Unlike the previous games of this series, though, it wasn't because of a lack of effort. After swapping blows with the Spurs through the first half and taking a 7-point lead into the break, a disastrous third quarter saw the Thunder down 10 headed into the fourth. A big deficit for sure, but far more manageable than the huge leads that had rendered the fourth quarters of this series moot up to this point.
Just as they've done all season, particularly this postseason, the Thunder went into desperation mode when it mattered and managed to force overtime. But the minutes and the burden of carrying a team all series seemed to be too much to overcome as neither Russell Westbrook nor Kevin Durant could make any real impact in the extra frame, as they combined for just 1-10 shooting and 4 points (all from Westbrook) in the overtime period.
The difference once again came in the supporting casts, as the Spurs – in typical Spurs fashion – got huge performances from their bench. Boris Diaw put a stamp on what could legitimately be considered a series-MVP performance, going for 26 points and once again spreading the floor and setting up the rest of the Spurs offense. It led to 51 bench points for the Spurs again, just as it did in Game 5, only this time the Thunder bench was even worse.
The Thunder scored five points outside of Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson. Those five came from Derek Fisher, who played fairly well in the final game of his career. While the four scorers all played well enough for spurts, it was just too much of task to stretch it out for 53 minutes, and the Spurs balanced-attack won out.
It's hard to feel too good about anything as a Thunder fan right now, simply because of the lofty expectations and how likely it appeared OKC could get back to the Finals after Games 3 and 4. The standard was always to reach the Finals, and coming up short on that will certainly leave a bad taste over the coming months.
There's a lot to reflect on in terms of the good that came from this season, though, and I'm sure we'll have plenty of that in the coming days. But for now, it's about the loss, and another season ending in sad disappointment.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The reactions immediately turn to big picture stuff because that's just the nature of a season-ending loss. But the immediate reaction of this particular game could very well shape the future of this franchise for years to come.
Derek Fisher played in his last game (and got exploited on defense by the Spurs, who consistently made the Thunder pay for their tactic of switching every screen) and Caron Butler was benched for the first time this postseason. Those are the two veterans that most Thunder fans will be glad to see go, and with Sefolosha's contract up and his dismal postseason performance, that's three key parts to this team that most likely won't be around next year.
Of course, they were hardly even here for the past two games, which makes it all the more easy to let them go, and that's where the offseason challenge will come. Durant and Westbrook both had excellent postseasons when taken as a whole – particularly Westbrook, who you could argue played a bigger role in winning games than even Durant – and that core, along with Ibaka, is intact at least for a couple more seasons.
You have to wonder how much longer they'll stand for being the only real weapons for the team though. Even as the Thunder fought and clawed all game, it just felt like they would need absolutely heroic efforts from the two stars because of how completely absent the supporting cast was. The Thunder has two first round draft picks and a little bit of wiggle room to sign someone impactful. With how thoroughly the Spurs' depth wore down the Thunder attack, it will be an important offseason for the OKC front office.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
Here's that bench scoring number: 51-5. That looks like something you would make up if you were trying to tell your friends how much OKC relies on its stars. Like, if you were at a bar, you'd be like "The Thunder lost because Westbrook and Durant had to do everything. It's like their bench can only put up five points!"
The Spurs Spurs'd all over, relying on their ridiculous ball movement and passing to constantly put pressure on the OKC defense. With everyone on the Spurs scoring, it put pressure on the Thunder's own offense to keep pace on the other end for the entire 53 minutes. Again, while Westbrook and Durant did just fine putting points on the board, the misses became magnified because they were literally the only offense every time down the floor.
So what you had was Westbrook and Durant scoring and the rest of us sighing with relief. But because of the sheer amount of possessions, you saw a lot of turnovers from those two as well, particularly in overtime, along with some missed shots that come from having to force possessions – particularly late. Fatigue undoubtedly played a role, too, and put together, it was just two of the league's best players still being forced to carry too much of a burden and not having enough to overcome a great team like the Spurs.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
51-5, obviously. But on top of that, and going off what I just touched on, Durant and Westbrook had 7 turnovers each. That's 14 total. In the two wins, they combined for just 12 between them. Protecting the ball is key, obviously, and with Westbrook and Durant forced into making desperation plays, they forced a few too many passes and it led to turnovers.
The Thunder also got worked on the offensive glass, 16-7, which came as a result of going small most of the second half with Fisher as the third guard. That, combined with the turnovers, gave the vaunted Spurs offense plenty of extra opportunities, and they are too good not to capitalize.
Again, there's so much more to get into in terms of just how reliant the Thunder was on their stars, and how exactly they can get to fixing it, but without any games for a few months, we'll have plenty of time to write those pieces.
For now, the numbers speak for themselves, and while KD and Russ fought to the bitter end, it just wasn't enough.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Let's start with the biggest thing: There is no way you could even begin to justify letting Brooks go after that run, so it's not even worth getting into. It would set a pretty unpleasant precedent for any future coach knowing that a guy that got to within two wins of his second NBA Finals was canned after the season, even after his best defensive player was out for the first two games and essentially spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead.
Brooks consistently made adjustments throughout, trying things again tonight like in playing Lamb over Butler - which didn't really work out at all as Lamb missed his two 3-point attempts (and one at the buzzer that didn't matter). Now, you can get into how he handled the veterans and all of that, and if this team was underprepared for a series like this, and again, we'll probably have a few more pieces on that in the coming months. But it just sends a daunting message to any replacement that three conference finals appearances in four years, including one Finals appearance, isn't enough.
There are certainly roster changes coming, with the aforementioned veterans likely on their way out. KD and Russ are the leaders, and again, you can look at their postseasons and feel good enough about that.
Sure, Durant never really reached Reaper mode in this series – and even missed in his few overtime chances tonight to have a similar impact – but he's the MVP and you don't even need to justify anything beyond that.
Westbrook, for all intents and purposes, made the leap into the player we all hoped he could become. There will be the select few that dwell on his 1-for-7 overtime, but they will be as wrong for doing so as ever. Check his final line for the playoffs: 27.7 points, 8.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals. His defense improved throughout, his shooting - while still sporadic at times - was more than reliable, and he was a monster at the line, shooting over 90 percent for the playoffs, and getting there often because he's probably the most fearless player in the league.
He now has an offseason to fully heal his knee, and if this was Westbrook still in recovery mode, the rest of the league better be on notice.
That's your big two, and it's plenty to be excited about on its own. Add to it Steven Adams, who at 20-years old had a legitimate impact in each of these series. Then consider you have Serge Ibaka, whose presence is as appreciated as ever after this series, and that's an exciting young core. That's before you get into Reggie Jackson, who will likely play a an even bigger role than he did this year, and could be in line for a major extension, but for next season he's there.
Amnestying Perkins doesn't seem in line with the Thunder code of doing things, and Durant's MVP speech was a pretty strong statement in his support as well. So the top half of this team will look similar, but it's how those supporting pieces will be assembled that will define this Thunder team going forward.
The wound from losing is still fresh, and it's tough to be too optimistic right now. No matter who comes back next year, this team was more than good enough to be playing in the Finals, so coming up short of that goal is a huge letdown.
The Thunder still has the league MVP, though, and a point guard that will be fully healthy and just had a truly dominant postseason. They have three months to figure out how to get them the help they need to get one step further than they are tonight.
- KD hit his first jump shot and had that look to him after he made it. Thought this could be his moment.
- Kawhi Leonard continues to beat Thunder defenders with that spin move. It's getting to be a serious weapon. Oh, and that dunk on Serge was OK too, I guess.
- Another good shooting start for OKC, with Serge knocking down his shots too. These first quarters have been fool's gold for the Thunder in some of these, though.
- Russell Westbrook complaining about fouling a 3-point shooter is like Tim Duncan making fun of another man's jorts.
- I hate how scared I am of Boris Diaw being in the game.
- Jeremy Lamb back in the first-quarter rotation. You can't say Scott Brooks hasn't made adjustments.
- Anddddd he misses his first 3-point attempt.
- Westbrook went into his usual IDGAF mode to end the first quarter. KD's shot wasn't falling, and so it was kind of welcome. He scored the Thunder's last eight points of the period but got carried away going 2-for-1 and blew a chance for points at the end. You know the hashtag.
- Poor shooting and/or good defense from both teams in the first quarter. About 38 percent shooting for both. Spurs were more aggressive getting to the line, though, kept them in it.
- Has Derek Fisher ever completed a fast break layup?
- The Lamb to KD alley oop was something I could get used to.
- With the Thunder's small lineup, they got absolutely worked on the boards, and the Spurs took their first lead basically through second-chance opportunities.
- A big 9-2 in the 2nd quarter, spurred by 3-pointers from Jackson, Westbrook and Durant. Sometimes it just comes down to hitting shots.
- Serge corner threes are electrifying.
- Westbrook went 2-for-1 before the half but with a smart layup and not a ridiculous 3-pointer. Progress...
- Subtle thing I liked: Nice ovation for Thabo Sefolosha as he checked in as a defensive sub with 4 seconds left in the half.
- Can't say enough about Westbrook's first half again. Spurs were coming on and he completely dialed in defensively, and forced the issue on offense. 15 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 4 steals at the half.
- That said, only Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Jackson scored in the first half. Bench once again nowhere to be found.
- I want to be happy about Parker missing the second half, but at this point anyone on the Spurs can kill the Thunder at any second, so it isn't all that relieving.
- Well at least I'll be singing that Dairy Queen s'mores song all night...
- Once again, with San Antonio making a run, Westbrook put his head down and got to the rim/foul line. And his free throw shooting has been fantastic all postseason. Can't say enough how great he's been.
- Westbrook picked up his fourth foul with four minutes left in the third, so Brooks was forced to sit him. Reggie Jackson assumed the Westbrook "play with a ridiculous amount of aggression and energy" role, and played it beautifully. Huge perfromance from both Thunder guards.
- 3rd quarter turnovers: Thunder 8, Spurs 1
- Spurs outscore OKC 37-20 in the third, close on 13-2 run, including 7-0 in final 32 seconds. That's how you go 2-for-1.
- KD rolled his ankle pretty badly at the start of the fourth. So that was terrifying.
- I haven't really typed anything about this fourth quarter because I haven't really been breathing.
- What a pass from Reggie Jackson on that KD layup to cut it to 93-91. Didn't try to be a hero, made the right read. Very Spursian.
- That Westbrook steal to cut it to 97-95 was hugeganticnormous.
- Spurs' fans, we know it was a goaltend. It was also a moving screen on Ginobili's 3. We'll call it even.
- Huge, huge, huge offensive rebound by Fisher in overtime after Westbrook's missed three. Old man not going quietly into the night.
- That Kawhi block/steal/whatever the heck it was to deny a Westbrook layup for the lead was a championship play. Wow.
- Gonna miss you in the broadcast booth, Steve Kerr.
- Since I'm in a sentimental mood now, just want to thank all you that come to WTLC every day. I look forward to your comments because they're always insightful, and you make it incredibly worth it to do this every day. We're gonna have a bunch of stuff for you all offseason, but this season was a blast and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. It sucks losing, but it's nice to know that we have our WTLC community to look forward to the future with during the long summer.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook - 34 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, +11
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant - 31 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks.
Thunder Blunder: The bench again. Just five points, all from Derek Fisher.
Thunder Plunderer: Boris Diaw - 26 points on 8-14 shooting, +10
Next game: Next season :'(