What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Amazement. Shock. Surprise. Surprise?... If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now.
The Thunder just became the 15th team to come back from an 0-2 deficit and win a series, and they did it against the team that was inarguably playing the best basketball in the league for the past two months. If someone said that May 29 would be the last time the Spurs would win this year, my immediate thought would have been to start looking at the Mayan calendar again. I knew that the Thunder could compete and possibly win a game or two, but never did I think that they could reel off four games in a row against a team that looked unstoppable two weeks ago.
In all seriousness though, my shock started to take hold right around the midway point of Game 4 when the Thunder were battling to even the series. It was during that game that the notion began to form that OKC had at last figured out an effective way of slowing down the Spurs' attack, mostly by redirecting Tony Parker's dribble-drive penetration. Once OKC began to do that consistently, I knew something had shifted. While a series win still seemed miles away, the Spurs no longer had that air of an unsolved mystery about them. They were a multi-layered riddle whose answer had been revealed.
My last initial reaction is actually one of sadness, because it kind of pained me to have to root against this San Antonio Spurs team for 6 games. The Spurs are one of the reasons why I love the NBA, and to see them get vanquished in the way that they did makes the Thunder matriculation sweet, but not without some bitterness. The Spurs are a remarkable franchise, they are the model that the Thunder built themselves after, and to see them have to head home now is an unsubtle reminder of the temporality of these games they play and we watch.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
The Thunder won this game in the first half of the 3rd quarter. After getting run over by the suddenly rejuvinated Spurs offense throughout the first half, things were getting nervous. The Spurs lead ballooned to 18 on multiple occasions as Tony Parker finally rediscovered his offense and ran up 21 points and 10 assists in the 1st half alone. He was having his way with the Thunder defense, and most importantly, he was finding open shooters to the tune of 9 3-pointers in the first half.
As the 3rd quarter commenced with OKC down 15, I had a feeling that the first few minutes would be indicative of whether the Thunder would find a way to push back, or if the Spurs had finally solved the Thunder defense. In a little more than 4 minutes, we had our answer. OKC started the 3rd by going on a 9-2 run and cut the lead to 6 points. They were officially back in the game. Now, this point became a critical juncture because as we saw in Games 2 and 5, the winning team that was up big was going to get challenged and had to figure out a way to fight back. If the Spurs refocused and built the lead back up, the Thunder attempt would have fizzled and they likely would have been scrambling in the 4th. However, the Spurs could only manage to push their lead back up to 9, and that was a lead that was not going to stand with so much time left in the game. Five minutes later, the Spurs would be trailing for the first time since the opening moments and their body language conveyed a completely deflated disposition.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
We all but predicted it in our preview. If OKC could control Tony Parker, OKC could win the game. In the first half, they did not control Parker at all. His 21 and 10 were breathtaking to behold, because he seemed to have found his mojo from Game 2 as well as the regular season. If he continued to play that way, the Spurs would not be stopped. As a result of his first half of play, the Spurs marched out to 63 points, shot well over 50% from the field, only had 3 turnovers, and held a 15 point halftime lead.
The 2nd half though told a different tale. The Thunder knew that they had a half to make things right, and it all started by forcing Parker into bad shots and bad angles. Parker only managed 2 points in the 3rd and 6 points in the 4th. He had a mere 2 assists in the half. His inability to direct the Spurs offense resulted in a sharp drop in shooting percentage and 9 more turnovers.
Tim Duncan and Stephen Jackson gamely tried to keep the game within reach during the final stretch of the game, but with Parker's offense curtailed, they weren't going to get enough good open looks. Even Manu Ginobili, who up to this point had had a superb WCF, could not get any offense going (10 points on 4-12 shooting). The Spurs offense all but disappeared, and the Thunder roared past them in the end.
In the first half, the Spurs scored 63 points. In the second half, they scored 36. OKC took away the one thing that the Spurs could do better than anyone else, and once that happened the Thunder knew that victory was in their grasp.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder are Finals-bound.
In reaching the Finals, OKC has now eliminated the three teams who represented the West in the Finals for the past 13 years, teams that won 10 of those 13 championships. If OKC can win it all, they will add another notch from a past-champ, as both the Celtics and Heat won one championship each during that stretch.
I tend to treat the Thunder as their own entity, not as a continuation of the Seattle Supersonics. From that viewpoint, their ascendancy from a lottery team to a Finals team is almost unprecedented. The precedent? Perhaps you could say it was in 1999, when, two years after losing 62 games, the spurs marched to the Finals on the back of 2nd year forward Tim Duncan.
OKC now has a few days to rest up and heal up, and Thunder up. There is a Championship trophy to win.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 34 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, 25 points, 8 rebounds (2 offensive), 5 assists, 1 block
Thunder Blunder: None
Thunder Plunderer: Tony Parker, 29 points, 12 assists, 2 steals
Next Game: NBA Finals Game 1 TBD
Game 1 Limited tickets go on sale this Saturday at 10AM.