In a controversial, wild finish, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to inch past the San Antonio Spurs, 98-97. The controversial play in question came during the last 13.5 seconds of the game. The Thunder were up 1. Dion Waiters was inbounding the ball. Ginobili got close to Waiters, and Waiters made contact with Ginobili. It was a non-call, though. Every Thunder player was being shadowed, so Waiters lobbed it to KD. KD mishandled the lob, and the ball was stolen by Danny Green. Green ran towards the basket, flanked by Ginobili and Leonard.
The only thing that stood in the way of the three player Spur attack was Steven Adams. And Adams stopped the play so well. Green lobbed the ball to Mills in the post, but Adams was there to meet. Mills kicked to Ginobili, who was picked up by Westbrook. Ginobili stepped past Westbrook with ease, but was met by Adams in the post. Using his 13 years of NBA experience, Manu Ginobili made the perfect pass out of the post, over to Patty Mills in the corner. Mills lined up for what would be a game-changing three. But Adams recovered all the way from the post and deterred the shot. Mills' three was way short. Aldridge got the rebound and tried to go up, but was stripped by Ibaka. Ibaka grabbed the ball and held onto it until the final buzzer. And well after the final buzzer as well.
During the final seconds, Steven Adams fell into the crowd and had his arm grabbed by a fan. Adams yanked his arm away. Inconsequential, but it was a thing.
View the entire final sequence here:
How did the Thunder get there?
Well, the Thunder held the lead throughout the game, save for about half of the second quarter. But the Thunder's lead was never bigger than 13, and it never really felt like OKC was going to pull away.
The final few minutes of the game were defense-first. KD faked around a screen to get into the post. The Spurs sunk in, and KD kicked it to Ibaka. Ibaka swung to Waiters, who hit an open corner three. It was Waiters only make of the game, putting the Thunder up by 5 with 2:20 to go.
Kawhi Leonard got a matchup with Waiters, and settled on burrowing into him and stopping for a mid-range jumper. It was no good. A Westbrook-adams pick and roll was broken up by the defensive duo of Kawhi and Duncan. Ibaka couldn't make anything of a post up, so the Thunder went to the emergency Westbrook three. No good. The Spurs went to the Parker-Aldridge pick and pop. Aldridge managed to set a back screen on Westbrook, getting totally free for the mid-range jumper. Thunder up 3, 1:27 to go.
Adams sets a weak side screen for KD. KD opts to hold the ball, then shoot a difficult shot over Danny Green. It rims out. Aldridge tries a post up of Ibaka, but is met by Adams in the paint. Leonard tries a fall away three with Waiters in his face, but it's no good. Timeout Thunder.
On the inbounds, KD was covered by Danny Green. KD got a off-ball pick from Adams, ran cross court, received the ball, and then did a quick change of direction to get past Green. From there, it was a simple floater that got KD the score. Thunder up 5, 33 seconds to go.
Tony Parker immediately drives into the lane, drawing the attention of Adams and Ibaka. But Parker did this insane spin pass to the trailing Aldridge, who nailed the open three. Thunder up 2, 26 seconds to go.
Westbrook is fouled twice, sent to the line with 18.3 seconds to go. Nails both free throws. Thunder up 4, 18 seconds to go.
Pop calls timeout. Manu tries to inbound the ball, but Pop calls timeout again before Manu even gets a chance. On the next inbound, Aldridge gets a weak side screen from Ginobili. Ibaka loses ground, and accelerates to catch up. Aldridge spots up for three, and Ibaka runs into him. Three shot foul. Aldridge makes all three. Thunder up 3, 13.5 seconds to go.
Timeout Thunder, and the rest is what you see above.
Box Score | Shot Chart/Play-by-Play | Popcorn Machine | LaMarcus Aldridge 41 Pts Highlights | Russell Westbrook 29 Pts Highlights | Kevin Durant 28 Pts Highlights | Steven Adams 12 Pts Highlights | Russell Westbrook Postgame Interview | LaMarcus Aldridge Postgame Press Conference | Inside the NBA Halftime Show | Inside the NBA Postgame Reaction
Why did the Thunder win this game?
I think the thing that swung this game was Popovich's hubris. Coach Pop was able to get away with matching up Leonard on Westbrook and Green on KD last game. But Danny Green certainly can't handle KD on a regular basis, and KD can pass out of double teams well. So the Thunder always had a reliable offensive option down the stretch.
I've also got to give credit to Steven Adams and Dion Waiters, the two role players who really stepped up in the final minutes. Adams had a big dunk just before Waiters' three, and was essential on that last defensive possession. Waiters, along with his big three, forced Leonard into two perimeter misses. Everyone calls the Thunder a superstar team, but guys like Waiters and Adams step up when the Thunder are looking truly great.
How did the Thunder defend the Spurs?
LaMarcus Aldridge had 41 points tonight, which was just ridiculous. Billy Donovan tried to counter Aldridge with Ibaka and Adams, but neither defender had any effect. There were even a few plays where Enes Kanter was matched up with Aldridge, and the results were predictably disastrous. Aldridge is just so skilled when he gets the ball on the wing, and has a plethora of moves he can use to get around his opponent. Ibaka was too light, getting pushed out of the way as Aldridge established position. By contrast, Adams was too slow, and Aldridge got whatever shot he wanted. I don't understand why Nick Collison couldn't have come in and provided some of his usual brand of defense.
Still, I did admire that Donovan stuck to his guns throughout the entire game. The Thunder rarely doubled Aldridge at all, or any Spur for that matter. It was all about forcing San Antonio to make plays off the dribble. Aldridge could do it, but literally everyone else had trouble.
Kawhi Leonard was kept away from his usual mid-range spots, going 7 of 18 overall. Leonard extremely effective off of screens, because he could usually get the space he needed. But when Leonard was forced into one on one situations, he struggled. The Thunder used Waiters and Roberson to counter Leonard, with both getting about equal time. Waiters stoutness kept Leonard out of the paint, while Roberson's length bothered Leonard on the perimeter. The Thunder were also good about keeping Leonard contained in transition.
Danny Green is an example of a player who struggled because the Thunder refused to double team. Sure, Green had his moments, like when he hit back to back threes in the fourth quarter. But generally, when Green was forced to make a move off the dribble, he missed the shot. Also, the Thunder were able to track Green better, because they didn't double. The same goes for David West and Tim Duncan. Because the Thunder left no one open, West and Duncan always had a defender to deal with. Duncan finished 1 of 8, while west was 3 of 8. And Kanter only got 19 minutes, so the Thunder generally had good defenders out in the center and forward positions.
Patty Mills also had a bad game, shooting 2 of 9. But this was just the Thunder letting him shoot. Sometimes Mills will get a lot of momentum and really surprise you with a great performance. Other times, you don't feel too nervous about leaving him open.
How Westbrook and Durant found their effectiveness
Russell Westbrook was effective at the basket and from mid-range, though he finished 1 of 6 from three. Mostly, Westbrook was a good shooter when he was able to draw a mismatch with a Spur big. If Aldridge had to guard Westbrook on the wing, it might has well have been an automatic score. Of course, Westbrook was terrific around screens getting to the basket, as well as handling transition. 10 assists to 3 turnovers, ideal performance.
Kevin Durant also thrived in mismatches, though he was mainly able to push away smaller players for shots. Durant had a couple of impressive looking transition dunks, as well as a couple of nice shots off of screens. Moving forward, I'd like to see Westbrook's threes go to KD. KD was only 1 of 2 from beyond the arc today!
I didn't give enough credit or credence to Serge Ibaka, clearly. Ibaka was the one who contested the most shots overall. But let's also hear it for KD, who had 11 contests. I accuse KD's defense of being lazy sometimes, but it was really on point tonight.
Roberson led ball deflections with three, while Adams led screen assists with two. It's evidence of why these guys are getting minutes, and I look forward to analyzing more hustle stats down the road. (Hustle stats are new to me, too!)
- Steven Adams had three pick and roll scores tonight, as well as a dunk off of a loose ball. He's so reliable near the rim. I don't blame Adams for not going to the flip shot.
- Serge Ibaka had 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting, and 2 of 5 from three. The Spurs were pretty much willing to leave Ibaka alone and let him do his thing. I'd like to see OKC force Ibaka the ball a bit more, but I'm just glad he's getting his opportunities. There probably won't be much post play at all from Ibaka in this series, unless he gets time against David West.
- Andre Roberson bricked a single three tonight. No surprise scores for him against the wily Spurs.
- Enes Kanter had an unmemorable, but important, 12 points in 19 minutes. I'm not expecting Kanter to be an All-Star in this series, but I am hoping he can have more performances like this. Come in, do the pick and roll, and get your offensive rebounds. Maybe a jumper or two. But we need Adams defense down the stretch, and Kanter just isn't going to stampede over Tim Duncan. Unfortunately.
- Cameron Payne went 0-3 in 7 minutes of action, and committed two fouls. The shots were open. As much as I love Cameron Payne, this is why he's not getting playoff minutes. The Thunder can't afford bad decision making on the offensive or defensive end. I know that it can't get much worse than this though, and Payne certainly has the potential. For now though, I'm more comfortable with having Randy Foye game manage the offense. At least Payne had a steal.
- Anthony Morrow was 1 of 3, with one shot over a smaller defender in mid-range being his only make. Morrow's defense wasn't pretty. I mean, Morrow is what he is, and didn't get enough opportunities to shoot. But I'm not sure whether his offensive benefit outweighs his defensive shortcomings. Especially if he has to guard someone like Ginobili.
- Dion Waiters only make came late in the game. Dude certainly knows how to show up when you least expect it. Waiters' defensive impact was off the charts, though.
- Collison, Singler, Foye- DNP, CD. It was Foye's first DNP-CD of the year, period. It was Collison's first DNP of the playoffs. And Singler hasn't been in the rotation since Game 2 of the first round.
- Manu Ginobili shot 5 of 8 tonight. Ginobili was able to score on Morrow a couple of times specifically. But generally, Ginobili was just good at working off the weak side, and using his burst of speed at the right time. Hard to contain a player that's been doing it for as long as he has.
- KD and Westbrook argued during a timeout, after Danny Green hit consecutive threes. Surprise! None of it meant anything and they were slapping hands soon after. I'm just glad they hold each other accountable. See the incident below:
- Fans arrived late night at Will Rogers World Airport to greet the Thunder as they returned to OKC. KD joined the crowd.
- "We tried this time." -Steven Adams, on why the Thunder won this game
Thunder Wonder: Steven Adams, no better defender in the clutch
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, for abusing those big man mismatches so well
Thunder Blunder: Cameron Payne, get those nerves back in order
Thunder Plunderer: LaMarcus Aldridge, master of the ISO
Next Game: Versus the San Antonio Spurs, Friday, May 6th, 8:30 PM Central Daylight Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!