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.
Being down 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals gave the Oklahoma City Thunder only one option on how last nights game could go. It was a must win scenario, and every Thunder player played as if this was a win or go home game. OKC dominated on both ends of the floor, not only ending the Spurs 20-game winning streak, but also holding the Spurs to a season low in points (82) as well as a playoff high in turnovers (21). With a 102-82 victory, Oklahoma City proved that if anyone can keep up with team “Spurfection” then it’s them.
“We just played a good basketball game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We played with a lot of force, we played with good energy, but we played defensive-minded basketball. That’s who we are. That’s how we win.”
The Thunder have had an extremely successful season and most of the credit is given to Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook and James Harden. I don’t feel enough credit is given to Scott Brooks because his coaching style is exactly what’s keeping these young and talented players at the top of their games. Brooks has now led his Thunder to back-to-back Western Conference Championship series and he looks as if he has started a mini-dynasty that this franchise hasn’t seen since it’s days as the Seattle Supersonics with Gary “The Glove” Payton and Shawn “Rainman” Kemp.
You would think with a 20 point victory and a masterful defensive showing, that either Durant’s, Westbrook’s or Harden’s numbers would be astronomical, but the truth is that Scott Brooks found an “X” factor and it wasn’t any of them. Thabo Sefolosha made a defensive statement early with 3 steals in the opening few minutes and set the tone for the rest of the game. If you just stopped reading to look up who Thabo Sefolosha is, I understand because although he has been a starter all season for the Thunder, he is a relatively unknown player. For his career, Thabo has averaged 5 points per game while only pulling in 3 rebounds a game. He is the true definition of a role player and never really seems to embrace the spotlight. In last night’s game, the lights were shinning bright and Sefolosha put up career playoff highs in points (19) and steals (6) and was the real difference in the game.
“We wanted to bounce back after two losses like that. We had to play better and we did that tonight,” Sefolosha said. “We played with energy; we played with passion in front of our home crowd. They did a great job giving us a lift.”
Even though Oklahoma City looked great last night, they still find themselves down 2-1 in the series with Saturday’s game having the same importance as last night. “We are a prideful team. It’s no fun being down 0-2. It’s no fun,” Brooks said. “But we weren’t looking at the game thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we have a chance to be down 0-3.’ We were looking at the game that we have a chance to be 1-2 after this game, and I give our guys a lot of credit. They believe in each other and they always play hard for each other.” Now that it is 2-1, I fully expect the Spurs to come out with a lot more energy in game 4. I’m extremely happy that OKC made this series interesting, but I still see the Spurs taking the next 2 games and wrapping this series up in 5.