Thunder Win 4 of 5 Against Spurs, Move on to Conference Finals

Thunder Win 4 of 5 Against Spurs, Move on to Conference Finals

Let me remind you: Vegas only gave the Thunder a 21% chance of winning this series.

In case you’re still in a state of shock and/or drunken stupor from last night, here’s another reminder: the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the Western Conference Finals. It’s easy to start looking forward to the series at hand against the Warriors, but for now, let’s bask in the moment a bit.

Through three quarters, the Thunder shut down the Spurs. Durant, on 50% shooting, scored 37, adding nine boards. Westbrook was also phenomenal, with 28 points and 11 rebounds. The pair played confidently and aggressively, and seem to be peaking at a pivotal time in the playoffs.

Things got a little hairy in the fourth quarter, though. A 28 point thunder lead quickly shrank to 11 late in the game, but the Thunder’s Fourth Quarter Meltdown™ never came to be. Backbreaking plays, like this Ibaka block turning into an easy transition runout, widened the gap and brought the crowd back into the game:

It would be a shame to ignore the contributions of the role players. Andre Roberson had arguably the best and most important game of his career last night, scoring 14 points on 5-8 shooting (3-5 from deep), and adding two blocks, a steal, and seven rebounds. Steven Adams, a veritable Spurs-killer at this point, had 15 points and 11 rebounds, five of which were offensive rebounds to extend possessions. Kudos to the big man for playing through a migraine and acting like it was nothing.

This putback jam by the big Kiwi really exemplified his energy and presence in the series:

As I’ve said before, Adams has the chance to be the X-factor that helps push this team over the hump. Keep an eye on the international matchup of Andrew Bogut and Steven Adams in the next series. The Aussie-Kiwi matchup has been heated so far in the regular season, so I predict some conflict in just a few short games in each other’s vicinity.

The six game series between the Thunder and Spurs really goes to show that in the playoffs, the regular season becomes irrelevant. The Thunder were perceived to underperform in the regular season despite the fact that they won 55 games attests to their intrinsic talent. Conversely, despite their underperformance in the playoffs, the Spurs posted an impressive 67-15 record in the regular season. Both teams are obviously quite good, and arguably even great. The fact that the Thunder ran away with this series—winning four out of the last five games—has less to do with the quality of the two teams and more to do with which team peaked at the right time.

It’s really unfair to the Spurs that they drew this matchup in just the second round, but such is the nature of the lethal Western Conference.

The outcome of the series had everything do with coaching decisions. Billy Donovan deserves a ton of credit for his gutsy adjustments against Greg Popovich. His offensive adjustments, such as using Enes Kanter and Steven Adams in tandem in large, crucial minutes down the stretch were key. The San Antonio Spurs simply couldn’t handle either, and Durant and Westbrook’s spacing benefited fro m it. Quite simply (and perhaps too reductively), Donovan out coached Popovich.

I never thought I’d write a sentence saying that an OKC coach outdid a San Antonio coach, but here we are. Respect must be given to the Spurs. Despite Pop being (for show) the league’s resident curmudgeon, San Antonio is as classy and respectable of an organization in professional sports. They win and lose in grace, and must be commended for always paying respect when respect is due. Kudos, Spurs.

It will be interesting to see if Donovan can translate his ‘tall-ball’ lineup against the Warriors. Draymond Green will likely be able to a wrench in OKC’s big rotation. The Warriors are the polar opposite stylistically of a team like the Spurs, so the Thunder may not match up as well.

For the second straight time, the Thunder are poised to be in the most interesting series of the playoffs. They’re peaking at the right time, and seem to be confident, focused, and energized. It’s safe to assume Billy Donovan and crew have already lost sleep trying to figure out how to contain Curry, Thompson, and Green.

Game 1 is slated for Monday, May 16th at 8:00 P.M. CST in Oakland.

(Thanks to Reddit user 2ndSplashCousin for the videos and to basketball-reference.com for the stats)

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