Before Kevin Durant decided to destroy San Antonio's entire roster of forwards in a Jordanesque 4th quarter sequence in which he used the same screen rub to get the ball in the middle of the floor for 16 4th quarter points (on the way to 36 on 13 of 20 shooting, 8 assists, 1 turnover), the game belonged to the OKC Thunder big men. Serge Ibaka was a perfect 11 of 11 from the field (feathering the net with 5 uncontested 20 footers), Kendrick Perkins was frisky with an unexpected 15 and 9, and Nick Collison played an energetic 19 minutes with 8 points that seemed bigger than the box score.
Russell Westbrook played company man and lockdown defender, sublimating his game with only 10 shots, suggesting that he might do that more often if his teammates will hit open looks with some regularity.
Heading back to San Antonio, the savvy Spurs are hardly panicking, and the Thunder know that unless they can grab a game near the three foot ditch that the city of San Antonio has convinced us possesses touristic value, the series will be a predictable 7 game exercise in what might have been.
Tonight decides the series.
Despite their recent momentum, the concerns for the Thunder are straightforward and daunting. First, it's the city of San Antonio, where the Spurs are nearly unbeatable. It took the OKC big men shooting 22 of 25 from the field to win Game 4 in OKC, but in fairness, those shots weren't so much lucky as wide ass open. San Antonio hedged hard on OKC's trio and the rest of the Thunder roster responded the way paid NBA players should - by hitting open shots that they drill in practice every day. The Thunder also have the lesser coach and there's the very real possibility that a slow adjustment to a Popovich in-game tweak, or an overreaction to a ruse, could be the difference in what is now a best 2 out of 3 game series where the Spurs firmly hold home court advantage. A host of historical statistics favor the Spurs right now.
The Spurs concern is something more subtle, IMO.
Sailor Ripley was telling me about a conversation he had with Mike Montgomery, former Golden State and Stanford coach, now at Cal, who, when he asked if a certain player (I think Casey Jacobsen?) could get his shot off in the NBA consistently, Montogomery shrugged and said,"Yeah, sure." Long pause. "But not in a NBA Playoff game."
The playoff defensive gear - or lack of same - is the reason a brick-shooting Memphis team was feared by the high seeds, the Clippers were dismissed out of hand, and the Spurs are seemingly coming down to earth after regular season dominance. Playoff defense separates the regular season slog from the postseason. The Spurs collectively seem to lack an extra defensive gear, at least when the other team punishes San Antonio's wily defensive hedges and executes reasonable offense. SA has been a turnstile for the Thunder offense when OKC shares the ball, runs actual basketball plays, and pushes it in transition.
That doesn't mean SA can't D up. It does mean that they can't impose defensive will on anyone that's skilled and refuses to let to let it happen. The Spurs best defense is exhaustion from making people chase their offense and Popovich's ability to distill opponent scoring threats into actionable scouting reports for a roster of largely mediocre defenders. That's not going to get it done when Kevin Durant gets the ball where he wants it and the rest of the Thunder come up big like every other NBA champion there ever was. If Spurs Fan has any concern, other than foraging for their requisite daily carbohydrate intake, it should be this.
Can't wait to see what wins out tonight.