Danny Green was asked if Thursday night's 86-84 buzzer-beating victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder felt like a continuation of last year's Western Conference Finals, minus the stakes. Green jumped right in, saying there was certainly a level of intensity facing off with the team that eliminated the Spurs from the playoffs last season.
"Yeah, you could say that," he said after scoring 13 points, including three 3-pointers. "But that is a little bit of a reach."
Reach or not, when Tony Parker's jumper from the left wing arched its way over Serge Ibaka's outstretched hand and through the net framed in a bright red light, it felt pretty good.
Parker's buzzer-beater capped off a game with an incoming story-line that has dominated headlines in recent weeks as both teams entered the game without their outstanding sixth men of years past. Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game with back spasms but is expected to return on Saturday. James Harden, on the other hand, will likely never take the floor again for the Thunder after signing a max contract extension with the Houston Rockets following last Saturday's trade.
This isn't the same Oklahoma City side the Spurs are accustomed to seeing in recent years and the pieces to its puzzle have yet to fit, but this is still one of the best teams in the league. Beating them without the services of Ginobili is a win San Antonio will take.
As if there was still any doubt, Parker - who also had 11 assists - continued to prove himself as the Spurs' go-to guy, especially without Manu on the floor. His corner three with 28 seconds left tied the game at 84, and his buzzer-beater following Kawhi Leonard's fifth steal - his tenth in two games - snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
After drawing up a play for fellow Frenchman Nando De Colo to hit a game-winner during a preseason game against the Hawks, it was Parker's turn to take the shot, though it was Gregg Popovich who diagrammed this one.
"It was a play for me to come off the pick. I was kind of open and then I took a dribble because I knew we had six seconds left to make sure we had the last shot," Parker said of his shot over Ibaka. "I put it up and it went down."
A reporter interjected, "Could you see the rim?"
"I saw (the rim), but I was like, 'I have to shoot fast.' He was coming very fast."
Parker's brilliance came after a mostly sub-par performance from the field. He was 4-for-11 shooting prior to the final 28 seconds, but his timely shot-making pulled San Antonio out of a fourth-quarter slump. The Spurs hit just seven shots in the final period, but it was better than the Thunder's six. Regardless of Harden's presence, or lack thereof, holding Oklahoma City to 84 points is commendable.
"I think (the defense) was excellent. The activity, the communication, the transition 'D,'" Popovich said. "But more than anything we took care of the ball. They are a great team as far as blocking shots and creating turnovers.
"We didn't let that get in our way tonight and that was really a key in the playoffs last year," he continued. "We did that poorly (last year). So that was really nice to see that we did take care of the ball."
It's been a common theme for roughly a century now, but Tim Duncan once again played like anything but a 15-year veteran. He hit the 20-point plateau and blocked three shots for the second straight game while finding yet another way to put Ibaka on a poster. This just isn't what a player in the twilight of his career is supposed to look like.
"He's looked like this for the last three or four years. He's really taken great care of himself in the summer," Pop said of Duncan. "He watches what he puts in his body and does what he needs to do to keep slim and long.
"You're seeing a player who really is a pro in every way, shape, and form."
It's not that we've forgotten about what we've seen from Duncan in recent years, it's that it never ceases to amaze. The "when will it end" conversation just continues with the 36-year-old power forward, and at this rate the end does not appear imminent. Regardless, this clearly isn't a player ready to hang 'em up any time soon.
The new season has only just begun and unfamiliar faces are still trying to find their places all across the league, but a newly Harden-less Oklahoma City might be the final first-class ticket the old man needs to return to the Finals.
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|Final - 11.1.2012
|Oklahoma City Thunder
|San Antonio Spurs