The unfamiliar comfort of the blowout win in Game 1 is long gone. The past two matchups have resembled what we've come to expect when the Spurs and the Thunder face each other: thrillers that go down to the wire between two elite teams.
On Friday, the Spurs' defense and an inspired Tony Parker were enough to beat a more physical opponent that has trouble executing. The 100-96 win puts San Antonio up 2-1 in the series.
Early on it looked like the Spurs were on their way to another easy win. Kawhi Leonard, who had struggled in Game 2, led the way and the bench close the first quarter strong to go into the second period up seven. After a quick start the lead grew to 15 points. For a moment, it really seemed like it was going to be a relaxed evening not unlike those from the first round. But obviously the Thunder are not the shorthanded Grizzlies.
Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka scored efficiently enough that Russell Westbrook's gunning didn't sink the offense. Ibaka, long a Spurs killer, had all sorts of trouble handling LaMarcus Aldridge in the post but did plenty of damage with his outside shot. San Antonio got sloppy with the ball and the Thunder pushed the pace. Any time there was a sliver of space, they attacked the paint and almost every distraction was costly.
Fortunately, there weren't many. The Spurs remained in control thanks to their defense, but it became clear that it was going to be an ugly affair that would go be decided in the final seconds.
Durant took over in the third, hitting the type of shots that have made him a superstar. That was something the Spurs were expecting. The Thunder bench coming through as a second wave once the Spurs found their bearings, however, was a surprise. Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter and even Cameron Payne all pitched in late in the period to prevent San Antonio from building on a lead that was at seven when Westbrook checked out.
A good stretch from the Thunder's point guard after such a poor performance was inevitable. He set up Ibaka for a three-pointer and then hit on of his own to give Oklahoma City a four-point lead, its biggest of the night, with a shade over seven minutes to go. That was the closest Westbrook would get to redemption and the Thunder to getting the win.
The Spurs simply executed better late, which is not a surprise considering how poorly Oklahoma City has done in close games all year. The controversy at the end of Game 2 temporarily overshadowed the fact that San Antonio was one good Danny Green pass away from pulling off a ridiculous comeback. So when Westbrook committed two turnovers and Durant one in the clutch, no one could have reasonably been surprised.
By simply moving the ball with purpose in the half court and taking advantage of Oklahoma City's mistakes, San Antonio won the game. Now the Spurs have control of the series once again and with a win on Sunday could earn the chance to close it at home.
- It's funny how a 19-point, five-assist night now counts as a Tony Paker Game but it does. Parker wasn't good in the first half, missing shots and losing Andre Roberson on defense, but he made up for it with a killer last two quarters. Not only did he score 15 points in the second half but his floor game was also terrific, especially late. He made the right decisions and got the ball to the right player time and time again. Maybe it stands out more contrasted with the Thunder's struggles, but it was great to have a steady hand out there.
- After a rough Game 2, Kawhi Leonard put together a great performance. He had 31 points on 17 shots thanks to having both his outside shot going (3-for-4 from beyond the arc) and aggressively looking for contact (14 free throw attempts). His 11 rebounds were also huge, considering the Spurs went with David West as their second most used big man.
- LaMarcus Aldridge destroyed poor Serge Ibaka to start the game, but slowed down late. He had to leave the court after an awkward fall at one point, so maybe that took him out of his rhythm. He still finished with 24 points, though, but it took him 21 shots to get there. He spoiled us in the first two games.
- Tim Duncan played 14 minutes and Manu Ginobili 19 minutes in a close playoff matchup. The times, they are a-changin'. They still did well when they were on the court, for the most part, but Pop has made it clear that Duncan will have a small role in this series and Ginobili can't guard neither Westbrook nor Durant. Hopefully, they will continue to contribute in small roles.
- Danny Green is one of the keys to this series, clearly. He's definitely needed on defense and he keeps doing a superb job on that end against a tough matchup. The fear was that his offense would remain cold. Fortunately it hasn't. Danny made two three-pointers and is shooting 52 percent for the series from beyond the arc.
- Before the game I asked for less David West and more Boris Diaw. Pop clearly disagreed, as he gave the bulk of the minutes next to LaMarcus Aldridge to the former Pacer. West did well, so he should continue to get the minutes, even if the Thunder are well suited to exploit his weaknesses. He's simply the best option left because Diaw has played poorly so far. Apparently, Bobo wasn't hibernating until the playoffs. He's in a funk. Hopefully he will get out of it soon.
Game 4 is on Sunday. A win would put the Spurs in an ideal position to win the series while a loss just means that they still have homecourt advantage. Hopefully they will play loose and return to San Antonio with a 3-1 lead.
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