Thunder execute down the stretch, even series with Spurs


“I was there, I saw it, he was great,” said San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after his team lost game four 109-103 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.KD

“His play was better than anything we did defensively,” continued Popovich. Looking at the stat sheet, one might think Popovich was referring to the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka who scored 26 points by making 11-of-11 field goals. But Popovich was really talking about the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder with 36 points, but the dominance was when he took over in the fourth quarter and scored 16-constecutive points on the Thunder side.

Game four looked a bit different from game three, the Spurs took care of the ball (10 turnovers), they shot 48% (11/23) from three point range, and they even scored over 100 points, yet they still lost.

The Spurs came out with a balanced offensive attack that involved both their pick-and-roll and motion offense in the first quarter. Tony Parker (12 points, 5/15 shooting) was once again defended by Thabo Sefolosha, but Parker was cutting harder to get through the screens and was even playing without the ball by running behind screens. The Spurs were able to get a seven-point lead on the Thunder. Then, the Thunder began playing much better defense and the ball was once again being fed to Tim Duncan (21 points, 9/17 shooting) and the Thunder started scoring. Once the Spurs’ bench came in, the Thunder went on a 10-0 run to take the lead 22-19 with 1:43 left in the quarter. The Spurs ended the first quarter with a 7-4 push with Ginobili hitting a three pointer with a foul that resulted in a four-point play. Both teams were tied at 26 points, but Kendrick Perkins had already scored nine of his 15 points in the first quarter.

After the game, Coach Popovich discussed the second quarters of both game three and four as a major area of concern on the Spurs’ end. Saturday had a resemblance to Thursday as the Thunder began the quarter with a 12-3 run, as Perkins, Ibaka, and even Nick Collison started hitting jump shots on the perimeter and drives with dunks at the basket. The Thunder’s lead rose to seven points, and they never surrendered the lead for the rest of the game. The Thunder’s lead would rise to 10 points, and the team closed the second quarter on a 6-1 run, to lead 55-43 going into halftime. The Spurs couldn’t move the ball, and took more outside (4/12) shots than inside shots (4/5). The Thunder “big three” of Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden (11 points) had 16 points, the rest of their squad had 39 points. The Thunder defense held the Spurs to just 17 points in the second quarter.

DBThe third quarter began like the second quarter for the Spurs as they couldn’t penetrate and get into the lane. The Thunder held a 10-point lead through the majority of the third quarter and their lead eventually got as high as 15 points. Then with 5:19 remaining and the Spurs trailing 68-54, DeJuan Blair was put into the game and immediately became a spark plug for the team. Blair scored his only basket of the game as soon as he touched the ball in the pick-and-roll, but it was his defense and attitude that brought his teammates back to life. He blocked a Harden shot, showed tenacity when rebounding, and even took a charge. This propelled the Spurs to end the third quarter on a 17-7 run, and force the Thunder to take a small 75-71 lead going into the final quarter.

The fourth quarter became a boxing match as the Spurs and Thunder threw punches at each other early. Boris Diaw (12 points) got the lead down to three points with a three pointer early, but then Harden would score five consecutive points to put the Thunder back up by eight points. Almost midway through the fourth, the Spurs used a 6-2 run to cut the Thunder lead to four points (84-82), it would be the closest they got the rest of the night. From there, it became Durant time. Durant and the Thunder executed perfectly down the stretch by switching Durant onto Parker and Manu Ginobili (12 points) in isolation, and forcing the smaller guards to defend him. Durant scored 16-consectuive points for the Thunder and the Thunder’s lead eventually grew back to 10 points. Kawhi Leonard (17 points) hit some late threes to cut the lead to six in the final minute, but in the end the Thunder would hold on for the 109-103 victory. Durant and the Thunder out executed the Spurs in the final quarter by outscoring them 34-32.

“We did a much better job,” said Popovich after the game, “(but) we’ve got to play 48.” For the Spurs, they’ve now learned that playing a fullSJ 48-minutes is the key to winning on the road as they’ve suffered back-to-back losses and the series is now tied at 2-2. The Spurs won’t practice on Sunday as they flew back to San Antonio after the game and game five will tip off on Monday in San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

For Stephen Jackson (12 points), what the Spurs have been lacking on the road is aggression and the energy needed on the road. He had this to say about the team’s performance in the second quarter on Saturday.

“It’s the Western Conference Finals,” said Jackson, “you’re supposed to play hard. I mean if you’re scared, go to church. Tomorrow is Sunday.”