The Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, ending the series and the Spurs’ season. The final score was 113-99, but most of the game wasn’t that close.
It was an upset only in the sense that the favorite coming in lost. By the time the series was over, the Thunder, who grew during it, were the better team.
The Spurs lurched to an early lead with the great Tim Duncan leading the way, hitting on his first three attempts. At the 3:57 mark Kawhi Leonard drained a free throw to complete a three-point play to give the Spurs a 19-13 lead, and it looked like the Spurs were ready to take control of the game and take things back to the River Walk.
But then the Thunder defense clamped down, the Spurs’ shooters started choking up and OKC went on a massive run extending into the second quarter and lasting nearly six minutes, reeling off 14 consecutive points. And things didn’t get much better from there.
By the time the first half ended, the Thunder were up 55-31. They outscored the Spurs 42-12 over the last 15:56 of the half.
As for the third quarter, it almost didn’t matter, but the Thunder continued building on their lead. For a while, the lead fluctuated between 20 and 30 points. Then Duncan showed signs of life in his 40-year-old legs. He blocked a shot, drew a foul and made the free throws to cut the lead to 23.
A bit later he drained a jumper to make the lead 17. He made a layup to get it to 13. The Spurs started to rally behind their aging champion.
But it wasn’t to be. A few mistakes later, the Thunder opened the lead back up 15 with less than a minute left and it was all over but the fat lady singing.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points in the clincher, but there are two other stories to take home from this series, one for the winners and the other for the losers.
Billy Donovan had been criticized for his coaching. Now he joins Steve Kerr and Tyronn Lue as head coaches in the conference finals. In a unique situation, none of the three coaches who’ve made it that far this year have ever lost a playoff series.
The Thunder had been critiqued for their fourth-quarter play and Donovan for his lack of adapting and leaning too much on his stars, Westbrook and Durant. But he pulled a trick out of his hat that worked incredibly well by playing Enes Kanter and Steven Adams together. It worked magnificently, and it worked particularly well in the clutch.
The Thunder dominated the boards through the series, especially with their version of twin towers on the court. They had 50 tonight to the Spurs’ 40.
Adams found more offense than he normally shows. Kanter had moments of competence on defense. And together they just left the Spurs’ frontcourt powerless.
The Thunder will advance to play the Golden State Warriors, and it’ll surely be an epic series.
On the other side, the Spurs may very well be saying goodbye to Tim Duncan and one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. He didn’t go out the way Kobe Bryant did, with fanfare and celebration, a heroes departure and being spoon-fed 50 shots in a meaningless game.
Rather, he went out in a playoff series, adapting his game to fit with the new stars around him. He had his best game of the series in Game 6, even if it was for naught. He scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds.
If it’s Duncan’s last game, he’ll retire as the No. 1 shot-blocker in postseason history. He’s second in games and wins, third in rebounds and wins shares, sixth in scoring and 27th in assists.
He’s widely regarded as the greatest power forward in the history of the game.
His departure, if he’s leaving, is as different from Bryant’s as were their careers. He leaves quietly, nobly and a winner.