Thunder Even It Up With Spurs
By Randy Renner
Okay, let’s see a show of hands…how many of you thought this series would be heading back to San Antonio tied up at 2-2 after that 35 point beat down in Game 2? How many of you thought this series would be going back to San Antonio at all after that mess?
Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
But then all of a sudden Serge Ibaka’s season ending injury healed, the Thunder lit the afterburners on Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant remembered he’s the NBA’s MVP and now it’s the Spurs who are going back home with their heads hanging and their hopes waning.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 71 points, the second highest total for teammates in these playoffs, and the Thunder cruised past the Spurs 105-92.
Westbrook had an amazing night, perhaps his best all-around game ever. 40 points on 12-for-24 shooting, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals. And just three turnovers. It’s the first time a player has had a night to remember like that since Michael Jordan back in the 80s.
“I try to come in just with a defensive mindset of trying to help my team win and just let the offense come to me,” Westbrook said. “Kevin and those guys got me some open shots and I was able to knock them down.”
Durant added 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting. He also had five rebounds, five assists and three steals. And no turnovers.
Defensively the Thunder again locked in on the Spurs, holding them to just 39.8 percent shooting.
“We used our length and athleticism to disrupt their flow,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “That’s one of the things we wanted to do when we got back into oujr building is play the typoe of defense that we’re capable of playing.”
The Spurs haven’t been able to hit at least 40 percent of their shots since the series came to Oklahoma City. In fact the Spurs have now lost to the Thunder nine straight times in Oklahoma City and 12 of the last 14 games overall.
“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the game. “All of a sudden we were gonna see if Serge could block a shot or something. Instead of hitting open people that were out there we stated attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots.”
The Thunder led by 15 at the halftime break and by 27 late in the third quarter. That’s when Pop raised the white flag and sat his starters to save them for Thursday’s Game 5.
Funny thing about that white flag, the Thunder took it as a sign to relax while the Spurs bench players took it as a sign to play on and have some fun and let’s see what might happen.
All of a sudden that 27 point lead had melted away to just 12 early in the fourth quarter but Popovich kept his starters seated instead of putting them back in the game.
“Because I didn’t see any sense in it,” he answered. Popovich had already started looking ahead to Thursday. It didn’t really matter what happened in Oklahoma City, all the Spurs have to do is win at home.
Tony Parker didn’t really like it but he gets it.
“Pop did a great job all season keeping us fresh. I understand his decision, I trust his judgment and now I have to be ready for Game 5.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks meanwhile put his starters back out on the floor in the fourth quarter trying to stop the bleeding. Westbrook played almost 46 minutes, Durant played a few seconds more than 41 minutes.
“We’ve got to win the game regardless of who they have on the floor and regardless of if they’re worried about the next game,” Westbrook said. “We’re worried about tonight’s game. We’re young, we’re going to recover.”
The Thunder have certainly recovered from the two big body blows the Spurs delivered in Games 1 and 2.
Everything has turned around now. The Spurs dominated the paint in San Antonio and the Thunder have done that back in OKC. The Thunder have also been running the Spurs right into the ground. Tuesday night the Thunder scored 21 points in transition, the Spurs scored exactly as many points as a dead man, 0. Zeee-roh.
And so now the Spurs find themselves, well trying to find themselves, as they go back to San Antonio with the ghosts of the 2012 collapse against the Thunder in the Western Finals chasing them all the way to the Alamo.