What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
We have a series on our hands.
A mere four days after the Thunder were carved up by the Spurs offense and fell into an 0-2 hole, it looked like the curtains were getting ready to close on the season. San Antonio was too good, too experienced, too everything for the talented but not-quite-good-enough Thunder. We knew that OKC would have to make adjustments, but what adjustments can you make when nothing seems to work?
As it turns out, defense works.
In Games 1 & 2, the Thunder gave up 39 and 37 points in two different quarters, and it felt like they had given up more. OKC has three amazing offensive talents, but they were not keeping pace. Great offense was not going to win games. So OKC retooled its game plan, focused on getting defensive stops, and clamped down on Tony Parker and the Spurs. To paraphrase Apollo Creed, the Thunder may not be great defenders, but they can play defense great.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
We knew that eventually we would have a close game in this series where the Thunder would have to prove that they can score in the end of the game. There have been many times this season where their 4th quarter offense has struggled, and it has struggled in part because the Thunder could not execute offense in a way that the league's best scorer in Kevin Durant could receive the ball in a position to shoot a high percentage shot. Instead we would see long 2-pointers, rushed 3-pointers, and rarely if ever a free throw attempt.
Tonight, the Thunder had the Spurs hot on their trail for most of the 2nd half. With the Spurs offense finally getting on track in the 4th quarter (32 points), OKC had to match their offensive production. In Game 1 the Thunder did not match it, and that was the main reason why they lost a 9 point lead in the 4th. Tonight however, they did a phenomenal job getting Durant into a position where he could take advantage of his physical tools to score and keep OKC ahead by a 2-3 possession margin.
Over a 5 minute stretch, Durant scored 16 consecutive points, and he did it without attempting a single 3-point or long 2-point shot. He got into the lane and then used his height and length to score over every Spurs defender that came at him. This is the Kevin Durant that OKC needed to perform in the 4th quarter of a close game. Durant was ready for his moment, and the Thunder held off the Spurs' rally.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
There is no Kevin Durant moment in the 4th quarter without the Thunder's supporting cast playing an outstanding offensive game throughout.
Let's start with Serge Ibaka, who posted a ridiculous 11-11 shooting night on his way to a career-high 26 points. What I loved about Ibaka's game is that the Thunder looked for him to shoot in spots where he is accurate. He got shots at the rim, he got shots off of the high screen and roll, and he got offensive put-backs. He helped carry the offense on a night when Westbrook struggled from the floor.
Ibaka was not alone, however. His front-line teammate Kendrick Perkins had a strong showing himself on the offensive end, scoring 15 points on 7-9 shooting. He and Ibaka helped carry the Thunder offense during the 1st half, when the rest of the Thunder starters struggled. What I liked most about Perkins' offense was that with the exception of the two jump shots he took, everything else was the kind of shot Perkins should take and make. They were offensive put-backs, rolls to the rim, and the jump hook that he likes so much. Perkins was quick and active tonight, and it showed up in his point production.
Lastly, on a night were James Harden struggled shooting the ball as well, Nick Collison stepped up and scored 8 on 4-5 shooting. He too was active in the half-court and his teammates were looking for him to score. I love the fact that he is no longer just setting screens and standing still; he is sliding to the open spaces and then taking that mid-range jumper or rolling to the rim to finish.
All told, these 3 guys shot 22-25 from the floor for 49 points on a night when both Westbrook and Harden struggled shooting the ball. The trio came through big time and carried the team when OKC needed it most.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The series is tied at 2-2 and the Thunder have all the momentum. Did you ever imagine that we could write something like that? It is true though; the Spurs have not figured out a way to get either Tony Parker (12 points on 5-15 shooting) or Manu Ginobili (13 points on 4-7 shooting) the same clean looks that they had in Game 2, and the Spurs are ending up with low-scoring quarters that are costing them the game.
Game 4 was a close affair however, and while the Spurs still have some kinks to work out, they showed that they can play much better against the defensive adjustments the Thunder have made.
Now the Spurs are feeling the pressure a bit, because they must stem the tide and prevent the Thunder from continuing their run and taking full command of the series. San Antonio will be at home. They'll have their crowd. They'll have the motivation. They'll have the Thunder, and the Thunder will have the Spurs' full attention.
Best out of 3, ya'll.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 36 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 26 points on 11-11 shooting
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, 7 points on 2-10 shooting, 3 TO
Thunder Plunderer: Tim Duncan, 21 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists
Next Game: Monday June 4, 8:00 PM Central Standard Time