SAN ANTONIO — It was coming. At some point, it was just going to come.
The Thunder fell behind by 22 in the second half, but there was absolutely no way they were going to lay down. This isn’t the kind of team that leaves something on the floor. They fight, they claw and they battle.
On the road with their backs to the wall in Game 2, Oklahoma City cut the lead to two possessions late in the fourth. They were within range of pulling off an unthinkable comeback. The margin for error was razor thin with stops, rebounds, loose balls, buckets and free throws all at a premium.
And they just didn’t have enough.
What it means is an 0-2 hole. What it means is the Thunder have to win four out of the next five games against the monster known as the San Antonio Spurs. What it means is that Game 3 is about as important as a Game 3 can get. What it means is the Thunder are backed into a corner and have to respond.
What it means is the dream of a title, the hope for a ring, is on life support.
I appreciated the way Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook approached their postgame presser because they didn’t do a lot of talking about the Spurs “holding serve” or any of that usual bullcrap. They were mad. They wanted not just one win in San Antonio, but two. And they came away with none.
“If you don’t know us by now, we’ve been a resilient group that bounces back,” said Kevin Durant. “Tough to go down 0-2. We didn’t come in here thinking that, okay, they’re supposed to get these two at home. We wanted to come in here and win. We didn’t do that.”
Said Russell Westbrook: “Yeah, same thing Kevin said. We’re not here to try to make it a close game or try to make it a good fight. We’re trying to win. We lost tonight.”
Obviously the comeback was valiant and nice, but it was unnecessary. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like this game was lost in the first five minutes of the second quarter. The Thunder played a sluggish opening 12 minutes falling behind 10-2 early and 28-22 at the end of the first. Scott Brooks stubbornly stuck to his guns bringing in his second unit and left them in three minutes too long. I realize Westbrook and Durant need a second to breathe at some point, but with a game hanging in the balance and a Spurs run inevitable, I don’t think you can leave any rounds in the chamber.
With Westbrook and Durant sitting, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 14-7 the opening five minutes of the second, building a 13-point lead that left OKC looking up at them for the rest of the night. During that stretch, Derek Fisher attempted four of OKC’s nine shots. The offense went out of whack, and the Spurs torched the Thunder. OKC has a good bench, but it’s not good enough to hang with the Spurs head-to-head.
Durant was cooking in the opening quarter. He scored 12 on 5-7 shooting, hit two 3s and had the look of a guy ready to go off for 40. But he sat down those first five minutes of the second and only took three shots and scored two points. Like I said, you can’t play him 48. But 45? Yeah.
Then the other question mark is why Fisher played the entire fourth. Yes, that big 3-pointer was always in the bag for Fisher, but with the Thunder needing stops and rebounds on nearly every possession, having Fisher in the game hurt the Thunder on the defensive end and glass. My question, as it’s been for a lot of the season in this situation, is why not Daequan Cook? He’s a better rebounder, an equal defender and can space the floor as well as Fisher. I understand resisting Thabo, though I think he’s the right call. But Fisher isn’t the answer in the smallball lineup.
But these are the questions you’re left asking when you lose games. Clearly something went wrong, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the wrong end of the scoreboard. The Thunder got worked by the Spurs’ magical ball movement as Tony Parker completely torched OKC for the billionth time. Don’t forget: The Spurs are damn good. Damn good. It was going to take some near perfect basketball all along for OKC to win this series and so far, they’ve been spotty. They’ve played really good basketball, and they’ve played some average basketball, which is what the Spurs make you pay for.
Game 2 became massively large the second the Spurs completed a fourth quarter comeback in Game 1. And I get the sickening feeling that Game 1 meltdown might haunt the Thunder over the next four months. But even more than that, I think giving away home court advantage the final three weeks of the season might even more. Hard to imagine these opening two games going this way if the Thunder had been playing at home.
Alas, there’s no going back. Lessons learned, and all that crap. The series isn’t done and there’s still time. But the hill to climb just turned into a mountain.
- Scott Brooks was asked if he had ever considered using the Hack-A-Shaq strategy on Tiago Splitter before the game. He said, “It’s an option that we have. We’ve thought about it.” Well, the Thunder broke it out late in the third quarter fouling Splitter intentionally. He hit five of 10 from the stripe, making it a break even thing. But I think it was extremely smart because it slowed the pace of the game down and took the Spurs out of that ridiculous offensive rhythm they had going. In that situation, it was an extremely wise choice to make.
- Said Brooks after the game on the strategy: “It changed the tempo a bit. I mean, they were fast tonight. The ball was just all over the floor with quick passes, passes that were right in their shooting pockets, and it kind of threw their rhythm out a little. He stepped up and made [five] of them. He did better than his playoff percentage. But if on occasion we have an opportunity to do it again, we will.”
- Of course this is a Gregg Popovich strategy to which he said, “It was a good move. I might’ve done it … I’ve never tried that before. I think it’s a really lousy thing to do. It’s unsportsmanlike. But no, it’s a good move. If there’s a reason to do it and they felt there was a good reason to do it, and they did it. So it was a good move.”
- The Spurs execution is brilliant. The drive and kick is as deadly as anything, but it’s only as successful as the man making the shot. To which the Spurs shooters do with great regularity. The way you stop it though? It starts at the point of attack. Penetration. Once you let a Spur ballhandler into the paint, it’s simply a matter of hoping whoever he passes it to misses.
- We’ve actually seen this game before. It was strikingly similar to the last regular season game in OKC. Big deficit, mighty Thunder comeback, Spurs daggers to end it.
- Other than Fisher, it seems Scott Brooks might’ve found a good fourth quarter lineup. I liked the Westbrook-Not Fisher-Harden-Durant-Ibaka group. It worked.
- Yep, Perk was horrible. I tried to warn everybody. Perk made his money against the Lakers. That’s what he’s paid to do. But he’s not a finisher, not an offensive threat and not someone that defends the pick-and-roll well. Unless he’s checking Duncan in the post, he’s not a very valuable player on the floor.
- It was pretty rough to be in the building tonight. I just feel like saying that.
- Late in the third as OKC made a small run, Pop called timeout and just absolutely blitzed Tony Parker, who of course was playing an incredible game. One of the many things that separates Pop — he can do that. Parker was playing as good an NBA game I’ve seen all year and he misses one defensive assignment and Pop completely lights him up.
- Peter Rabbit did the Spurs halftime show and was not wearing a Thunder jersey. TRAITOR.
- Ibaka had some issues in the paint. He could’ve, and should’ve, scored 15-20 points. Instead he fumbled away passes and rebounds and finished with eight on 3-11.
- I’d like to sit here and gripe about Westbrook’s defense on Parker, but really, what are you supposed to do? At a certain point if a guy is going to make absolutely everything, there’s just not a ton you can do to combat it. Russ played him hard, played him tough. Parker just beat him.
- I don’t really believe in momentum toward Game 3, but I do appreciate the way the team fought. They could’ve sort of laid down, but they busted it. They played freaking hard. They were relentless and didn’t let up. That’s something I think they can take with them.
- Theory: Possibly the reason the Spurs give up the fewest free throws in the league is because they aren’t called for the fouls they commit. I know that sounds sour, but sheesh, they get away with a whole lot of contact.
- James Harden was outstanding. He finished with 30 on 10-13 shooting and got to the line 13 times.
- Really, the Thunder’s Big 3 were all great. Durant with 31. Westbrook 27. Harden 30. Normally when those three play that well it’s more than enough to win. Normally when you score 111 points, it means we’re getting a Cole Aldrich Celebratory Dunk. The culprit tonight was the shoddy defense that allowed 120 points on 55.1 percent shooting.
- Perk: “You cannot make a statement with a loss. We did not make a statement, we were just playing catch-up. That was not making a statement. Making a statement is winning the game.”
Next up: Game 3 in OKC on Thursday.