It ran out.
All that luck, all that charm, all that good fortune finally ran out for the Thunder. No four-point plays, no miraculous steal, no improbable putback.
It’s over. The Thunder’s season is finished at the hands of the mighty, timeless Spurs in six games. Kind of hard to really grasp it actually. I feel like I need to keep saying it. It’s over. It is over. It, is over.
When Kevin Durant’s 3 hit front iron with 16 seconds left, it started to wash over me. I didn’t have much optimism that the Thunder could go win a Game 7 in San Antonio, but I thought they were at least going to have that chance. Even when they trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, you knew there was going to be a frenetic, frantic dash to the finish line. They weren’t ever going to go easily.
And I thought Durant had won it, too. Executing a perfect two-for-one with 32 seconds left, Durant got to the rim for a slick finger roll to put the Thunder up 99-97. One stop, a couple free throws, and it was time to start booking flights for San Antonio. But Manu Ginobili hit a ridiculous 3 to put the Spurs up one. Durant slipped at midcourt on the Thunder’s next possession, the Spurs won the scramble, and Ginobili split a pair of free throws. Westbrook attacked and got to the line to tie the game, then demanded the assignment on Ginobili for the final possession. The stepback missed long, and with a Tony Parker-less Spurs running on fumes on the road, it looked like the Thunder had survived just long enough to get it done.
But it ran out. The Thunder couldn’t get enough stops, couldn’t get enough rebounds, couldn’t get enough anything to keep breathing for at least 48 more hours. Durant had that 3 with 16 seconds left to tie it. Westbrook had that fast break layup that got blocked with 43 seconds left. The plays they had to have, they just didn’t make. They couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t match up, they couldn’t make critical shots. They just didn’t do it.
“We fought as hard as we could all night,” Durant said. “We left it all out there. They made plays down the stretch. We didn’t.”
We’re going to focus on the final few minutes of regulation and overtime and what Durant and Westbrook did and didn’t do (Durant went scoreless on 0-3 in overtime, Westbrook had four on 1-7), but where the Thunder really lost the game was in the third quarter. They had roared to a 49-42 halftime lead with a flurry of points, and then got some big news: Tony Parker was out for the rest of the game. And whether that relaxed them and caused them to lose focus, or the Spurs just rallied around each other, they quickly tied the game in the third and pushed on to take a 10-point lead into the fourth, outscoring OKC 37-20 in the frame.
That led to the Thunder switching over to full-on desperation mode, with relentless attacks on the bucket and scrambled smallball that caught them in a variety of mismatches. It damn near worked, too. If Ginobili doesn’t hit that 3, Game 7 is happening.
It hurts. Because it’s supposed to hurt. I know you’re mad, and you should be. They play this game to win, and they didn’t. They have a window, they have a chance, and the Thunder have to wait at least one more year to accomplish the mission. But don’t lose the perspective of being in this position. The fact you are this angry says a lot about the team you watch, and root for. It’s more special than you realize to be justified at this kind of frustration, because your team is one of a handful that has a legitimate shot at a title every season.
Lash out with all the firings and changes you can think of. Get it all out of your system. Yell, scream, pound your fist, point your finger. But hopefully in the next few days, or weeks, or months, you can take a step back and appreciate the fact you watch a terrific team that can compete for a championship. Yes, I know. Who cares, they didn’t win. The rising tide of expectations clouds all perspective, but try and see through it a little.
The thirst for a championship has taken over everything when it comes to the Thunder, but remember, this has always been about a process. That plan has produced an elite contender that is on the cusp, but so far, just unable to push over. And if you haven’t been reminded in the last 45 seconds, their core is still all under the age of 26. If things bounce a little better, if Ibaka isn’t hurt for the first two games, if Durant knocks down a dagger he’s hit a million times, who knows. If Westbrook isn’t out for nearly half the season, maybe the Thunder would’ve enjoyed homecourt advantage in this series. With all the wild things that went right, it started to feel like maybe it was the Thunder’s time. It’s not, though. Not yet.
I will say this, too: The warm, fuzzy feeling seems to be waning a bit. With five seconds left, Thunder fans started to hit the exits, foregoing hanging around to give their team an ovation. Some did, and a few light chants of “O-K-C” rang out, but it was clear this was a different kind of playoff exit. This was about real disappointment, about real letdown.
A hundred or so days until training camp. And so we wait.
- Scott Brooks: “They should [see the season as a success] … I know we still have a ways to go. We’re not where we want to be, and our guys know that. Kevin and Russell, they should be proud. They’ve led us to places that we want to get to, and I’m proud of what they’ve done. I’m proud of who they are, and I’m sure our fans feel the same way.”
- Gregg Popovich: “First, I’d like to congratulate the Thunder on a great season and a great series. I have a lot of friends in that organization, and I know starting with Clay Bennett how well run it is with Sammy and Scott at this, their players, their staffs. They do a fantastic job, and we really have a lot of respect for them. And that’s why I have to be honest, this victory is really sweet because we know we played one hell of a team, and we take great satisfaction in that because they are so special. They’ll certainly be back doing great things without any doubt.”
- Kind of a fitting way for it to end, wasn’t it? With Derek Fisher playing 33 minutes with us all wondering what in the hell he was doing out there.
- Westbrook: “It’s difficult, but we always find a way to get through it. You know, it’s been a long season for myself and Kevin and the organization, and we still fought through it and got here. We’re definitely not going to give up. Come back next year, and be better and be stronger, be wiser, and we’re coming back.”
- No way to describe the Thunder’s third quarter as anything other than pathetic. Or embarrassing would work. Or embarrassingly pathetic.
- A pretty obvious contrast in teams was on display tonight in a few ways: First, five total Thunder players scored, while eight scored in the third quarter for the Spurs. Second, the Thunder couldn’t figure out how to overcome the loss of Ibaka in Games 1 and 2, while the Spurs cruised along without Tony Parker on the fly in the second half.
- Spurs bench, 51 points. Thunder bench, five.
- All five points from OKC’s second unit came from Derek Fisher.
- Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Jackson scored 107 of the Thunder’s 112. They took 74 of the team’s 82 total shots. In the first half, they scored all 49 of the Thunder’s points.
- Durant played all but one minutes and 12 seconds.
- Durant on what the team needs to do for the next step: “Just to be honest, I haven’t really thought about that right now. It’s hard to say. Just reflect on the season, a great season. You know, losing like this is definitely tough, but I really don’t know. Just get better individually, I guess. But it’s just tough losing like this, man. There’s not much more I can say.”
- You do have to wonder what this series may have looked like had Ibaka not missed the first two games. Maybe it’s the same outcome, but who knows. It would just be nice to see a complete Thunder team play throughout a postseason.
- Caron Butler was benched tonight. Jeremy Lamb moved ahead of him. And naturally, a large number of hindsighters were yelling about that choice.
- Reggie Jackson played a nice game — 21 points on 8-16 shooting, but he had a hard time staying involved in the second half.
- Perk on the season: “We had great development from the young guys. KD got the MVP and that was great, but we still fell short of what we wanted to accomplish as a team. It was a great season. It was a good season.”
- Westbrook and Durant each turned it over seven times. In the fourth quarter, Westbrook had critical turnovers on back-to-back possessions. Durant seemed like he couldn’t even dribble at times.
- Durant’s third quarter: Five points, five turnovers.
- Huge swing in the game was Westbrook picking up his fourth foul in the third quarter on an iffy charge call. Here’s all you need to know: In a five-point loss, he was a +11. The Thunder just weren’t themselves without him on the floor.
- Losing is what it is, and there are reasons it happened, and people to blame. But in that kind of game, it’s the little things that do it. Durant had a straightaway 3 with 90 seconds left that would’ve put the Thunder up four, maybe sealing it. Again, Leonard’s block on Westbrook kept the Spurs up one with 43 seconds left. The foul on Ibaka for pushing Duncan with 1:23 left. Duncan’s baseline shot rolling in somehow. The small stuff is what does it. We all want to look at the big picture things like Brooks’ rotation choices or personnel — and yes, that stuff definitely matters — but within the game itself, it’s those little things that really decide it.
- A critical call that went against the Thunder that might’ve made things much different was Ibaka’s push on Duncan with 1:23 left. And the whistle came way late which made it worse.
- Ibaka got away with a blatant goaltend late in regulation that was made up for by a vicious moving screen by Duncan on Ginobili’s 3.
- I’m pretty firmly on record as pro Sandi Patty, but her national anthem tonight was a bit much.
- Shouts out to the Spurs. To go from the heartbreak of last year’s Finals to returning again this season is something else.
- OK, so what will the Thunder’s offseason look like? Two first round picks to use, and a little bit of money to spend. Thabo Sefolosha is an unrestricted free agent, and Derek Fisher is likely to retire.
- Thanks everyone for reading this season. Onward.