For the first time in the Western Conference Finals, we got ourselves a close game, ending in another first – a road win. The San Antonio Spurs finished the job in six games with a 112-107 overtime win thanks to some great basketball from Tim Duncan in the clutch, Manu Ginobili hitting some big shots and Boris Diaw proving his value once more. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook gave it their best shot, but without a decent head coach, system or depth, there’s always going to be a ceiling on this team.
If there’s one thing that won this series for Popovich and the Spurs it was making Boris Diaw a bigger part of the game. The Spurs going smaller makes the Thunder’s defensive edge disappear, and the shooting and passing from the Frenchman proved to be more than just a tactical weapon. He was simply the best player on the floor in game 6 with 26 points, as the Spurs once again started with Matt Bonner and gave Tiago Splitter only 10 minutes.
The win is even more astounding besides the road issue, the fact that people thought it was 2012 all over again, because Tony Parker, who has been having ankle issues since game 4, wasn’t even on the court for the second half. He scored 8 points in 19 minutes and that was it, spending the rest of the night holding something pressed to his ankle, hoping that it all gets better by the time the NBA Finals series against the Miami Heat begins on Thursday.
For once, the officials were almost a non-factor for the entire game but in regulation, with the game tied at 97 and 36.5 left on the clock, Manu Ginobili went up for a layup. The ball hit the board and was then rejected by Serge Ibaka, which means it should have been a goaltending call. Once again. these things have a different rule when the game is in Oklahoma City. However, after Westbrook hit those free throw shots to send the game into overtime, it was all Spurs.
Two big plays in the post by Tim Duncan gave the Spurs a 3-point lead in overtime and a big three from Manu Ginobili pretty much finished the game. But with the Spurs leading by 3, Kevin Durant got a good screen to make something of off the inbound pass. He didn’t have anyone close to him while Danny Green was quickly closing, and yet Durant missed the pretty good look he got. The Spurs hit one free throw and Russell Westbrook tried showing he can shoot 3’s as well, but took an awful shot, missed, and lost the game.
Kevin Durant joins the elite club of MVP winners without an NBA title, although he has a very long time to try and fix that. What’s more important to fix is how this team responds to changes. Durant had a great shooting day, finishing with 31 points, but he also turned the ball over 7 times. Russell Westbrook scored 34 points but was 8-of-23 from the field, and aside from his 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 steals, he also turned the ball over 7 times. The Thunder’s bench gave them nothing, and if Derek Fisher has to play 33 minutes then someone didn’t do a very good job.
Maybe that’s the difference about these teams – the Thunder might not even want a system. Kevin Durant keeps talking about making shots and playing harder. There has to be more to basketball than simply effort, talent and luck. The Spurs prove that every time they do something great, and for the first time in the Popovich era make it to consecutive finals. For the Thunder, this is the third time in four years that they’ve been signaled as the favorites in the West but don’t come through with the goods.
This wasn’t a battle of good vs evil. The NBA will always prefer big names and flashy stars to fundamental basketball, progress and clever scouting which means harder work. The Spurs success hasn’t changed that and won’t even if they win the NBA title. But for the Thunder, who have now been burned, as a group, mostly intact, by smart coaching and intelligent play for a second time in three years, maybe this lights a bulb over someone’s head.