It's over, friends. An equal parts fantastic, improbable, frustrating and disappointing season has come to an end as the San Antonio Spurs couldn't beat the Thunder in OKC to force a 7th game. The win awards the up-and-coming Thunder the Western Conference Championship and a chance to face Boston or Miami in the NBA Finals.
It seems like a long time ago now but the Spurs came into this season with lowered expectations after a disappointing first round exit against the Memphis Grizzlies. That upset meant to a lot of people the end of an era in NBA basketball: the Spurs were not a contender for the first time since drafting Tim Duncan 15 years ago. The lockout-shortened season was supposed to be kryptonite for "old" teams like the Spurs and the lack of a major splash in free agency in the off-season suggested that not enough had changed in San Antonio to revert the trend of early playoff exits.
The year started slow for the Spurs, which appeared to confirm our worst fears. Then, all of a sudden, Tony Parker took over the team after Manu Ginobili got injured, the role players began to exceed our expectations and the Spurs put together one of the best runs in their history, culminating with a 20 game wining streak that extended to the post season.
Now, after falling to the best young team in the league in the Conference Finals, the Spurs find themselves once again in the unenviable position of figuring out what went wrong and if it can be fixed without blowing the team up.
* * *
The game started exactly like every Spurs fan would have wanted: the Spurs were executing on offense, looking like the unstoppable machine that destroyed defenses in past months; Tony Parker was slicing the disoriented Thunder defense, Tim Duncan was hitting the pick and pop 18-footer and the 3 ball was falling. The 1st quarter went by in the blink of an eye with the Spurs up by 14.
There was no way that the Thunder were going to allow the Spurs to repeat such a fantastic offensive performance for two straight quarters without answering. Scotty Brooks's guys rallied and managed to get their own offense going. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook started playing like the franchise cornerstones they are, combining for 21 second quarter points. The Spurs survived the first OKC run by matching the Thunder's ridiculous 3-point shooting percentage (both teams shot above 50% for the half), with Stephen Jackson finishing 6-6 from 3 in what has to be one of Cap'n Jack's best performances on a half in his career. Going into the break the Spurs led 63-48.
It was clear that there was going to be another Thunder run and it didn't take long after the beginning of the 3rd quarter for OKC to cut the lead significantly. Both teams returned to the form they had displayed in the previous 3 games: OKC was the team moving the ball on offense and disrupting the Spurs' playmakers on defense while the Spurs' offense reeled and their defensive rotations got sloppy. An 11-2 run got the game close enough for the young Thunder players to go into the final quarter and a half with all the momentum going their way.
The Spurs simply couldn't find an answer to the unwavering Thunder offense; Parker, who helped get the lead and keep the team afloat on the first half, was not able to break through the now-reinvigorated defense and Ginobili was not able to replicate his fantastic performance from game 5. Only Tim Duncan's work on the glass and the post and Jackson's still red-hot shooting kept the Spurs in the game long enough to make it close down the wire, where a miracle can always happen. Unfortunately for the Spurs, divine intervention was not in the cards this time and the Thunder did a good enough job of closing the game when they had the chance. The young team out-executed the veterans en route to a 59-36 second half and a final 107-99 win.
After proving everyone that left them for dead after the last playoffs wrong by being the most dominant team of the 2012 season, the Spurs were eliminated in 6 games in what ended up being an at times tough to watch but ultimately entertaining series in the Conference Finals.
There will be time to analyze this season with the depth it deserves and figure out what it means for the Spurs going forward. Some players struggled making their mark, some stepped up beyond our most optimistic predictions and some came right around the middle. I wish I could offer some insight as to what could have been done differently or how to proceed from here, but to be honest with you, this series and this game in particular has been too draining for me to be able to think clearly. I'm not a journalist; I'm a fan and one that takes this types of losses pretty badly. For now, the only thing I can say is that I count myself lucky to be able to experience this heartbreak; not a lot of teams get to go this far into the playoffs and even some of the Spurs' loyal believed that our days of actually contending for a championship were over. As fans we can't really ask for more. The team tried but couldn't prevail against an equally or perhaps more talented team. There's nothing wrong with that and we should keep our heads up.
But not all is doom and gloom, Pounders. PtR will still have content for you on this recently finished series, the Finals and off-season stuff that is always fun to discuss like trades, the draft and free agent signings. And of course our epic Loser Threads™ will be up for the duration of the NBA playoffs to provide a place for us to express our disdain for Hero Ball-driven, non-Spurs related basketball.
So that is it for Spurs games for the season. On behalf of the previewing and recapping teams, I'd like to thank you guys for reading the stuff we published with the attention and care you did. We'll surely be back for the Spurs opening night in the 2012-2013 season.