The San Antonio Spurs find themselves facing elimination, in a series with the Oklahoma City Thunder that seems to be breaking a lot of conceptions about the two teams.
Game 6 puts us in an interesting situation: The Thunder with momentum, winning two games in a row, without the constant need to explain to people why they’re playing the way they are. Kevin Durant is doing well, Russell Westbrook has found a niche, through his inefficiency, to finally contribute late in games on both ends of the floor, and the fear of Enes Kanter being a defensive disaster is met with Gregg Popovich either struggling to react in time or not getting the most out of his bench players.
The theory that the Thunder can’t handle LaMarcus Aldridge has also been proven wrong. Aldridge is scoring a lot of points, but his influence on the game is decreasing. He shot just 6-for-21 from the field in the previous game. In general, the mismatches the Spurs have been living off haven’t been working. Boris Diaw hasn’t really shown up, Aldridge is struggling and Kawhi Leonard has been non existent late in the last two games.
And there’s also been the big three, or the old three right now. Tim Duncan is no longer that vintage bottle of wine getting better with age, but a player who is closer than ever to retirement. Manu Ginobili is pretty much in the same category right now, only he doesn’t give the Spurs much defensively either. Tony Parker isn’t as old, but is struggling to matter in this series, and his misses late in game 5 were part of what cost the Spurs the game.
In general, it comes down to a couple of plains: The player execution one and the coaching one. Billy Donovan might be inferior to Gregg Popovich in every way, but he’s found a lineup that works for him, and has yet to get a proper response from a five-time NBA champion on the sidelines. And execution? The Spurs can live with the original big three playing like three grumpy old men, but when both Leonard and Aldridge are either ineffective or disappear late in games, it’s a bit too much to endure. The answer might be Popovich tweaking his rotations a bit, but it could be about a yell-athon or two to make them realize the season is suddenly over a bit too soon.
The Thunder have been hearing all season long about how they’re not as good as the Spurs and Warriors. About how their basketball isn’t sophisticated enough to succeed in the postseason. How Russell Westbrook is getting in Kevin Durant’s way, about how Westbrook isn’t good in the fourth quarter, and how Durant isn’t bad enough. Turns out some of these things might be true, but the Thunder have found ways to bypass these problems, and it could be taking them to the conference finals instead of a team that won 67 regular season games.