Oklahoma City Thunder: Spurs just wore out
Here’s what happened to the Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, and really in the series in total. The Spurs just wore out.
San Antonio got up 2-0 in the series, then the Thunder won four straight from a team that had stretched its winning streak to 20. In the finale, the Spurs led 34-18 late in the first quarter and still were up 63-48 at halftime. But the Thunder dominated the third quarter (32-18), then won the fourth quarter (27-18) as well. And it’s clear what afflicted the Spurs.
It’s not just that San Antonio was the aged team, with 36-year-old Tim Duncan, 34-year-old Manu Ginobili and 30-year-old Tony Parker. It’s that to contend with the Thunder, the Spurs had to go all in.
Which means Gregg Popovich, who loves him some reserves, had to shorten his bench. Look at the minutes played in Game 6. Parker played 41:33. Rookie Kawhi Leonard played 40:43. Duncan played 40:36, two thirds of which he was getting beat on by Kendrick Perkins. Manu Ginobili played 35:49. Stephen Jackson, no spring chicken himself at age 34, played 32:04, his most extensive action since Feb. 8, when he was a Milwaukee Buck.
Pop knew he had to extend his players. Had to risk tiring out Parker and Duncan and Co., else the young Thunder would zip past the younger Spurs. Danny Green, who had spent most of the year as a starter, played just 3:44. DeJuan Blair, who started 62 games, played 35 seconds. Tiago Splitter played 39 seconds.
Meanwhile, Scotty Brooks shortened his bench, too, and played just eight guys. Foreman Scotty never took out Kevin Durant, who became a 48-minute man. And Russell Westbrook played 41:25, which is pretty close to normal for the playoffs. But Brooks spread out the other minutes. James Harden played 35:05, Serge Ibaka played 32:04, Perkins 27:31, Thabo Sefolosha 25:54 and Derek Fisher 22:56. Only Nick Collison played sparingly, 7:04, and that’s because of lineup considerations — Brooks went small the majority of the game.
The effect was clear. The Thunder had younger legs — and by game’s end had much fresher legs. The Spurs needed to rest more but couldn’t afford to. Parker had to keep playing. Duncan had to keep playing. Ginobili had to keep playing.
“Probably they were more energetic,” Ginobili said of the difference in the two halves.
No duh. That’s the law of physics. “They played better defense, they were more aggressive, and we were not as sharp, as lucid, to find the open teammate. We played in an up-tempo mode (in the first half), and we found easier shots. In the second half, we kind of stopped, and we couldn’t find anything, anything easy really.”
That’s what happens when energy flows through one team and not the other. One of the themes of this Thunder team is that it might be too young to win. Turns out the opposite is true. The Thunder was too young to lose.
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