It’s no longer just Serge Ibaka that’s scaring the San Antonio Spurs. The entire Oklahoma City Thunder team played like it knows it is the best of the two in the Western Conference Finals, winning game 4 at home 105-92, making it a 2-2 series, as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant couldn’t be stopped, while no one on the Spurs, from Tony Parker to Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, put in an even respectable game.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh. A garbage time lineup was put on the floor in the middle of the third quarter, with the game clearly going to the Thunder, already leading by 27 points. That Spurs lineup, with Boris Diaw suddenly looking like a superstar for a few short minutes, helped by Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner, cut the lead down to 16 points and managed to keep thing level in the fourth quarter, as Scott Brooks refused to let his starters get some rest. For a team that looked to be exploding with confidence all through the second half, it was weird to see a head coach refusing to acknowledge he had won the game.
The Spurs began the game on a 8-0 run, but suddenly the pace was gone, and Serge Ibaka pulling Tim Duncan away from the basket resulted in open lanes for Russell Westbrook, who was in a mode that made it impossible for him to miss, not to mention that he actually took much better shots than usual. The same goes for Kevin Durant, finishing with 31 points which were hardly noticeable, while Westbrook and his 40 points, 10 assists and 5 steals, something that hasn’t been done for 25 years in a playoff game, were impossible to miss.
He was simply impossible to stop on the way to the basket, going 5-for-5 and drawing five more fouls on drives to the hoop, finishing with 14-of-14 from the line. Once again, the Thunder got to the line a lot more than the Spurs (31 to 22) but there was no real beef about officiating, although like in all Thunder home games, fortuna was clearly favoring them for whatever reason, which we hope is by complete mistake and nothing with actual intentions.
The Spurs didn’t lose because of the referees. They lost because the Thunder played great on both sides of the ball, being able to take the Spurs out of their usual game. Tiago Splitter seemed to fear an Ibaka block every time he tried to score, taking only three shots the entire game. Tim Duncan struggled with 3-of-8 from the field, looking slow and old next to Ibaka and Perkins, doing an excellent job in denying any easy looks at the rim. Tony Parker did score 14 points on 7-of-12 from the field, but Westbrook was impossible for him to handle on both ends of the floor.
The Thunder lost Reggie Jackson just as the game was starting, but that didn’t change their plan or success one bit – Jeremy Lamb, finally getting a chance from a head coach that stopped giving him credit through the second half of the season, proved to do a very good job on defense, finishing with 7 points in 19 minutes. Westbrook played 45 minutes and Kevin Durant 41, as the Thunder clearly believe that two days of rest are enough for them to bounce back from this effort, even on the road.
Gregg Popovich refuses to move to some small-ball lineups which might be his only chance. Duncan and Splitter are losing to Ibaka and Perkins, while Tony Parker is being taken out by his team’s lack of motion offensively and by Westbrook’s defense, while not getting the usual screens that help him roam free and frustrate the Thunder’s point guard. Right now nothing is working as it should for the Spurs, and it isn’t only about the Thunder playing at their best. They’ve been in this situation before against this team – with the series slipping away from them. Maybe that feeling is creeping back up again and smothering them into submission.