SAN ANTONIO — It was coming. At some point, the Spurs run was coming.
But after the Thunder closed the third on a 5-0 spurt taking a solid nine-point lead to the fourth, it appeared maybe they had withstood it and were establishing a little superiority. Alas, three points over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter eventually doomed the Thunder, allowing the Spurs to a 39-point fourth quarter and a 12-point swing over the last 12 minutes.
A lot of things happened that accounted for the meltdown. It looked painfully like last season’s Western Conference Finals, except for the fact it happened six minutes earlier in the game. Kevin Durant couldn’t get the ball in workable situations. Russell Westbrook was limited. And James Harden wasn’t a factor running the pick-and-roll. The game slipped away, one Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal bucket at a time.
It’s the way the Spurs kill you. Slowly and methodically. Which leaves you looking back at the game feeling like you missed a big opportunity.
“It’s tough,” Durant said. “We had this game going into the fourth. It’s tough but we can’t hang our heads, man. It’s a long series. We have to keep playing, try to get Game 2.”
Some will be made about the fact KD only took two shots in the fourth quarter (and missed both), but look at that outside of the box score. He attempted six free throws, those coming as a result of attacking the basket. Yes, of course more is expected of KD. Simply put, 0-2 from the floor in money time isn’t good enough for him. The standard is high, and for good reason. But the Thunder didn’t know where to look for points when the game slowed to a grind. And where they came up with those big baskets and points against the Mavericks and Lakers, the Spurs weren’t having any of it.
“We stopped moving the ball,” said James Harden. “I think in that third quarter we did a great job of moving the ball and getting their defense to move a little bit by hitting wide open shots and wide open layups. In the fourth we kind of slowed that down and they got a couple of easy transition buckets.”
Said Scott Brooks: “We were moving the ball very well throughout that game. And in the fourth quarter I thought they got a little stagnant.”
The offensive meltdown was much of what doomed the Thunder, but don’t overlook that OKC allowed 39 points in the fourth. The Spurs hit shots, got to the line, made plays and hit more shots. You know, things that the Spurs do.
“I thought in the fourth quarter we gave too many opportunities into the paint,” said Brooks. “They got 50 paint points throughout the game. But I thought defensively in the fourth quarter, we take a lot of pride in our defense in the fourth and we gave up 39 points.
“Over 30 points in the fourth quarter is not good enough to win.”
Those six minutes were excruciating, but not something that can’t be corrected. If the Thunder leave San Antonio down 0-2 though, those six minutes could haunt them. They proved something in Game 1: They’re good enough to beat the Spurs. They can hang right there with these big bad boys and give them a game. There is a certain mysticism around the Spurs right now because of this 19-game winning streak and the fact they haven’t lost for 46 six. And while the Thunder didn’t eliminate that, they’ve at least put a small dent in it.
The Thunder can play better. Unfortunately though, so can the Spurs. San Antonio turned the ball over 17 times, went only 8-24 from 3, got a weak performance from Tony Parker and outside of Manu Ginobili, nobody was that excellent. Was that a credit to the Thunder, or the fact the Spurs were a tad off? Funny how that works.
The mission is to take a split back to OKC. It’s still within reach (obviously), but nabbing that first one would’ve been large. Especially since the Thunder had it in their fingertips.
- The Thunder outscored the Spurs 53-38 in the second and third quarters. But the Spurs won the first and fourth 63-45. I have no idea what to make of that.
- Harden didn’t take a single free throw in this game. That’s the first time this season Harden didn’t attempt a free throw in a game.
- Harden stated the game 1-9 and struggled greatly. On if the Spurs adjusted to him he said, “Nothing, I just couldn’t make a layup. Couldn’t make a layup, couldn’t make a shot.”
- After the Thunder weathered a horrific opening quarter, I actually liked their chances quite a bit. Then they closed the third strong and seemed to be establishing a little attitude. But those first six minutes. Without a Derek Fisher jumper, it would’ve been one point.
- Speaking of, Fisher was magnificent. He finished with 13 on 6-8 shooting but hit timely jumpers when OKC desperately needed them.
- Thabo Sefolosha was outstanding. He had four steals and block and I think 200 deflections. He was everywhere defensively, helping, rotating, contesting, jumping lanes — he was great.
- Serge Ibaka was the big that was disappeared late in the game. Most of us figured it would be Kendrick Perkins, but Brooks went with Perk on Duncan. Here’s why I didn’t like it: Because it destroyed OKC offensively. Forget the defense, where it hurt the Thunder was having a bailout option out of the pick-and-roll. As well as the fact Duncan was able to essentially trap Durant on every pick-and-roll because Perk isn’t a threat. There’s got to be an adjustment made there.
- Of all the Thunder players, Derek Fisher was booed loudest.
- Manu Ginobili was fantastic. He finished with 26 on 9-14 and took over the game. “It just happened,” he said. “I don’t know how exactly because I haven’t scored like this all season long, but it happened and I’m very happy about it.”
- I know this isn’t true, but I don’t think Gary Neal has ever missed a shot.
- Give Gregg Popovich a week to prepare and you know he’s going to come up with something. One adjustment: On Westbrook, Durant and Harden, the Spurs basically funneled them to Tim Duncan. On the screen-and-roll, the on-ball defender let the Thunder’s ballhandler beat them easily, opening what appeared to be a clear path to attack a big, or settle for a jumper. Because of Duncan’s length, Westbrook and Harden chose to attack (like you’re told to do) and couldn’t finish at the rim.
- The Spurs did a great job of taking charges too. Westbrook, who hadn’t been doing much of the barreling over people act, did it twice as well as Harden twice.
- Just 13 turnovers for OKC. That’s good, right?
- Fisher on if the Thunder let one slip away: “How it happened is irrelevant. Whether we lose by 20 or lose by one, we lost the game and we will hopefully come back and figure out a way to get Tuesday night’s game.”
- Both Fisher and Collison said they needed to look at the tape but felt the ball stopped moving in the fourth. I feel like we’ve seen this story before. We’ve heard these type of comments. It was supposed to be different this time around. It was supposed to be fixed.
- I have no problem saying it: Joey Crawford is an awful, awful, awful NBA official. The way he impacts games is ridiculous. For both teams, the game was light on whistles for the first 36 minutes and then Crawford tightened things down. This isn’t an exaggeration: I’m not an official not named Joey blew his whistle in the fourth. I don’t mean this as a gripe for the Thunder. He’s just a bad referee in general.
- The AT&T Center had the worst wifi signal ever, plus I couldn’t get my phone to ever work, and I use AT&T. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but trust me, I wasn’t laughing.
- The Spurs kicked off their intro video with a loud crack of thunder. Someone didn’t think that one all the way through.
- San Antonio has a completely different kind of atmosphere. That’s to be expected, but from their odd arena to feel of the game, it’s a weird experience. It’s a lot more raw, if that makes sense. OKC’s game production is kind of glitzed up with lots going on while the Spurs do a lot of chanting and a lot of LOUD music.
Next up: Game 2 in San Antonio Tuesday.