The Thunder defeated the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, 4-2. If you hit the rewind machine and take a look at the professionals' predictions, almost all of them had the Spurs beating the Thunder in 5 or 6 games. Even though they recognized OKC's ability to play at a high level, nobody gave them, and their defense specifically, a chance to slow down the Spurs' elite offense (this group includes myself as well). After two games, those pros looked like they knew what they were talking about.
It is a good thing OKC didn't care.
After two home games that helped the Thunder regain their confidence and then prove to everyone that they had a viable solution to the Spurs' offense, the script began to change. Everything culminated in a massive Game 5 win. With the Spurs on the ropes, everything that is great about both of these two teams came out in Game 6. In the first half, we once again saw the Spurs' offense, led by Tony Parker, carve up the OKC defense. In the second half, we saw how this young but maturing Thunder team made all of the necessary adjustments, caught the Spurs in the 3rd, and closed it out for the win.
29.5 PPG, 7.5 REB, 5.3 AST, 1.3 BL, 1.7 ST, 2.5 TO
18.2 PPG, 5.8 REB, 7.3 AST, 1.0 BL, 1.5 ST, 3.3 TO
||Compared to previous series, where we thought Westbrook had evolved into an unstoppable scoring threat, this series seems like a huge disappointment on that end. He would often hoist up tough shots that looked horrible if they missed, and his turnovers were above regular season levels. But we saw him able to contribute in different ways, which could have been the difference for the Thunder in this series. He didn't necessarily change his game and go to being a pass-first point guard. But he dominated the ball much more when he was in the game, managing to hoist up just as many shots as in previous series while cranking up his assist totals. The willingness of the Spurs offense to commit more than one defender to the driving player really helped Westbrook's cause, but so did his improved court vision and ability to improvise. His defense on Parker was really good, and totally masked his bad shooting performance on certain nights. Still, it's hard giving Westbrook a grade. He did have some poor shooting percentages and turnover numbers, but that might have been necessary to give some flow to the offense. Eh, I'll give him an A- and hope it's not too high or low.|
|Russell Westbrook has essentially been on trial in the court of public opinion all season long, receiving more criticism and scrutiny than just about any other player not named 'LeBron James.' He has answered those critics by becoming the team's best scorer in the first two rounds, realizing he can become a shut-down defender, and toyed with the other team's defenses. In the 3rd round, Westbrook continued to show his development by reducing his scoring attempts and becoming a more traditional point guard, consistently setting up his teammates. He was a bit wild at times as he is still learning how to create the best attacking angles, but his Game 6 performance was huge in helping the Thunder close out the Spurs. Westbrook also had one Jordan-esque slam.|
18.5 PPG, 5.5 REB, 3.7 AST, 1.2 ST, 1.8 TO
||James Harden has a lot of nicknames, but this guy is Mr. Fourth Quarter. He had a big hand in the Thunder's victories in Game 5 and 6 through his late game play, and this Finals appearance might not have been without him. His rebounding numbers are absurd for someone his size, and he remains the defacto backup PG, handling the ball well. But his shooting in games 1, 4, and 6 was painful, and his turnovers were somewhat of a problem. He also fouled out once against Ginobili, who, generally speaking, tore up the Thunder in this series. All in all, I'll give him a B. His overall impact was positive, but there were a few bumps along the road.|
||Harden had an uneven series, which was a byproduct of his continued development as a player that other teams must plan for. As we've often written, it is easy for a backup when the other team just has to play defense agains him; it is quite another when that team starts actual defensive game-planning against the backup, and that is what Harden has faced in these playoffs. As a result, the Spurs really took him out of his game in Game 1, and he played well short of his standards in Game 4. However, Harden came on strong in Games 5 & 6, hitting perhaps the shot of the series when he buried the Spurs on their home court with a 3-pointer with under 30 seconds to play. He knows when it is his time to step up, and he did his job well.|
More grades after the jump.
12.0 PPG, 5.7 REB, 0.3 AST, 2.7 BL, 0.8 ST, 1.0 TO
7.2 PPG, 1.7 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.7 ST, 0.3 TO
5.8 PPG, 6.2 REB, 0.8 AST, 1.3 BL, 0.5 ST, 2.0 TO
2.5 PPG, 0.3 REB, 0.0 TO
8.0 PPG, 4.3 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.3 BL, 2.3 ST, 0.7 TO
4.2 PPG, 3.3 REB, 0.5 AST, 0.2 BL, 1.0 ST, 0.5 TO
||At the end of the day, he got the job done. He made some nice adjustments in Game 6, and used his rotations well overall. I'm still not too impressed with his playcalling, and he used a few questionable lineups in Games 1 and 2. But I've gotta give it up to the man: He did what was necessary to win.|
||Scott Brooks faced the best coach in the NBA, and he not only was able to change the course of the series completely after Game 2, but then made all the adjustments necessary to give the Thunder a leg up the rest of the way. It is important to note that Brooks didn't just make subtle changes in his strategy, but major shifts in how his team was approaching the defensive end. The payoff was that the Thunder forced the Spurs to adjust on the fly, and Popovich never found the right mix. Brooks also got more out of his bench than the Spurs did from their more heralded bench, making a huge difference in the final outcome.|