The NBA Dribbled Out

Game 6: San Antonio at Oklahoma City

I’ve been up all night digesting this game 6 in Oklahoma City. It had all the usual narrative plot points of your favorite summer movies: the “passing of the guard,” I’ve mentioned before; the use of the superstars to sell tickets as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all brought their A game; a come-from-behind story in the climactic final scene; a teary-eyed mother hugging her son and just beaming with so much pride the whole court lit up and it got a little dusty at Groove bar where I was watching the latter stages of the game. Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals is the reason you watch basketball, to be a part of history.  Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder became just the third team in history to win 4-straight after going down 0-2 and advanced to their first ever NBA Finals. It was quite a road that got them there, and the final game was just as rocky.

First, San Antonio, the four-time former champions and never one to back down from a fight, came out smoking. Duncan and Parker were equally impressive and Captain Jack was unconscious from the field. They quickly built a 14-point 1st quarter lead, which took the amped up crowd out of it.

Even though Russell Westbrook threw down one of the nastier dunks of the postseason, the Thunder were flat and many thought they were wilting in an elimination game because they weren’t used to their new position as frontrunners.

Jackson’s 3’s continued as he hit two more in the second quarter, and the Thunder took a 15 point lead into the second half.

Popovich finally had some positive things to say to his team:

That’s how we played all year. That right there. That’s how we played at both ends of the court. Active on D; helping, aware; good pace; moving the basketball; hitting the open man; attacking them. Great job.”

In the second half, the young Thunder came alive like Victor Frankenstein had breathed life into their clunky and inert parts. The Thunder started passing the ball more and settling for fewer jumpers; they were getting active on defense, which has the nice side-effect of arousing their offense and getting easier buckets.

In the 3rd quarter, the Thunder made up 14 points and only trailed the Spurs by 1 heading into the decisive 4th.

The 3rd quarter was Scott Brooks’ time to give a little speech. It wasn’t exactly Popovichian in drive and second-listen hilarity, but it stoked the Thunder flames just enough:

This is where we need to be right? It’s because of the body language; the spirit of competition. You guys are competing, right? That’s why we play. We play like that all the time.”

Yes they do.

But the Spurs don’t lie down, they never have; Popovich and Duncan and Parker and Manu and Captain Jack wouldn’t allow it. Jackson hit another big 3 in the 3rd and Duncan threw down a dunk like the last decade hadn’t sapped him of some of his strength. They weren’t letting the Thunder get past them just yet.

There were a lot of free throws in the 4th quarter and the Thunder made most of them. Derek Fisher hit a big three, and Russell Westbrook had a big 3-point play off a beautiful feed from Harden on the wing. Durant didn’t get a field goal in the 4th, but he hit hit 5 of 7 free throws and spotted Harden for a big 3 late. The Thunder took the lead and it vacillated for a couple minutes before a Harden lay-in with 9:32 left gave the Thunder the lead for good.

Despite not getting a field goal in the 4th, Kevin Durant had the cherry on top of the night.

After a Parker lay-in with 1:15 remaining cut the Thunder lead to 4, both teams traded misses. For the Spurs, they got three chances: a Duncan dunk that was blocked, a Stephen Jackson 3 that came up short, and a Tony Parker 3 that missed right; all of this happened with under minute remaining. The Spurs just couldn’t get a shot to fall when they desperately needed it. Finally, after Parker’s missed 3, Harden pulled down the rebound and gave the ball to Durant at the top of the key on the other end of the court. The Spurs made a move to foul him and stop the clock, which had ticked under 30 seconds at this point, but rather than take the foul, Durant curled a bounce pass around the advancing Spurs to a cutting Kendrick Perkins. An enthusiastic dunk followed, and it was all but over with 24 seconds remaining.

Durant found his mom at court-side and gave her the most emotional hug I’ve ever seen as a game was still going on.

Less than a couple minutes later and it was over for real. The Oklahoma City Thunder had advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals. Durant raised the Western Conference Championship trophy as his other family—his teammates—and the Oklahoma City crowd cheered with delirious delight.

For the night, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both 9 for 17 from the field. Russ had 25 and Durant had 34 on the strength of 4/8 3-point shooting and 12 of 15 free throws. James Harden out-played Manu Ginobili again, scoring 16 points on an efficient 9 shots (including another big 3 late). Derek Fisher was the strong veteran presence they brought him over for, scoring 5 points in the last 5 minutes to help preserve the Thunder lead.

The Spurs are warriors, and refused to go quietly even on the road in front of a crazy crowd and after having lost 3 straight when they had control of the series less than a week ago. Tony Parker had an incredible game in the loss, scoring 29 points and dishing out 12 assists. A lot of those assists went to Tim Duncan, who—when on the verge of defeat in the series—responded with one of his best performances of the playoffs: scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. Champions always bring it when it matters and despite the loss, the Spurs are still champions for the last decade and a half of top-tier play and multiple rings to show for it. I will miss them in the Finals (I am probably the only one). 

But tonight was about Kevin Durant and the Thunder family Sam Presti and Scott Brook has brought to small-market Oklahoma City. They’re going on to the NBA Finals and a date with immortality.

Final: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 107 - San Antonio Spurs 99

The Thunder win the series 4-2

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