The Thunder have defeated the Spurs in the Western Conference Semi's 4-2. What a game 6, and what a series! It's hard to believe that the playoffs are only halfway over and that the Thunder still faces a historically great team just to have a chance to play in the finals. But let's celebrate this victory, for it was indeed significant!
Game 6 was one of my favorite games of all time. The pressure was on to close out the series, no easy task, especially against a veteran team like the Spurs. But on a Thunder team that has struggled with depth issues this season, every member of the team stepped up and made major contributions to the win.
Rather than break down an aspect of the game in this article, I want to keep things simple. This article is an homage to the best plays of each player, showing how they contributed to closing out the series. Each player deserves a paragraph for stepping up in the big moment, and for some, the biggest of their young careers.
First, however, I think it is appropriate to show respect for one of the greatest (and most respectable) players of all time: Tim Duncan. No one knows what his future holds, and whether he will be back next season. But if this is the way his career ends, he went out with a strong, memorable performance.
Duncan struggled much of this series against the bigs of the Thunder. He had scored only 17 points through the first 5 games and seemed generally to not be able to get anything against the younger and more athletic Steven Adams. However, with the Spurs' season on the ropes, he was able to score 19 points on 50% with 5 rebounds and a block.
Here, we see a play that I'm sure San Antonio fans have watched thousands of times. There is nothing fancy here: Duncan gets position, does a half-spin, and gently hooks the ball off glass. Such a basic play that just works despite excellent defense from Adams. This exact play occurred with the same results 2 or 3 other times in this game.
This time, Duncan gets position due to Adams having to help over onto LaMarcus Aldridge. He sees the shot blocker in Ibaka, and uses a subtle fake to get him just enough in the air to bank home another layup.That is one of the most appreciable aspects of Duncan's game: the subtle quietness of greatness.
Again, such a simple play that just works. The efficiency of motion here is just exquisite. Duncan takes the pass on the roll, spins just enough to get his right arm some space, and tosses up a pretty hook shot.
Whether or not that was Duncan's last game, it's safe to say that his performance was commendable, despite things getting out of hand quickly. The respect that the Thunder players had for him was apparent post-game in the interactions and congratulation process.
Russ had a solid game on both ends of the floor in Game 6. He scored 28 points on 48-33-100 shooting splits, and dished out 12 assists. He also had 2 steals that both generated fast break opportunities. The 6 turnovers were the only real blight on his performance, as he generally stayed engaged on defense.
When San Antonio made the run in the 4th quarter to get the lead down to 11, the Thunder really needed a confidence basket. An 11 point lead with 2:25 left should be sufficient, but with the momentum in San Antonio's hands, it felt like the margin was razor thing. When Russ got the ball 28 feet out with 5 seconds to shoot, the possession felt doomed.
However, in true #WhyNot fashion, Russ sunk the shot to expand the lead to 14 and steal back the momentum. I also love that he gets Manu dancing first. It probably wasn't necessary, as he was playing a few feet off in the first place, but maybe it helped him find a rhythm into the shot.
This was such a smooth offensive set all the way through, and the amount of motion is what makes it work. They run a weave of sorts up top to switch the floor, and Roberson feeds Russ in the post. Roberson and Dion both slide along the 3-point arc, and because Roberson's shot isn't respected, his man effectively mucks up the defense, causing some confusion once Kanter sets the screen. Russ draws all the defenders and makes the nice pass for an easy layup.
This is one of Westbrook's steals. He gets behind the play a little bit off the screen, but manages to hide right in the passing lane to deflect the pass to a rolling Duncan. Roberson ends up in the right place at the right time, and a fast break starts.
Unfortunately, the options on the break are Roberson and Kanter, with Kawhi as the primary defender. Roberson misses a contested layup, Kanter's tip misses, but guess who shows up to clean up the garbage? Westbrook himself. His timing on both ends of the floor is impeccable.
Dion definitely didn't have his best scoring game. He reverted back to some bad habits on a few of his shots, and finished 1-5. However, he did well distributing the ball, ending with 4 assists. He also made some nice defensive and hustle plays.
This wasn't recorded as a steal. In fact, the only result here was a loose ball foul on Waiters (incorrectly called, in my opinion). But these are the kinds of plays that stay in the back of the offensive player's mind. The effort to catch up to Kawhi and pop the ball out deserves mentioning.
This is an extremely nice pocket pass made to a rolling Adams. Waiters has a way of breaking down defenses that I still haven't figured out. Perhaps he is shifty in a way that doesn't show up on camera, but somehow he is very good at getting defenders off balance and behind the play. Boban is forced to show on Waiters, and Dion makes the right read for the finish inside.
To end the first quarter with one last blow, Waiters picks off a pass from Manu and feeds it ahead for a KD dunk. These are the kinds of plays that were a key part of the runs the Thunder used to win each game. It's just good pick and roll defense turning into easy offense.
Finally. I knew that the shooting woes wouldn't continue the entire playoffs, and that if Dre could just get a shot to drop, it would increase his confidence. I even went so far as predict him hitting two 3-point shots and scoring double digits. He one-upped me, though, scoring 14 and hitting three 3's. He also played phenomenal defense (as he has all season) and came up with some nice hustle plays.
Here are the five 3-point shots Roberson took in Game 6. I included the misses as well just to illustrate how close he was to going 5-5; both of the misses just rimmed out. If he can keep shooting like this, even on a smaller volume, it will definitely help against Golden State. His defense is going to be crucial in that series, but he needs to provide something on offense to keep the floor more balanced. Hopefully, this game will give him some confidence in his stroke.
This is what happens when guys start playing freely. Adams tips the offensive rebound out, and Roberson is the closest to the space where the ball lands. The Spurs are already on the break, so when Roberson grabs the rebound, he has an immediate two on one. Aldridge plays this pretty well, forcing Roberson far enough out to make a layup difficult, but positioning himself to deflect a pass across the paint. Roberson instead goes behind Aldridge to make the pass, giving Adams an easy dunk.
This is definitely one of the best hustle plays of the year. Roberson is guarding Kawhi closely, and on the pass, Kawhi gets just a little bit loose. Roberson uses his length to deflect the ball out, and both guys dive for it. I'm not sure how Roberson gets enough strength on this to knock it out, but somehow, he gets the ball rolling on the ground again. To be able to get back up, be the first one to the ball, and finish a layup was just icing: he had already destroyed any chance of the Spurs scoring here. But the hustle on this play was at least a two point swing, potentially more.
I couldn't leave out a monster block like this. This is so impressive: look at where Roberson is when Kawhi catches the ball. Kawhi crosses the 3-point arc while Roberson is at the halfcourt logo. That's a 15-20 foot head start at least, and while Durant does slow Kawhi down, Roberson shows real determination to stop the layup here. As people have been saying, Kawhi got Kawhi'd.
Kanter didn't have his normal offensive game. He hit a midrange shot and a layup, but missed several tip shots he normally makes. But even he got in on the hustle plays this game.
Here is a great example of what Kanter has been doing on post defense. Duncan tries backing him down, and every time Duncan pushes, Kanter leans in and uses his arms to try and dislodge the dribble. It's hard to tell if he slaps ball or not, but somehow Duncan loses the ball. In the chasedown, Manu fouls Dion and it's a turnover for San Antonio.
This play really impressed me live. Kanter drives in from the post, tries drawing the foul, but doesn't get the call. Rather than leave the fate of the play in the hands of the ref, he chases down the miss and throws it in to Steven Adams. The possession ended in a turnover, I believe, but this is the attitude and hustle that wins games.
Serge also didn't have his normal offensive impact, but was able to use his defense to help save the game late in the fourth.
This was a nice finish and-1 on the fast break by Serge. He uses a series of fakes to get the defenders behind him in the air, and once he draws contact, goes up and finishes strong off glass. This is the kind of savvy play that sometimes seems to be lacking in his arsenal.
It seems like San Antonio was hitting garbage shots similar to the shot Aldridge takes here all series. These shots can be very demoralizing to a defense, as they play the shot perfectly and it still goes in. However, Serge doesn't give this shot a chance. Not only does he stuff it, but he does a good job of blocking it right into Adams hands.
This was one of, if not the, most important play of the game. Duncan rolls much harder than Adams is ready for, and appears to have an easy layup which would have improbably brought the Thunder lead down to single digits. Serge comes up with a block at the rim, Russ leads the break, and KD gets a slam to push the lead back to 13. Instead of a tense 3 minutes that could have resulted in a catastrophic failure to close the game and series, OKC stretched the lead to 5 possessions and the Spurs in serious trouble.
Foye has seemed to be contributing well since getting a small role again. If he is able to play the same role in the series to follow, I'll be happy with his signing. As long as he isn't getting free reign to take bad shots, he can be useful.
Foye really spins Martin around here. He gives just a slight upper body fake off the catch, and because Kevin Martin approached this play from the opposite way, he gets a lot of space to get up the shot. But this isn't the only time he made Martin look bad.
This is actually a pretty good set by San Antonio. They're able to get Martin cutting to the rim without help defense nearby. Fortunately for us, Foye doesn't need any help, and instead blocks Martin himself. This is effectively the defensive equivalent of being posterized, I think.
Kevin had perhaps the quietest 37 points I've seen. He shot 50% from the field and made all 12 of his FTs, but he did it so smoothly that it was almost easy to miss how good he was. I think we will see this version of Durant a lot more in the next series.
This was a crucial play when every point mattered to stop the bleeding in the 4th quarter. Durant gets the defense off balance off of Adams' screen, and when he uses the slight hesitation at the 3-point line, no one else is available to step up at the rim. Kevin's length means that a mistake at the 3-point line like this is a dunk just two steps later.
This is a really tough and-1 finish that Durant had in the 4th quarter. He absorbs just enough contact to get the call, and is able to finish an extremely difficult floater.
This dagger to end the first half was just another punch when San Antonio was already on the mat. These are the kinds of shots we're used to from KD, and for him to be finding them at this point in the playoffs is fantastic. I have a feeling we're going to need some of these in the next series.
This game was incredibly impressive when you learn that Adams was playing through a migraine and had to be on IVs prior to the game. For him to post a double-double on 6-7 shooting despite being in rough physical condition is a testament to the toughness we already knew he had.
This is such a slick steal for a big man to grab. Adams slides over to help stop the roll man, and when Kanter recovers, he sort of sits behind baiting Duncan to throw the pass. At the last second, he pounces into the passing lane and picks off the ball.
This put back dunk is just ferocious. That is all.
These alley-oop passes always impress me. I don't think they're always called as a set play, but it seems like Russ just throws the ball up and trusts Adams to be there. This is a pass over 3 bigs, and Adams has limited working space. The chemistry between Russ and Adams has been a great development this season.
Adams looks a bit like Kanter in this play, except a lot more athletic. He slides into that position right at the corner of the paint to catch a dump-off pass if need be. By the way, give him a hockey assist to himself, as he made the pass to set up Foye in the corner.
So there you have it: the plays of the game for each guy. Now it's time to start prepping for the Golden State Warriors!