On the first trip down on offense for the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard attacked Durant off the dribble and dunked on Serge Ibaka. If there was any doubt that the Spurs had lost their collective fear of Ibaka's rim protection, that sequence erased it. Unfortunately, Ibaka is not just a one-way player and his mid-range jumper was on target in the first quarter. The whole Thunder team, in fact, was hitting from the in-between area and their hot shooting was enough to give them an early lead.
Once Diaw checked in for Bonner, the Spurs started going to him in the post, where he pushed his way inside and into the free throw line. The defense picked up its intensity but even with Boris on the court the offense was a bit out of sync. Russell Westbrook's individual efforts kept OKC's lead from disappearing, as he scored eight straight points for his team. The Thunder led by three, 23-20 at the end of the first.
The second quarter saw both teams playing sloppy on offense. The Thunder were packing the paint but the Spurs hadn't been able to make them pay from outside. Fortunately, the threes started to fall. And in a role reversal of sorts, the Spurs were creating turnovers and crashing the offensive glass. Once again, the offense wasn't exactly clicking but OKC couldn't get points on the board either.
It looked like San Antonio could take the lead but some timid play to end the quarter, combined with mental mistakes and foul trouble for Manu Ginobili, prevented that from happening. The Thunder went on one of their characteristic runs and carried a seven point lead into the break, 49-42 with Durant, Westbrook and Jackson combining for 42 of those.
As the third quarter was about to start, David Aldridge dropped a bomb: Parker was out for the rest of the game with an ankle injury. I'm not ashamed to say I thought that was it. We were going to game 7. The Spurs were going to try and hang around with Joseph in Parker's place but the Thunder would inevitably go on a run and the Spurs just weren't going to have the firepower to counter. For a Parker-less offense to really click, everyone needs to play well, move the ball and hit open shots. With the way the Spurs had played on that end in the first half, that didn't seem possible.
And yet that's exactly what happened.
Joseph did a good job of getting the offense into sets and the defense remained strong. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard combined for 14 points and Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw gave the bench the scoring punch it needed. The Thunder seemed dumbfounded, like they were expecting the Spurs to just concede. Westbrook took no shots in over seven minutes and Durant took only four in the full twelve. It was Jackson who took charge and scored nine points. But San Antionio was rolling and well on its way to a 37-20 favorable split in the third quarter. Inexplicably, the Spurs were going into the fourth with a ten-point lead, 79-69 after a glorious Danny Green four-point play.
The final quarter was all about sustaining the lead for the Spurs. Four of the team's best remaining five players had already logged well over 20 minutes and the Thunder could pounce at any second. With both teams going small the defenses had a hard time stringing together stops. The Spurs traded buckets with OKC for about half of the quarter and held on to the lead. But three unanswered makes by the Thunder reduced the deficit to just two points with four minutes to play.
Ginobili broke the run with a couple of free throws after a steal and Duncan sank two more to increase the lead to six once again. After a Westbrook layup, Duncan missed a close shot but Ginobili came out of nowhere and secured the offensive rebound before kicking the ball out to Green. The Spurs had a four point lead and a fresh clock with only 1:46 to go. But Green made a bad pass that Westbrook picked off before driving all the way to the rim for a quick basket. Now the lead was just two.
After a couple of misses by both teams, Durant tied it from the line. The next play Ginobili drove to the rim and Ibaka clearly goal tended his attempt but there was no whistle. Durant scored the go-ahead bucket in the next play and it seemed that a ref's mistake was going to cost the Spurs the game. But out of the time out the Spurs freed Ginobili with a clearly illegal screen by Duncan that the refs conveniently missed and Manu hit a huge three to put the Spurs up by one. Durant turned it over as he was trying to answer and Ginobili was fouled but could only hit one of two. The lead was two and Westbrook erased it from the line. Manu had the last shot of the game but his mid-range jumper hit the back iron.
At the time, it seemed overtime was the last thing the Spurs needed: more minutes for Duncan and Ginobili with no guarantee that it would result in a win. But Durant, Ibaka and Jackson had already played over 40 minutes before extra time and Westbrook had logged 38, not to mention the heavy minutes they had played in earlier games. The Spurs were the older team but OKC looked more fatigued. Durant and Westbrook ended up missing shots they were making earlier and combined for 1-10 in OT.
So the defense was solid but someone would have to score on the other end for the Spurs to win. At that point, Pop took a page out of the 2005 playbook and went to Duncan on the block. Ibaka was no match for Big Fun, who faced up, pivoted and faked his way into seven straight points. Down three with 19 second to go Durant took a three to tie it but it missed. Diaw rebounded the ball, was fouled and hit one of two. With no timeouts left, Westbrook advanced the ball and took a wild shot that hit the top of the backboard.
After losing nine straight in OKC, the Spurs played without Parker for the entire second half and beat the team that was supposed to be too talented and too athletic for them to overcome. And for the second time in as many years, they will face the Miami Heat in the finals.
I'll keep these short, since we will have time to discuss the series later.
- At this point there is not much information Parker's ankle injury. Hopefully it was just a precautionary measure and he heals in time for Game 1 of the finals.
- There are no words to explain the play of Ginobili and Duncan. The numbers might not look all that pretty but those two guys showed the poise under pressure that only comes after winning championships.
- Boris Diaw changed this series. As soon as Diaw started being aggressive on offense the Spurs got the trump card they needed. No one on OKC's roster was equipped to handle Diaw's combination of deceptive quickness and strength. Hopefully that aggression will carry over to the finals because the Spur will need him.
- Kawhi Leonard couldn't buy a bucket after the third quarter (0-6) but he made a clutch steal/block on Westbrook that was as important as any made shot. The Thunder could have taken the lead with 48 seconds to go in OT on a three-on-two fast break but Leonard erased a Westbrook layup.
- Nine players scored for the Spurs. Only five for OKC. The lack of a bench killed the Thunder.
- Danny Green stripped Durant a couple of times and was generally active even when his shot wasn't falling. That turnover he committed was costly but he was generally a positive for the Spurs.
I could talk about this game and this series for another 1,000 words but there will be time for that. For now, celebrate Spurs fans. Your amazing team is back in the finals.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our good friends over at Welcome to Loud City