I don’t remember if it was after Kevin Durant finished that fast-break layup from Russell Westbrook’s perfect pitch-ahead pass, or if it was when he drilled that corner 3 with two minutes left, or at some other point.
But the way the arena felt, the energy pulsating out, the emotions happening everywhere — it was something like I can’t remember experiencing.
We all know the storyline entering tonight’s game. It was one for all of us to dissect and chatter on about in the build-up, and certainly one that cast a shadow over it. And as he struggled, shooting 4-12 in the first half, it was hard not to think: If it was to be Durant’s last home game, at least let it be a good one.
Not only was it, but Durant guaranteed there will be at least one more.
The way he closed the Spurs wasn’t just impressive; it was inspiring. He talks a lot about staying in the moment, and that’s what he did throughout the game, even down to that last dagger 3. Until the moment he checked out, Durant was engaged. He never let go of the game, looking up at the scoreboard and coming back at the Spurs.
Through much of the game, it had that kind of look that the Thunder didn’t have enough. Every punch OKC threw was met with a counter. Every run was answered, every momentum-swinging shot had a San Antonio response. The Thunder went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter. The Spurs closed the half on a 9-0 one. The Thunder tied the game in the third. The Spurs hit back with two 3s to lead by four going into the fourth.
It wasn’t until Durant got the game tied, and then finally an early fourth quarter lead that things started to solidify. The San Antonio offense was oddly discombobulated, and the Thunder were clicking through simple high-screen forced switching. Durant was sensation on both ends, outscoring the Spurs himself in the Spurs, while also throwing a blanket over Kawhi Leonard. In a twist, it was the Spurs who looked offensively lost, while the Thunder turned up the intensity and finally threw enough at them to wear them out.
“I don’t think we are a team that’s always perfect,” Billy Donovan said, “but I think we have gotten better and we have improved and we have grown. One thing about them I think is there’s a lot of fight, a lot of character and a lot of resiliency and today was good to see them battle and fight through.”
Of course with it now tied, it’s a best-of-three, with the Spurs having homecourt. The Thunder have to win at least once again in San Antonio, whether that’s in Game 5 or Game 7. Either way, the Thunder not only reestablished themselves in the series, they also seemed to figure out a few things.
What happens next is impossible to predict, but the Thunder have shown they’re in this thing. They have their chance. They were in this spot in 2012, and won Game 5. Then again in 2014, and got blown out.
Even though it’s a round earlier, it feels like the stakes are higher this time around. Either the Thunder come back home for Game 6 with a chance to advance, or facing elimination.
- The Thunder made some subtle adjustments in the second half to unlock Durant from the Spurs’ defensive handcuffs. First thing was more pindown stuff, getting him on the move moving towards the basket. “I got to the middle of the floor where I could see and survey and see where everyone was coming from,” Durant said. Next thing was Adams slipping the screen-and-roll, forcing switches by the Spurs, allowing Durant to isolate on the Spurs’ bigs. Good stuff.
- Durant: “They’re a great defensive team. And he’s a great defender. They have a great group — they know what their coach wants them to do on the defensive end and it’s on me to figure out the best way to be aggressive and score and also make plays. I was able to make shots tonight. Like I said, it’s a make or miss league.”
- The Thunder’s defense was astounding. This is the stat you need to know: The Spurs took only 12 3s. That’s it. Even better, they only made two of them, and they were on broken plays right at the end of the third. The Thunder were locked down in transition, and outside of Westbrook struggling to chase Tony Parker at time, completely shut down the Spurs.
- Durant played 43 minutes. He subbed out only for about a minute in the second half and when he did, he looked at Donovan and said, “Don’t take me out!” He sat briefly, and was right back in and played through the fourth until the final 30 seconds.
- All things considered, I think this might’ve been Durant’s best game ever. The fourth quarter was special, but don’t overlook that he shut down Kawhi Leonard who was scoreless in the fourth.
- Steven Adams was massive again. Basically: He’s influential, the Thunder win. He’s not, they don’t. He had 16 on 6-8 shooting. Westbrook: “He had one shot last game. That was on me.”
- Dion Waiters, man. The big thing the Thunder sold about him was “toughness.” And it shows. He kept the Thunder breathing in the first half, and hit some massive shots in the second. He had 17, and again, was critical in the Thunder winning. I don’t know if you should be excited about this, or terrified about it.
- Huge play by Westbrook hustling back to keep alive Waiters’ missed layup. Game-swinging kind of play.
- On Westbrook’s game: He shot 5-18, but he was intent on playmaking tonight. He had 15 assists, and worked the Thunder offense in a way he wasn’t able to in Game 3.
- You’ve got to hand it to Billy Donovan. He’s messed up the Cameron Payne thing, but he pulled the plug and went to Randy Foye late in the third and it paid off. Then he made the right choice to play Durant through the fourth. Then he stuck with Kanter and Adams to finish the game. Not to mention the other subtle tweaks throughout. A really excellent game from him.
- Donovan drinking the podium Gatorade legit cracks me up.
- Big night for narratives. The Spurs had only 12 assists. (Russell Westbrook had 15.) The Spurs scored only 16 in the fourth quarter. (Kevin Durant had 17.) The Spurs *blew* a big four-point fourth quarter lead. Kanter closed the game and was important.
- A playoff series is really about regret. After a win like this, you think about what happened before it, the what-if of not getting that rebound in Game 3 or not losing Parker in transition. It could be 3-1. Could be. It’s not, and not the Thunder have to atone for that in Game 5. Or Game 7.
Next up: Game 5 in San Antonio on Tuesday