After an amazing, high-octane dash through a lockout-shortened year, the Spurs 2011-2012 season ended in an astounding thud after going up 2-0 over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs performance in the 4-2 series loss can be described by a word that rarely ever made it into a game recap throughout San Antonio's dominating season - lost.
At times, San Antonio looked disorganized and lethargic on both sides of the court. The Spurs always looked a step slow, reacting rather than pushing the action against the Thunder. Communication on the floor was non-existent at times and the defensive rotations/transitions looked confused and lazy.
But we have to give credit where credit is due; the Thunder just stole the Spurs' life force. The young guns out-hustled the Spurs players to every 50-50 ball, got physical on every possession on both ends, and meticulously assaulted the weak spots in the Spurs armor. The Thunder are a young, intelligent group with a smart coach at the helm. Aside from using their speed and athleticism to disrupt an offense, the Thunder also excel at in-game adjustments - rarely letting another team take absolute control of a game. San Antonio struggled mightily in every second quarter against the Thunder, getting outscored by a total of 31 points through the six games.
Coach Gregg Popovich put it plain and simple during the Western Conference Finals.
We have sucked in the second quarter. I don't know what else to tell you.
Mike Tyson once said that "everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth." San Antonio took a brutal hit in the game 3 blowout in Oklahoma City and their mental toughness just never recovered. Hell, most of the team outside the Big Three never even showed up. With the exception of Stephen Jackson's all-out effort, San Antonio's supporting cast provided little of the valuable production that was so heavily relied upon during the regular season.
Depth will win you the season but quality of your stars earns you the ring. Someone outside the aging core of the San Antonio Spurs needs to take the next step this season. The question is that person, or persons, currently on the roster?
- Patty Mills and Gary Neal have the exact same pre-game workout. They rotate on the drills.
- I spent a solid 10 minutes just watching the feet of Neal, Mills, and Kawhi Leonard. It's interesting to me to see the difference in how players launch themselves off the floor.
- Mills rarely missed anything during his practice but it was interesting to see his reaction on a "bad" shot. I was sitting directly behind him on a corner three. The shot was dead-on towards the basket but Mills started shaking his head soon after the release. The ball hit rim, just a tiny bit short. It's amazing to me how a player just knows the quality of his shot on feel.
- Former Spurs Ime Udoka and Sean Marks both worked with Tim Duncan.
- Chip Engelland is one hell of a coach. I try to eavesdrop on any nearby talk.
Standard Pop Pre-game Quote
They're playing basketball. It isn't that complicated.
With the Spurs minus Manu Ginobili and the Thunder playing sans-Beard, both teams came out chippy and with something to prove. The Spurs maintained their composure in a physical and hard-fought battle, something they were incapable of during their series against Oklahoma City. San Antonio took the fight to Thunder rather than letting the neo-Spurs have carte blanche of the game's flow. Despite the Thunder still disrupting the highly efficient motion offense at times (5 blocks, 6 steals), the Spurs kept pounding the rock - moving the ball, pulling defenders out of the paint, and pushing the break at every opportunity. "[The Thunder] are a great team as far as blocked shots and creating turnovers," said Coach Popovich after the game. "We didn't let that get in our way tonight and that was really a key in the playoffs last year."
San Antonio wanted to prove that they could also set the tone defensively. The Oklahoma City Thunder shot 37.7%, scoring only 84 points in the loss while also coughing up the rock 18 times. Kawhi Leonard had 5 of the Spurs 9 steals, including a crucial one that took away OKC's last possession and set Tony up for the game-winner. Although the Thunder knocked down 7 3-PT baskets, the Spurs were forcing Oklahoma to beat them from the outside. In the conference finals, the Thunder feasted in the paint, averaging over 39 points per game. Last night, the Spurs players fought hard through and around the same screens and pick-and-roll sets that tore them apart last season. The Thunder were forced to live away from the basket, scoring only 24 points inside.
I stated that the Spurs looked lost in their Western Conference meltdown, but that was far from the case last night. It wasn't a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Spurs players stayed engaged in the game and worked hard. Coach Popovich, who at times was at a loss for words concerning the Spurs struggles in the conference finals, was satisfied with the effort of his team last night. "They were aggressive defensively and aggressive offensively and they pretty much were that way for 48 minutes," said Coach Popovich. "That's what it's going to take against a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder."
This Thing Was Over When...
...Parker got the ball in his hands with only a couple seconds left to go in the game. Both Parker and Duncan wanted this game badly and they're weren't going to accept anything less than the Thunders' still-beating heart sitting inside their hands.
My Game Boss
Tim Duncan had the better game but I've got to go with Tony Parker. Tony had a rough night shooting (6-13 FG) but made two clutch baskets in the final 30 seconds of the game - a corner 3PT to tie and a baseline cut to the wing for the game-winning jumper at the buzzer. Tony also had 11 assists and 3 rebounds.
My Game Runt
Tiago Splitter. 4 minutes, 16 seconds. 3 personal fouls and 2 points. You forced Pop's hand to play a disgruntled DeJuan Blair. Not cool, Tiago. Not cool.
Bird is the Word (Tweets of the Game)
@YourManDevine: Tim Duncan appears to have murder in his eyes.
@spencerhawes00: @nickcollison4 sweet comb over bro.
@netw3rk: When Duncan dunks on you it's called getting put on a scroll.
@DrewUnga: These Spurs uniforms already have TJ Maxx price tags inside of them.
Odds & Ends
- Duncan and Perkins were getting pretty physical with each other in the paint. It calmed down a bit after the whistles started catching up to the action.
- Sefolosha seemed to have a few words for the Spurs early on.
- It was obvious that the Thunder missed James Harden's production and ability to take over an offense. Kevin Martin is a solid player, but he won't have a hand in every part of the game as Harden seemed to do for Oklahoma.
- Hasheem Thabeet is 800 ft tall but somehow only managed 2 rebounds in 12 minutes of play.
- Perry Jones should have received those 12 Thabeet minutes.
- The Thunder had 12 offensive rebounds but only 13 second chance points (3-9 FG).
- Despite being out-rebounded by 9, the Spurs dominated the interior with a 44-24 advantage in points-in-the-paint.
- Ibaka was a runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-2012. He made the highlight reel for several Spurs players last night, including a Boris Diaw face-up and drive score.
- Early in the 4th quarter, Stephen Jackson weaved his way around a strong baseline screen to keep his presence right in front of Kevin Durant. This was the type of defensive effort that kept Durant from taking over the game.
- After a Jackson layup with 8:21 to go in the game, the Spurs only scored 4 points over the following 8 minutes and they were via trips to the free throw line. San Antonio went 0-9 from the floor and watched a 6 point 4th quarter lead slowly turn into a late 3 point deficit.
- The pass from Boris Diaw that led to the Tony Parker 3Pt shot was a thing of beauty. Boris stretched out towards the baseline to bounce up a wild pass and then slung it immediately, one-handed, to Parker in the corner.
Going into the Next Game, the Spurs Need to...
...remember how this victory felt and what motivated them going into it. San Antonio let a golden opportunity slip away last season with only two victories needed for a 5th NBA Finals appearance. Stay hungry from start to finish, Spurs.
For more rambling and Spurs talk, follow Aaron Preine at @DukeOfBexar on Twitter.