(Sherman - Martin Knezevic is a veteran NBA writer and currently an NBA scout, ABA Coach, and CBL General Manager and has done work for WTLC as well as a number of SB Nation sites in the past. He contacted me prior to game 6 and said he'd be at the game and would be happy to cover it for us from media row. Here are his insights.)
Walking into the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room before Game 6, I noticed a bright orange aura emanating from the corner. It was Russell Westbrook in his team-issued sweatpants. Fast forwarding to after the game, Russ walked into the postgame presser wearing all black, except for (again) neon orange kicks. Westbrook was definitely consistent on this night. No, not in perhaps shooting or decision-making, but he was consistent in just being Russ...the motor that drives the OKC Thunder.
Watching Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins score buckets early on wasn't necessarily a pretty sight. However, it may have been a good thing. As OKC trailed early to the energized Los Angeles Clippers, you just had the feeling that the Thunder shooting would pick up, namely that of their two super stars. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot blanks in the 1st quarter, with a 1-for-12 showing after 12. It was as bad in real life as it looked on paper. Los Angeles was trapping both stars as they came off screens, even sending a third guy to cover the first swing pass out. But it was fool's gold.
Doc Rivers said after the game:
"I turned to one of my coaches and said I didn't like it (the amount of emotion his team came out with)...I was afraid we'd hit a wall."
That wall indeed came, maybe not all at once but gradually - from the middle of the 2nd quarter to the latter stages of the 4th. The final minutes of the game were then all about the Thunder holding onto the lead. Without Serge Ibaka, who left the game early in the 2nd half with a left leg injury, OKC was able to hold on for the series-clinching win.
While Westbrook's motor kept OKC in the game throughout (just as he did in Game 5), Durant's 3rd quarter performance really sealed LA's fate. He shot a sparkling 5/5 for 14 points in the period, a stanza that was capped off by a Nick Collison three from the corner, an identical shot to ones Blake Griffin and Serge Ibaka clanked earlier.
"I thought that shot was huge for us," Scott Brooks admitted. "I was proud of our guys for trusting Nick with that shot."
Clippers fans will, and actually did, point to some questionable calls late in the game - namely an offensive foul on Chris Paul as he drove down the lane for a dump-off pass. The ensuing DeAndre Jordan dunk, which would have cut the lead to four late, was wiped away. However, Clipper players and coaches know what OKC does too - that the Thunder were just the better team.
"Russ and Kevin have been our leaders for year," Brooks said after the game. "We have all our trust in them to lead us to victory."
Kevin Durant had the play of the game, drawing a charge on Blake Griffin on a fast break with minutes to play. It was super star-on-super star crime, and everything Adam Silver could wish for.
When asked about the challenges Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs will pose the Thunder in the next round, Russell Westbrook smirked and replied "which one, Tony or the Spurs?" The reporter quickly replied "both." Well, Pop will have to find a way to slow down both Durant and Westbrook. If they produce as they did in the conference semifinals, San Antonio will be 'gone fishing' soon.