What a difference a game can make!
Russell Westbrook was in full control from the opening tip and his 29-point, 10-assist, 7-rebound effort was the driving force behind a tide turning victory as the Thunder won game 2, 98-97, and evened the series at 1-1. Kevin Durant chipped in an efficient 28 points and tallied seven boards and four dimes as well. Lastly, Steven Adams did phenomenal work on both ends of the court, finishing with 12 points and 17 boards and was a big reason why the previously porous OKC defense solidified in game 2.
After looking like a junior varsity team in Game 1, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked once again like one of the elite teams in the NBA. Things started radically opposite of the series opener, as this time it was the San Antonio Spurs that couldn't get a shot to drop early. The Spurs began the game going 1-13 in the first five minutes. However, it was turnovers that kept the Thunder from building a bigger lead; they had built their lead up to as much as 11 before Gregg Popovich had seen enough. Pop went to his bench, replacing every starter except LaMarcus "Thunder Killer" Aldridge. That second group closed the gap to within eight after Manu Ginobili hit the first three of the night for the Spurs at the end of the first quarter. That was quickly followed by back-to-back threes by Patty Mills and Danny Green that brought San Antonio right back into the game.
Aldridge was the rock for the Spurs, finishing the night with 41 points on 15-21 shooting, as neither Serge Ibaka or Steven Adams could do nothing to slow him down. However, this time out Aldridge did not get the same help from the rest of the Spurs, as they collectively shot 25-73 from the floor and only 5-22 from 3-point range.
The Thunder put their stamp on the tempo early in the game as Russell Westbrook started the game with three quick one-on-Spurs fast break opportunities that resulted in five OKC points. The faster tempo had an effect on both teams early as the two teams combined for 15 turnovers in the game's first 20 minutes. OKC saw their hot start cool off as they were only 3-9 halfway through the second quarter and the Spurs saw their shots drop more often. 2014 Serge Ibaka showed up and he was a much-needed presence in the defensive post as he had two first half blocks. The Thunder went into halftime with a three point edge and a combined 31 points from their two superstars.
The beginning of the second half started much like the first as Westbrook steamrolled his way into the paint and got everyone involved. My notes read as follow: "SERGE!, RUSS! TURNOVERS!, KD at the 4!!!" Despite all my exclamations and excitement the Spurs finished the quarter on a 10-2 run to head into the 4th quarter down only 1 point. As TNT once again opened with the mention of the number of leads OKC has dwindled away over the course of the season--thankfully Marv Albert was nice enough to point out that of those 15 instances the Thunder's largest lead was six points, but I digress--OKC tried to take advantage of Kawhi Leonard not being on the floor and have KD as the main ball handler. With Durant running point, OKC quickly pushed the lead to 85-76.
Yet, the Spurs continued to fight back. With the Thunder only ahead by two points, Dion Waiters looked to about seal the game for the Thunder with a huge corner three to push the team up five. Unfortunately, the Thunder still could do nothing with Aldridge, as he scored the Spurs' final eight points, including a three and then forcing a foul by Serge Ibaka on another 3-point attempt.
The Thunder had the ball, a one point lead, and an opportunity to seal the game. Then chaos ensued. Dion Waiters worked to inbound the ball but a series of questionable non-calls, each more egregious than the last, ensued. To wit:
1. Waiters may not have inbounded the ball in time. This is always going to be a tough call at the ends of games, but it was close.
2. Manu Ginobili stepped over the out-of-bounds line, which would have been a violation. However, this is hardly ever called, given the constant movement of defenders, and it would have been shocking to see it called here.
Never the less, Waiters argued this post-game, and he appears to have a point.
3. As Waiters' time nearly had expired, he elbows Ginobili in the chest to clear out space to make an inbounds pass. It is this play that has everyone up in arms, and TNT color commentator Chris Webber hit on this point for a solid 2 minutes after the game was over.
4. With the ball in the air it looked as if KD corralled it before being fouled by Danny Green, but no call was made here either. We've seen this type of play before, and it has gone both ways; here, the refs made no call, and Green got the steal. Green kicked it ahead to Patty Mills. Thankfully Westbrook and Adams had the presence of mind to get back on defense and prevent an easy layup.
Mills found Ginobili who then tossed it back to Mills in the corner for a three that might've been tipped by a closing out Adams, as the shot missed badly.
But wait, there was one more missed call:
5. Adams was clearly grabbed and held by a Spurs fan, which should have resulted in a technical.
whoa whoa whoa AND Steven Adams had his arm grabbed by a fan on that last play pic.twitter.com/2EwdJuwMnv— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) May 3, 2016
In the end, the Thunder got a much-needed win, not only to even the series, but to restore within themselves the confidence they need to compete against the Spurs.
The series returns to Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Friday night.