Down two, with eight seconds to go in what might be the most important game to date, Oklahoma City inbounds the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
The ball goes in right where you’d want it. To the guy with 45 points. To the guy that’s completely carrying the team. Problem is, Kevin Durant doesn’t catch the ball where he can do anything with it. He’s on the sideline, off-balance and trapped immediately. He has no choice but to give it up. And it lands in the hands of Thabo Sefolosha – the man who passed the ball in – open for 3.
And wouldn’t you know it, in and out. IN. And out. INNNNNN. And out. Take a moment to let out a deep sigh, punch the ground, kick the wall or all the above. It’s what I’m doing right now.
I can assure you it’s not the way Scott Brooks drew it up. I highly doubt a coach as bright at Brooks would set up maybe the most important play of the season for a 30 percent 3-point shooter. And some might say KD should’ve forced the issue. Should’ve taken it into his own hands and made a play. But what was the RIGHT basketball play? Pass it to the open man. LeBron does it all the time. You’re doubled, so someone must be open. And he was. Wide open in fact. In and out.
Now of course, there could’ve been a better design. Get Durant the ball where he’d have more room to operate. Instead of running him baseline off a pick, curl him up toward the top of the key. That’s what OKC did when Russell Westbrook stepped over the line, but try it again. Because you know San Antonio is going to double Durant on the catch, especially if they can use the sideline to help.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that this was an excellent basketball game. If you were a casual observer, I bet this one was a ton of fun. We’ll ignore the two pivotal, backbreaking calls that went in favor of San Antonio (ball out on Richard Jefferson with four minutes left and the phantom foul on Serge Ibaka that gave Manu Ginobili the two game-winning free throws). So bypassing those two glaring blemishes, this was an awesome game. KD was playing at an incredibly high level. The atmosphere was intense. Serge Ibaka potentially made The Leap in tonight’s game alone. It was awesome. If not for, you know, those two calls. But I’m not bitter.
One deserving paragraph on Serge Ibaka: How big was he tonight? The block on Tim Duncan, the charge with two minutes left, the defense in the post, the rebounding, the energy… it was a fantastic game for him. He got all the important minutes late in the game and without him, OKC’s not in this one. He completely locked down Duncan, highlighted best on a play he forced Duncan off the block, poked the ball away twice and ended up forced a fadeaway 15-footer that set off the shot clock. If the Thunder had won this one, I can promise you the first 150 words of this recap would’ve been dedicated only to him. Alas.
- Ibaka did provide maybe my favorite moment of the season. After drawing the big charge in the fourth, he laid on his back pumping both arms wildly in the air. It was somewhat comical, but also very awesome.
- Think tonight the Thunder could’ve used James Harden? For one, maybe he’s taking that 3 at the end of the game. Two, instead of getting a zero spot from Kyle Weaver, OKC probably would’ve had 8-10 more points from somewhere. And third, we likely wouldn’t have seen a Westbrook-Maynor backcourt for nearly the entire fourth quarter. Get well soon Beard.
- Kevin Durant had 45 points, tying a season-high. He was 15-24 from the field and 14-15 from the stripe. While that’s great, he scored 47 percent of OKC’s total 96 points. That just can’t happen and the Thunder win. Someone has to provide some extra offense. Jeff Green was solid with 16 points, but OKC only had four players in double-figures and a total of 13 points from Nenad Krstic, Eric Maynor, Thabo and Nick Collison.
- Russell Westbrook definitely wasn’t himself tonight. You could see it. He just lacked his usual energy. I guess he really is a little under the weather. Just 12 points on 5-13 shooting with four assists. The Thunder desperately needed some secondary scoring tonight, and Russ didn’t provide it.
- I haven’t really even mentioned the play with 32 seconds where Westbrook stepped on the line inbounding the ball. Just horrible luck there. He tried to get it in to Durant, it was covered, he pumped and his momentum made him take a half step. Bummer.
- An aside: KD has to be leading the league in fouled-on-a-3 plays. The past few weeks, he’s getting at least one a game.
- Roger Mason Jr.’s hair really bothers me for some reason.
- The day Manu Ginobili retires, I plan on hosting a parade in Bricktown. We’ll burn jerseys, flop on our backs when anyone brushes against us and made big, backbreaking plays in crunch time. Ahhhh, Manu!!! (shakes fist at the heavens)
- Again, a key stretch in this game was when OKC let a double-digit lead slip down to three before halftime. Even with two minutes left before the half, the Thunder led by nine. But a bad foul by Durant right before the horn gave George Hill three freebies and the Thunder led 59-56 going to the locker room.
- Speaking of Hill, a career-high 27 points tonight for him. Of course he picks tonight to do it. Of course.
- Nate Tibbetts, head coach of the Tulsa 66ers, was on the Thunder bench tonight.
- As mentioned, Westbrook finished with four assists. But three of them came in the first half.
- I have to mention it: Tim Duncan is bloody brilliant. His two backdoor passes were absolute art.
- A large factor in this game was Thunder foul trouble. Both Westbrook and Green picked up their fourth fouls four minutes into the second half and sat out most of the third. OKC really just held their head above water for the rest of the quarter. The Thunder scored just 17 in the quarter, mainly because there wasn’t much of an offense on the floor.
- The Thunder played great second half defense. San Antonio shot 53 percent in the first half, but just 35 percent in the second.
- The Spurs turned the ball over just seven times tonight.
- Big stat: OKC went 2-13 from downtown. The Spurs went 8-25. That’s 18 extra points for San Antonio.
This loss stings. Stings a lot more than some 20-point blowout in Indiana. At least in that game, we knew we didn’t see the Thunder’s best. Tonight, you feel like you saw it. Durant was great, Westbrook was OK in stretches, Green was good and the Thunder bench played big. It’s a loss and it definitely hurts. It’s going to affect the playoff race and it will surely make me worry more. But even in defeat, the Thunder re-established their identity on the defensive end and played their butts off for 48 minutes. In a strange way, this loss is reassuring. I don’t know how that works. There’s really nothing to hang your head about here. The game was tight until the end, yet OKC just came up short. In and freaking out.
Next up: Houston at home Wednesday night.