Western Conference Finals Game 4 @Oklahoma City: Thunder 105, Spurs 92 Series: 2-2
Eventually you just run out of words.
When a team gets humbled, humiliated and just thoroughly mentally, physically and emotionally dominated to the degree that the Spurs were at the hands of the Thunder, don't you just have to throw your hands in the air and just walk away from it all?
It's not just that the return of Serge Ibaka has restored the ferocity to their entire defense and allowed the rest of their squad to slide back into their comfort zones, free to gamble and hunt on the perimeter, knowing there's cover in the paint. It's that the Thunder's overall advantage in athleticism over the Spurs is so large that it's overwhelming the advantages the Spurs have in shooting, passing and a cohesive offensive system.
They are, to put it bluntly, scaring the hell out of the Spurs.
In one sense, I'm kind of relieved we got "The Russell Westbrook Game," out of the way, and that it came in OKC, where the Spurs were more likely to lose anyway. It'd have been much worse for him to have played this well on the road. I suppose it can even be argued that we were also well on the way to having "The Kevin Durant" game too, had his minutes, shots and overall aggressiveness not been curtailed somewhat by the blowout score.
You knew there would be at least one game in the series where Westbrook would go off and maybe a couple for KD, so for them to do it simultaneously, at home, in a series the Spurs were leading is about as much lipstick as we can put on this pig of a game.
Make no mistake though, as incredible as Westbrook was offensively, it was his defense that was the true outlier here. He is that aggressive at times, but I've never seen his aggressiveness sustained for so long in one game and to such dramatic effect. The guy simply never got tired. Scott Brooks foolishly played him for 45:29, even against the Spurs third-stringers, and he was still out there, making plays.
Tony Parker burned Westbrook early on, but once the ball found its way into the hands of Danny Green and Tiago Splitter, neither of whom were at all ready for the Thunder's mix of athleticism and aggression, the game quickly turned against the Spurs. Soon after the malaise spread to Parker, who became too dribble-happy and doubtful of his teammates to make quick decisions, and before you knew it you had Marco Belinelli early in the second quarter trying to run the offense on one end and guarding Durant on the other.
It was such a nightmarish blur that I don't even know what happened.
Here's what I do know:
The Spurs --and their fans-- have to accept reality. As much as as we've romanticized and idealized this incredibly well-made video, it is still, in the end, a highlight video of sorts. By definition, a highlight video picks and chooses clips of a team and its individuals at their best. Any of us who've watched this team all year understand that the clips we saw on that video aren't the norm. They couldn't be. If they were, the Spurs would've gone 82-0 and won every game 248-56. Don't get me wrong, their selflessness, chemistry and ball movement were superb at times. They did get on these rolls for a few minutes here, a quarter there, perhaps even a juggernaut half every once in a while. They've certainly had periods of absolute brilliance in all three rounds of the playoffs, including against the Thunder.
But it's virtually impossible to sustain such an ethereal level of play for long stretches, to have five guys' biorhythms all synchronized and peaking at once. Gregg Popovich and the individual players all deserve all the praise and plaudits in the world for ever being able to touch perfection, however fleeting those moments are, because the Spurs at their best achieve a level of basketball nirvana that none of us may ever know in our lives and our fields of work.
When they're clicking the Spurs play team basketball better than any of us do anything. It's beautiful, it's inspiring, it's like a dream you never want to wake up from.
But the alarm rings. Always.
What's critical to understand is that I'm not going for the tired and easy metaphor here. The Thunder are not that alarm.
What they are, rather, is the realization of someone else's dream. That person's definition of what beautiful basketball is may be different than ours, and their vision includes more ISO play and jumping and dunking, more chest pounding and strutting and sneering and yelling, but who are we to begrudge Thunder fans? I for one would be a hypocrite to decry their basketball. I enjoyed it when Manu Ginobili crammed it on people. I almost flew out of my seat when Cory Joseph threw one down on Ibaka's mug, even though it came in garbage time. Hell, there was a time where our star was the most athletic dude in the league, and David Robinson led everyone in dunks and alley-oops. These things always go in cycles.
My point is that as far from reality as that highlight video is from your average 48-minute Spurs game, that's how far above their heads the Thunder played for two-and-a-half quarters on Tuesday night. Despite what it feels like right now, when you're ready to just hand them the trophy and jump off a cliff, I assure you that this is not how the Thunder play on a regular basis. This is the same team that lost 23 regular season games -- albeit none to the Spurs -- and seven out of 17 so far in the playoffs. The Grizzlies made the Thunder look rather ordinary in the first round, and Ibaka was perfectly healthy back then.
Westbrook is an excellent player. He's not 40 points, 10 assists, 5 steals good. Not nightly he isn't. If he was, they'd never lose.
The Spurs and Thunder have exchanged haymakers through four games. There's been no jabs, no feeling each other out, no clinching and grabbing. These games have gone like the rounds in Rocky movies, only with more blood, less subtlety and worse acting.
So far the series has been reminiscent of the 2005 Finals. We have yet to see a good game. We can only hope for a similar result.