After being destroyed by 36 points in Game 1, the Oklahoma City Thunder deserve a ton of credit for making the necessary adjustments and finding a way to outplay and outwork a San Antonio Spurs team that won 67 games throughout the regular season. The Spurs may have seemed destined to meet the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but instead it will be an OKC team that finally appears to be hitting its stride at precisely the right moment.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant helped the Thunder overcome a quick 19-13 start by the Spurs, simply by continuing to push the pace and apply pressure in transition. The duo combined for 18 points and three assists in the first quarter and really seemed to have San Antonio’s defense on its heels from the opening tip. LaMarcus Aldridge (eight points and seven rebounds in the quarter) was strong from the start for San Antonio and Tim Duncan finally put together some offensive production with a 3-3 start from the field, but the Spurs really appeared to suffer when they went to the bench.
Not only were David West, Kyle Anderson and Kevin Martin held scoreless, but OKC was able to erase the deficit and actually take a 25-19 lead into the second quarter. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan seems to have really found something with his decision to play both Steven Adams and Enes Kanter in the frontcourt together, as the two centers provided more quality minutes alongside one another yet again. They’ve each been productive on the offensive end and their energy and length really limited West and Duncan throughout this series.
San Antonio’s offense hit another lull in the first half, as the Spurs suddenly went cold scoring only four points over nearly eight minutes. Outside of a couple jumpers from Tony Parker and finishes from Aldridge, San Antonio’s offense was pretty much non-existent throughout the second.
Adams’ dunk off a Westbrook lob gave the Thunder a 44-29 lead with 2:45 left in the half. Durant’s three just before the half gave OKC a 55-31 lead, as the Thunder held the Spurs to their lowest scoring half in the franchise’s playoff history.
OKC started the second half at the same pace and the Thunder quickly extended their lead to as much as 27 points in the third quarter on the strength of Westbrook, Durant and a suddenly productive Andre Roberson. Roberson is primarily relied on as a perimeter defender, but he had a tremendous all-around impact (11 points, five rebounds, a steal and a block) for the Thunder in their Game 6 win. Roberson had been 1-14 from beyond the arc previously in the playoffs, but was 3-4 from distance on Thursday night.
Following a run by the Spurs powered by an active Kawhi Leonard, the Thunder pushed the lead back to 25 with an Adams put-back slam. The Spurs simply couldn’t match OKC’s energy with any consistency as the Thunder seemingly got to every loose ball, managed to get two and three tips at the ball around the rim and simply looked a step faster than a Spurs team that gave it everything they had.
The opening and closing games of the series may have been decidedly one-sided, but that isn’t indicative of how competitive a matchup it was throughout. Duncan was able to find some sort of personal redemption (19 points on 7-12 from the field), but this very well could have been the last time we’ll see one of the greatest big men in NBA history play. He has $6.4 million guaranteed next season if he chooses to opt-in, but we’ll worry about that over the summer. The Spurs made the valiant effort you expected in the fourth quarter on the strength of a 23-8 run and were able to cut the lead to as few as 11 points with just over three minutes left in the game. But when all was said and done, the Thunder beat the Spurs 113-99 in order to qualify for the Conference Finals for the first time since 2014.
Now, the Thunder will face off against the Warriors in what will be a star-studded, entertaining series.
Western Conference Finals Game 1 Prediction: I believe the Warriors will take Game 1 at home.
Even though the Warriors swept the regular season series 3-0, this should be a tightly contested series. All three games were close and one of the Golden State wins required overtime and one of this year’s truly remarkable performances from the league’s unanimous MVP Stephen Curry.
All year, the Thunder primarily utilized the perimeter attack of Westbrook and Durant, but with so many interchangeable wing defenders for Golden State, it will be interesting to see if Coach Donovan attempts to capitalize on their big lineup with Kanter and Adams in an effort to force the Warriors to adjust. If OKC can continue to execute on the offensive end while maintaining the type of defensive intensity that helped them down the Spurs, this could be an incredibly contested series.
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