Series in Review: The Disruption of the Spurs
Despite being outscored, out-shot, and out-assisted. Despite giving the ball away 5 more times per game than the San Antonio Spurs. Despite not having home-court and losing game 3 at home after stealing one in San Antonio in Game 1. Despite the world declaring the clinical precision of of the Spurs would dissect the Thunder.
Despite all that, the Thunder rebounded from a Game 1 massacre to win four of the next five, including two on the road, and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
While the statistics generally favored the Spurs, the fact that the Thunder won the series in a 6 games is a testament of the characteristics that make the Thunder different than every other NBA team. Rather than out-scheme an opponent, the Thunder rely on athleticism, energy, effort, and, importantly, the talent of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. For example, it’s not an ornate scheme when Westbrook gets a transition layup by grabbing a defensive rebound and attacking a defense on its heels.
That is the key to the Thunder: disruption. It’s been the catalyst for their success for years, and the players on this team are built to do that very thing. It’s no mistake that a player like Steven Adams so perfectly fits this team. He’s not a player who relies on precision, but instead on engaging in that extra effort to get a rebound, to box out, to frustrate an opponent, to charge hard to the basket in the pick and roll.
And now, the Thunder will get a chance to disrupt the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
THE BEST PLAYER
Russell Westbrook. Even though Westbrook did not shoot the ball well (37.6% from the field), and even though he turned the ball over at a high rate (4.5 per game), Westbrook is the embodiment of the Thunder’s attacking style. Sure, Kevin Durant is amazing and had a vintage Game 4 performance, but more often than not, the Thunder’s success hinged upon Westbrook. When Westbrook checked out, things would, to quote Coach Popovich, “go to crap.” It’s no mistake that the Thunder’s Game 3 meltdown involved multiple Westbrook turnovers. But even through the mistakes, Westbrook was the engine that could and fueled the Thunder’s series win over the Spurs.
For the series, Westbrook scored 25.2 points, dished 10.5 assists, and snatched 6.5 rebounds per game.
THE WORST PLAYER
Cameron Payne. Leading up to the playoffs (and even in the first round), Cameron Payne was known more for his pre-game routine than his in-game performance, because, well, he didn’t have many in-game performances. But in a somewhat perplexing move, Coach Billy Donovan turned to Payne as the back-up PG for most of the series. Payne, disappointingly, looked like a rookie and struggled. He shot just 3-16, including 1-8 from three, and almost had as many turnovers (7) as made baskets and assists combined (8).
THE BEST PERFORMANCE
Kevin Durant in Game 4. Remember when I mentioned Durant’s epic Game 4 performance? Well, I’m going to mention it again. After the Thunder fell behind 87-85 with 9:52 to go in the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant almost literally exploded. Durant scored 17 points in the final 9:52, not missing a shot (except for two free throws), as the Thunder ran away from the Spurs with a stirring fourth-quarter comeback. On the night, Durant dropped 41 points on 14-25 shooting, and added 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
THE WORST PERFORMANCE
Cameron Payne in Game 3. Credit to Payne for giving maximum effort despite a minimum result, but yeah, that results were not good. In 9 minutes, Payne shot just 2-7, including an oh-fer from three, along with 2 rebounds, no assists, and 2 turnovers.
THE BEST PLAY
After the Spurs clawed their way back to within 11 with just over 3 minutes to go, Tim Duncan appeared to have an easy path to the basket to cut the lead to single digits. But Ibaka swatted Duncan’s layup, and Westbrook pushed the ball up to a streaking Kevin Durant to emphatically shut the door on the Spurs’ furious comeback.
THE WORST PLAY
Game 3 was demoralizing. After a flurry of stupid turnovers allowed the Spurs to take a 7 point lead with just over a minute left, the Thunder miraculously fought back to pull within 2. After forcing a miss, Ibaka allowed Kawhi Leonard to get inside position and grab the game-ending offensive rebound.