By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant could hardly contain his excitement talking with reporters after the Thunder’s Monday shootaround.
“It’s gonna be fun, I’m excited, it’s playoff basketball.”
Indeed it is and after four games of Thunder-Spurs both teams are even at two games apiece and each has won on the other’s home floor.
The first game was a Spurs blowout, Game 4 was a Thunder blowout in the fourth quarter leading to a fairly comfortable win and the other two contests were coin flippers that came down to the final seconds.
“It’s what you live for, it’s the type of basketball you’ve been dreaming about since you were kids so we just gotta go out there and embrace the challenge,” Durant added.
The challenge of doing something no other NBA team has been able to do all season.
Beat the Spurs twice in San Antonio.
Golden State was the only team that could manage even one win in the Alamo City during the regular season. The Thunder won a game there just last week and have to win in San Antonio either tonight or Sunday, plus winning at home on Thursday, to win the series and move on.
Durant knows it will not be easy for a couple of reasons.
“Their crowd’s gonna be into it, they’re gonna be amped.”
And then of course there’s this.
“They’re a good team.”
But maybe, just maybe they’re also a team the Thunder have figured out. The second half Sunday and especially the fourth quarter may have shown the Thunder the way.
“We just kept playin’, kept movin’ the ball movin’ our bodies and we were able to get free a little bit. They make multiple efforts so we gotta make multiple passes, multiple body movement, multiple actions for us a get a good shot.”
Russell Westbrook became more of a facilitator, finding teammates for better shots than he had. His 15 assists in Game 4 were more than San Antonio’s entire roster produced (12).
Enes Kanter and Steven Adams were again the beneficiaries of many of those passes.
“We shared the ball really well,” Kanter said of the ball movement in Game 4. “Kevin and Russell did an amazing job of finding the open man and then with easy shots we just made them.”
Kanter and Adams, “The Stache Brothers” as they call themselves, played the entire fourth quarter Sunday night and caused the Spurs fits.
Kanter scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds and though Adams didn’t score (he didn’t even attempt a shot) he was active defending the rim and he pulled down four rebounds too. Their eight rebounds were two more than the Spurs entire roster managed.
They have become quite comfortable together on the court and each has learned to bolster their weaknesses by learning from the other’s strengths.
“He always communicates with me,” Kanter said of his Kiwi buddy. “I trying to help him on offense and he’s trying to help me on defense.”
The improvement has come gradually for both but now, especially in this round of the playoffs, Adams’ offensive game has come up huge and Kanter’s defense, especially in the post, has been shockingly good at times. His pick-and-roll coverage still leaves a lot to be desired but it's certainly better than it was earlier in the season.
“I got confidence in those guys there,” head coach Billy Donovan said of the Kanters-Adams combo. As to why they ended up being so good for so long in the fourth quarter? Well even the coach was at a loss.
“You know I’m not sure as to why that combination was so good for us defensively other than the fact I thought we had really good effort.”
And that’s probably what it comes down to. Effort, focus, intensity. Paying close attention to every detail. The Spurs have won hundreds of games and five NBA Championships doing exactly that.
The Thunder may very well be learning from the best teachers in the game.
“We played extremely hard (Sunday night), extremely hard. Everyone left a piece of them on the court when we walked off and that’s all you can ask for.”
Durant, his teammates and his coaches will be asking for the same thing tonight.
Tipoff is set for 7:10 and you can see the game exclusively on TNT.