Well, the Oklahoma City Thunder are headed to the NBA Finals after an improbable (and unexpected) comeback against the San Antonio Spurs.
As customary, I spent the last two or three hours combing over what footage I could find; different analysis, takes, opinions, the works in order to decipher just HOW the Thunder managed to pull off such an historic feat.
What did I find?
The same thing I’ve been ranting about since OKC first downed the Spurs in Game 3: talent.
San Antonio boasts a terrific ensemble, including the always-amazing (and shoulda been regular season MVP) Tony Parker. I don’t think they did anything poorly in this series. Nor do I think there was any way for them to make some sort of last-second adjustment to overcome OKC. In truth, while the Spurs are an awesome force, the Thunder are just that much better (which scares me …). Durant, Westbrook, and Harden carry themselves with aplomb, taking (and making) gutsy shots from outside the arc, penetrating the lane with ease, and working as a collective whole on the defensive end. They’re far from perfect on both ends of the floor (Westbrook still takes far too many shot attempts for my liking, while Durant doesn’t take enough), and show a few meddling signs of immaturity (letting the Spurs go up by double digits in the first half was a troublesome sight), but in the end they’re the best team in the NBA right now.
Forget Miami. Forget Boston. Neither of those teams stand a chance against Scott Brooks’ nimble, athletic squad.
Look at it this way: Miami lacks a true offense, and runs plays as though points will magically appear amidst James’ and Wade’s presence. Boston has a radically inefficient and sporadic offense – one that flows well against the Heat’s stagnant defense, but otherwise remains inept. Doc Rivers has done great things in the Eastern Conference Finals, but he only has to worry about two players on a nightly basis. Should Boston advance, Rivers must figure out how to slow down Harden, Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Sefolosha. No easy task. I’d rather face Wade and James.
Should Miami prevail, the Finals would allow James and Durant to go head to head in a more offensive oriented match-up. Again, would you rather have three great players or two and a half?
Yeah. My money’s on OKC. Where it’s been for most of the playoffs.
I didn’t expect them to get past San Antonio, or to do so so quickly. Coach G-Pop’s team looked sensational in Games 1 and 2, slicing and dicing like figure skating assassins. They made the Thunder look like over-privileged chumps by comparison: too many young stars, none ready to handle the magnitude that comes with a trip to the NBA Finals. Before Game 2, the NBA saw fit to promote the hell out of a Spurs team that seemed poised and ready to leap to their fifth championship in 13 years. They filmed Timmy on the sidelines playing with his kids before games; those NBA care commercials featured more Manu and less Durant; commentators Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller gushed over G-Pop’s amazing ability to handle all things basketball. They even praised him when he went all Mel Gibson on his players during the game (“That’s true coaching right there”).
The Spurs carried all the momentum, all the smarts, all the press, all the love … they rode in on an 18-game winning streak for cripes sakes.
But the Thunder, while initially falling to the Spurs’ dominance, resisted the urge to fold. They won Game 3 in a big way. Then squeezed out a terrific Game 4 victory, followed by a Game 5 shocker in San Antonio.
Wednesday night’s game might’ve perfectly encapsulated the entire series through 48-greuling, dramatic minutes.
San Antonio leaped out to an enormous 60-42 lead midway through the second quarter. Parker and co. demonstrated the same killer instinct we’d seen all year, and tossed OKC around like an unbaked pizza crust (whatever that means). Durant’s last second 3-point jumper proved to be a pivotal momentum-changer heading into halftime, because from then on out, it was all OKC.
The Thunder outscored San Antonio 32-18 in the third period, and took the lead after a Durant 3-pointer with 1:39 to go in the quarter.
Forever resilient, the Spurs kept pushing. They regained the lead heading into the final period, but relinquished it for good after Harden’s driving layup with nine minutes left in regulation. Later, down 96-93 with three minutes to go, Harden made another one of those patented treys of his that (from what I saw) looked to put the final nail in the Spurs’ season.
Fittingly, Tony Parker made the last two shots of the season for the Spurs, who had no response for the Thunder’s awesome, three-headed attack.
Like the series itself, Game 6 saw the Spurs dominate, and then crumble to a greater foe.