Note: This recap is very, very long. Personally, I feel its a bit short considering the greatness of this game. Thus, if I made the recap any shorter, I don't think I'd be doing the game any justice. So sit back, read along, and pretend that I'm a great writer.
This game, in two words, was not pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Rather, it was the greatest game in Thunder history. Period. Get that Denver game out of my house. Golden State Buzzer beater? Don't make me laugh. Rallying against Dallas last year? Child's play. The game seen here was a game of titans. A game of men who played beyond the capabilities of normal men. A game where our team never, ever gave up, always going the extra mile to force themselves back into the game. It's like watching an ant move a mountain. Games like these remind me of why I'm an NBA fan. Why I watch over 150 full games of basketball over the course of a season. Why I sit behind my computer for countless hours writing and pouring over statistics. Why Basketball is the greatest sport on the planet, and the NBA is the greatest league on the planet. Games like these make life fulfilling.
But, now that I'm done talking nonsense, it's time to get down to the game. The first quarter was a total Thunder embarrassment. The Spurs had an open or lightly contested shot the entire time, while also easily able to get it down to DeJuan Blair. Excellent ball movement if I've ever seen it. The Thunder, meanwhile, got some open shots, but they were also routinely denied by Blair in the lane, and subject to contested shots all around. It almost seemed like they were forcing them up out of frustration towards the end. For example, Sefolosha had a 3 on 1 Fast Break, and he managed to commit an obvious charge against Manu Ginobili. That play pretty much sums up the devastatingly bad first quarter.
The second quarter would turn out much differently. At first, things were equal, but eventually, the Thunder went on a 8 point run to bring them within 5. Unfortunately, that would be as close as they got in the 2nd, as San Antonio immediately responded, and had propelled their lead to 17 by the time there was 28 seconds to go. As reality was about to crash upon the Thunder, Russell Westbrook drew the foul and hit a couple freethrows. Shortly after, Tony Parker threw a horrible pass across the court, into the stands. The Thunder amazingly responded with a James Harden three, and all of a sudden the lead going into the half was a much more manageable 12. It doesn't sound like much, but I was sitting there, telling my friend that we wouldn't have a chance going into the second half unless we got 50 points, and the Thunder did just that.
As the second half began, it was clear the Thunder were going to have to catch up, and fast. They accomplished this by using great defense against the Spurs, as they committed bad turnovers and missed open jumpshots. By the 7:56 minute mark, the Thunder had completed a 12 to 2 run, putting them within 2 points of the Spurs. There was the inevitable Spurs lull, but the Thunder kept in, never dropping lower than 6 points behind. Eventually, the Thunder finally took the lead, 75 to 74, on some routine free throws from Kevin Durant with 2:33 to go. After two more buckets by both sides, the Thunder left the third quarter with the lead, 77-76.
And then, the two teams arrived at the fourth quarter. The time where the men are separated from the boys. As expected, the Spurs scored 6 points right off the bat, going up by 5. Without going into too much detail, the spurs kept moving forward, eventually reaching a climax of a lead of 8 points, with 3:13 to go. You could feel the disappointment starting to sink in, the confidence starting to lower. But then, hope. As it looked the Spurs were about to go up by 10, Tony Parker's jumper rattled out, and the Thunder rebounded. Russell Westbrook drove the lane for a layup, and it barely rimmed out. Luckily, Jeff Green was there for the easy garbage points. 6 points to go.
Below: Way too much recapping, way too much analysis, and a fair amount of awards.
After the time out, it's the Spurs ball again. Ginobili at the top of the key. He runs down to the post, misses a horrible layup attempt, and saves the ball to Parker. Jefferson eventually gets the ball, and gets a ticky-tack foul called on KD. But then, Ginobili tried a risky pass through Parkers legs, and it's stolen by Harden. KD gets the fast break jam with 2:24 to go, and the Thunder 4 points behind.
The Spurs have the ball again. Parker misses a bad three, and it's right back out to Ginobili. They sit on the ball, and Parker drives the lane again. Parker misses the shot, and it's out of bounds, off of Jeff Green. But wait! The refs go to video replay. In the arena, everyone held their breath. The replay showed that it clearly slipped out of Parker's hand, and it was Thunder ball. Westbrook dishes it to Durant, who his a quick and easy jumper. 1:32 to go, Thunder down by 2.
The much-heralded Sefolosha dunk, which tied the game.
Parker drives the lane yet again, at the last possible moment. The ball bounces around the rim, and it eventually drops out. Blair tries to tip it in, but the ball falls out of the rim again. Sefolosha gets the rebound, and it's time out Thunder. Westbrook had the ball, and then, like a flash, the ball is down to the post. Sefolosha is completely open, and gets an easy dunk. Apparently George Hill was drawn off of his defensive assignment by Jeff Green. And thus, it was a tie game with 57.6 to go. One of, nay, the greatest comeback in Thunder history right there.
The Spurs have yet another chance to score. The wild layup by Ginobili is no good. Thunder ball again. And....Kevin Durant missed a wide-open jumper. Spurs ball now. Parker has it, and instead of driving down the lane, he finally pulls up for a relatively open jumper. Swish. Spurs up by 2, 10.3 seconds to go. Crunch time now. Durant barely gets the ball into Westbrook. He dribbles from half court to the freethrow line, where Jeff Green sets an excellent screen. This puts the defensively-inept Richard Jefferson guarding Westbrook as he takes the crucial jumper. Bangs in off the back of the rim. Tie game, 3.8 seconds to go. The Spurs inbound to Ginobili, who is immediately double-teamed. He's forced to throw it, at the last second, to Antonio McDyess, who has made 7 3 Pointers in his 14 year career, none of them after the year 1999. The wild 3, which was well guarded by Harden, fell short of the mark. Dejuan Blair attempted to tip it back in, but it was too late. This game was going into overtime.
As overtime started, Jeff Green won the tip from Dejuan Blair. After two missed possessions by both teams, Kevin Durant dribbled in for a close bank shot. Tony Parker responded with a well-timed three. The spurs then stole the ball, and Dejuan Blair got fouled in the post. He banked the first free throw in. I knew then it was my time to shine. He pulled up for the second free throw, saw me out of the corner of his eye, got scared, and missed the free throw way short. (Just kidding. ;-).)
The Spurs were up by 2 with 3:21 to go. Then, James Harden drove the lane, hit a clutch layup, and got Dejuan Blair's sixth foul. McDyess had to come in, and at the time, I thought it was the deal breaker. I thought the Thunder were going to win. The beast was down, who could stop us now?
After this, there were several Spurs misses, before RJ finally hit the line. He hit 1 of 2, undoubtedly due to the intense distraction I was performing. Tie game, 2:17 to go. The Thunder responded with another Kevin Durant jumper, putting them up by 2. Then, Ginobili responded in his own way, by steamrolling into James Harden and knocking down two free throws. The Thunder responded with a tough KD jumper, right in the face of McDyess. Thunder up by 2, 1:28 to go.
Here, the Thunder looked to hold the upper hand. They were up, and the only way the Spurs could effectively score was by drawing fouls. But, they immediately lost that advantage. How? Well, the ball came out of the hoop after a Ginobili three, and Jeff Green tipped it straight to....George Hill. The Spurs had another chance, and, guess what? McDyess got fouled. First freethrow....swish. It looked like trouble again. But then, McDyess barely missed the second freethrow, leaving the Thunder still in the lead by 1 with 54.8 to go.
Thunder ball, for the most important possession of the game. Westbrook dribbles down the clock, and gives it to Durant on the elbow. He's totally covered. He dishes to Sefolsoha, who panicked and shot the ball with 5 seconds to go on the shot clock. Jefferson tipped it, and the ball was far short. McDyess rebounds, and the Spurs reset, and call a timeout with 27.7 to go on the game clock, and 18 to go on the shot clock.
Spurs inbound. Parker has the ball. He holds it near mid-court to waste time. Then, all of a sudden, he's double teamed and....he calls another timeout. The suspense kills everybody in the audience. 20.4 on the game clock, 11 on the shot clock.
Not quite as amazing of a save, but similar in nature.
Next came the wildest play of the game. Parker inbounds the ball to Ginobili. Ginobili tries to pass it to McDyess, but McDyess is caught unaware. Then, Ginobili literally jumps after his own pass, and saves it by diving headfirst into the crowd. It was unbelievable. The image is very reminiscent of this one, and given the situation it was done under, I'd say it was even better.
The game winner.
Hill grabs the ball, and he passes it out to Jefferson. Jefferson dribbles down to the elbow of the key, and he pulls up for a fade away jumper. No one defends it well (even though he was surrounded by two shocked Thunder players), and the ball goes straight in. Spurs up by 1, with 9.1 to go.
And, here comes the disappointment. Durant inbounds to Westbrook, and Westbrook hands it back to Durant. He's fouled with 4.7 seconds to go, since the Spurs had a foul to give, and another timeout is called. Sefolosha inbounds. It's in to Westbrook. The Spurs are doing everything they can not to foul, so he's got some space. He steps just inside the arc. Jefferson is guarding him, but he has no chance to block. The shot is up....and it bounces off of the side of the rim. The buzzer sounds just as the ball clanks. Game over, the Spurs win. And thus, you now know the story of the greatest Thunder game ever played.
And you thought I wasn't a genius?!
To start the analysis of this game without analyzing Gregg Popovich's decision to sit out Duncan would be heresy. To put it simply: He's a genius. First of all, Duncan really does need the rest, because he's 34 years old. Big men don't usually age well, and while Duncan has been a rare exception to that rule, Popovich wants to keep it that way. Secondly, he knew that his typical, plodding team is very capable of losing against the Thunder. So, he decided to use a Rockets-like offense, where quickness and driving to the hoop are priorities. While using this type of offense, he also managed to use Dejuan Blair to completely outmatch everybody inside for the Thunder. Thus, he exposed our greatest two weaknesses, and defeated us with inferior talent. But, to ignore the defensive genius used by Scott Brooks to Counter Popovich's plan would also be heresy. He basically used a small lineup, and forced the Spurs into bad jumpshots. When the Spurs tried to drive again against the small lineup, they were outquicked, and they usually missed the shot.
DeJuan Blair: Beastin'.
Belt was completely correct in saying that Nenad Krstic was a "ghost in the lane" in the first quarter. Dejuan Blair basically got everything he wanted and then some. But I disagree with the notion that Krstic should be forgotten altogether. This simply was not Krstic's game. The Spurs defense was too great for him to equal the other centers offensive production. Usually, his lack of defense is counterbalanced by the fact that he can score just as much on the opposing center. Nonetheless, he's the undisputed Thunder Blunder award winner for this game. Accordingly, Dejuan Blair gets the Thunder Plunderer award for tonight. He didn't help out a great amount late in the game, but he steamrolled the early Spurs runs. Not to mention his career high 28 Points and career high 21 rebounds. He doesn't even have a picture on Yahoo! yet! Put simply, tonight, Dejuan Blair was not a man. He was a beast.
Also of note on the Spurs are Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson. Tony Parker basically ran the Spurs offense himself late in the game, trying desperately to score in the lane. Alas, at times, he hurt his team a bit by doing all of the shooting, so that keeps him from the award. Richard Jefferson didn't have a remarkable game per se, but he did block a crucial Sefolosha shot, and he did hit the game winner. Those two plays alone are good enough to get him mentioned here.
As for the Thunder, there are really only 5 players worth mentioning. Krstic was totally useless, Ibaka didn't get many minutes, Maynor didn't do much but dribble, and Collison only existed to attempt to slow down Blair, which was mostly unsuccessful. He did get 8 Points and 8 Rebounds though, which isn't bad.
First of all Thabo Sefolosha had a great game. He completely eliminated, and I mean eliminated Ginobili and Bogans from this game. They combined for a grand total of six points. Ginobili didn't make a field goal. Not to mention Sefolosha's crucial dunk which tied the Thunder late in the 4th. His missed shot in overtime might erase that in the eyes of some, but still, the man did what he had to do in order to have a great game.
Next, James Harden really didn't do anything special, but he did do his job. 12 Points, 3-5 shooting, staying out of the way in crucial situations, and smothering opponents on defense when necessary. Solidly done.
Thirdly, Jeff Green had a bit of a revival. He was denying Jefferson and Roger Mason, Jr. of opportunities to score, while having an efficient 16 points, 10 rebounds, 7 of 9 shooting for a double-double. I know, he let Richard Jefferson hit the last shot, but I'm not sure Green fully recovered from Ginobili's unbelievable save by the time RJ shot it. Even with that, RJ wasn't much of a factor throughout the end of the game, and he only scored 13. So Green, in general, did a good job on him.
Russell Westbrook: Thunder Wonder all the way.
Russell Westbrook had an amazing game, Okay, he missed a few shots, but he was the main source of offense for the Thunder, and he hit the shot sending the Thunder to overtime. 25 Points, 6 Rebounds, 13 Assists, and only 3 turnovers wrap up his stellar Thunder Wonder winning night.
This leaves the Thunder Down Under, who is Kevin Durant., Okay, I know KD scored 35, had 5 Rebounds, and 3 Assists. But truth be told, I had a really hard time giving this to him over Sefolosha. He had 7 turnovers, and was a bit of a defensive liability. Still, I'm not going to focus on the negative here. Just know that he hit some big, big shots for us, and that he still had a great night.
Next Game: At the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, January 15th, 7:30 Central Standard Time.