma City. I can’t bet against the Spurs right now with the way they are playing, but I do feel that OKC poses a tough match-up. If the SAS make the finals it will most likely be against the Eastern Conference favorites, Miami Heat. If this is how it all plays out I will really look forward to seeing the Spurs and Heat duke it out till the very end. Regardless of what else happens for the rest of the playoffs, I think we should all pay our respects to the under-appreciated and over-achieving San Antonio Spurs.