Thunder 109, Spurs 103
Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday's Game 4 win over San Antonio.
- It wasn't always pretty, but the Thunder got it done. And the Thunder did it a number of different ways. First, it was defense. Then it was offense. First the bigs carried the load. Then Kevin Durant simply took over. The mix has to make the Thunder feel good about this win. OKC set the tone, dictated the pace and was dominant down the stretch. We've talked a lot about how the Thunder has won playing myriad ways throughout this postseason. Well, tonight's game was a microcosm of nearly all of those types of games. That has to build confidence heading back to San Antonio for Game 5.
- LeBron James is King James. How 'bout we just start calling KD King Closer? You won't find me in the camp that wags his finger at LeBron saying 'See, you can't do that.' Bron can and he has. But Durant just does it more consistently. He does it more consistently than James, more consistently than Kobe, more consistently than Melo and Wade and Paul and Rose. And he does it in different ways. Durant is equally adept at game-winners as he is at ripping your heart out one sensational shot at a time. It's a beautiful thing to watch. When the moment comes, you know it, you can feel it. The best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy it.
- Durant scored 18 of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter. He scored 16 straight Thunder points during a five-minute stretch, bumping a four-point Thunder lead to nine with 1:32 remaining.
- Our man Berry Tramel asking Spurs coach Gregg Popovich about Durant after the game: "He seemed to take over the game." Pop: "It didn't seem like that, that was a fact. I was there. I saw it. He was great."
- More from Pop: "We tried to do a couple of different things, but his play was better than anything we did defensively, that's for sure. He finished it off in fine fashion."
- Someone asked KD about becoming the league's closer. And he had a great answer. "Yeah, I would like that," Durant said. "I just want to be calm and composed and poised in those situations and make the right basketball play. There are times when I need to pass to my teammates and times when I need to score. I just try to take it on, try not to be nervous. Sometimes, it’s nerve-racking playing those games like that. But I just try to calm down and go with my instincts."
- Spurs guard Gary Neal on KD: "He wasn’t second in MVP votes for nothing."
- We saw a combined 66 points in the fourth quarter. That's incredible for a playoff game. I honestly don't know it these high-scoring fourth quarters are great offense or just terrible defense. San Antonio's explosion in Game 1 definitely was the latter.
- For as great as KD was in the fourth, the Thunder wouldn't have had a shot tonight had it not been for its big men. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison carried OKC early on. I mean carried 'em. They finished with 49 points on 22-for-25 shooting. In the first half, that trio had 33 points on 15-for-17 shooting. Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden had combined to score just 16 on 5-for-17 shooting in the first half.
- Pop on 22-for-25: "If you did a shooting drill with nobody guarding you, I don’t think you could do that."
- By no means was the Thunder's big three garbage in the first half, however. In fact, without their sound decision-making and precise passing, the Thunder's bigs wouldn't have had an opportunity to be so effective offensively. The Thunder had 14 assists in the first half. Durant (four), Harden (three) and Westbrook (two) combined for nine of them. The drive-and-kick and drive-and-dump off was working tonight. And credit the Thunder for continuing to use it.
- The Thunder's 27 assists for the game tied the team's season high.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks: "Give our playmakers a lot of credit. They were demanding a lot of attention, like Kevin, Russell and James will do, and they were finding open shots for Serge and open and drop-off passes for Perk. That's what we've been doing. I give those guys a lot of credit for executing it."
- Ibaka had an even more poignant quote. "They don't trust us that we can make the extra pass," he said. Keep that in mind. The team that does it the best two out of three times will win this series.
- I've had to shake my head at Ibaka after every shot he's missed in this series prior to tonight, 14 out of 23 to be exact. Some of those have been bunnies. Most have been from mid-range. With every miss, he was letting the Spurs off the hook. He's right. The Spurs don't trust the Thunder to make the extra pass. And if the extra pass lands in Ibaka or Perk's hands the Spurs essentially are saying 'We dare you to shoot." And therein lies the point. Ibaka has to make it for the Thunder to be at its very best.
- Tonight, Ibaka made them. Matter of fact, tonight Ibaka was simply incredible. The guy didn't miss. Literally, the guy did...not...miss. He went 11-for-11 from the floor for a career-high 26 points. The record for the most made field goals without a miss in a playoff game is 12-for-12, set by Larry McNeill in 1975. Scott Wedman is the only other player in NBA history to go 11-for-11 in a playoff game. He did it in 1985.
- I'll shoot you straight as I always do here. I've never heard of Larry McNeill or Scott Wedman.
- Durant has gotten pretty good at upstaging his teammates, huh? What's that, like that 14th time this season the game ball was going to someone else before Durant took it and ran home with it?
- Ibaka on his performance tonight: "Maybe a surprise for you, but not a surprise for my teammates or myself. I work hard every day, so for you I understand it's a surprise."
- You saw his outfit tonight. Now check out Mr. Westbrook's shoes. Even got a side view for y'all.
- There was a ton of nervous energy in the building early in the fourth quarter. The Spurs had just trimmed a 15-point lead with 5 1/2 minutes left in the third to four going into the final period, and things were getting tight. It felt for a moment like this could be another Spurs comeback win. But the Thunder stuck with it and did what it had to do to get out of here tied at two games apiece. As for the tension in the building, it was right up there with Game 6 against the Lakers two years ago. This place was on pins and needles.
- Stephen Jackson didn't care for the Spurs' comeback effort, and his indifference to it produced the quote of the night: "We shouldn't get any credit for playing hard. It's the Western Conference Finals, you're supposed to play hard. I mean, if you're scared go to church. Tomorrow is Sunday."
- Here's something pretty amazing, something I didn't think the Thunder would stand a chance against. San Antonio has shot a staggering 41-for-99 from 3-point range. That's 41.4 percent. The Spurs' are succeeding at their biggest threat to the Thunder and still this series is knotted at two games apiece.
- Thabo Sefolosha is taking Tony Parker completely out of this series. Nothing more needs to be said.
- About 5 1/2 minutes in, it was San Antonio 13, Kendrick Perkins 5.
- During those first five minutes, when Perk had more shot attempts than any other Thunder player, it looked like the Thunder had never seen him play before. Looked like they found some big, mean-looking black dude on the street and signed him up figuring he could play center. But a funny thing happened. While everybody was squirming in their seats on every touch Perk got, Perk was actually making the Spurs pay. And you've got to think those early looks boosted his confidence and fueled his desire to bring his A-game in other areas.
- When Perk checked out for the first time, he had nine points and six boards.
- Duncan had a good offensive game for the first time after coming into tonight shooting 31 percent. You figured he would. He was hesitant in Game 3 and clearly had to be more aggressive for the Spurs to be successful. He finished with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists and a block...And I still think Perk played him fairly well.
- Westbrook has been wonderful defensively, too. What I like most is that rather than allow his pride to take a hit when Brooks stuck Sefolosha on Parker, Westbrook stayed focused, stayed locked in and has been an absolute animal off the ball. His ball denial has been a difference-maker. And he's hustling all over the court, finding ways to make plays while his shot isn't falling.
- Westbrook was just 2-for-10 tonight for seven points. Again, let me shoot you straight. I had know idea he was just 2-for-10 or that had only seven points until I looked down at the stat sheet just now...at 1:18 a.m. That's how effective Westbrook managed to be tonight.
- Gotta say, though. Westbrook had perhaps the most boneheaded two-minute stretch that I've ever seen from him. It came late in the first quarter. First, Westbrook didn't get back on defense when he knew the Spurs were going to call a timeout after crossing halfcourt. He had just fed Perk for a dunk and decided to walk toward the bench as Parker dribbled the ball up the court. If Parker would have turned on the jets and took advantage by trying to get a layup, which happens at times, it would have been all on Westbrook. Then, with just over a minute remaining in the period, Westbrook botched an alley-oop by trying to catch in a crowd and still finish a layup in one motion. The Spurs got out in transition and when Westbrook hustled back, he flew at Manu Ginobili and fouled him while he released a 3-pointer that dropped. It was a four-point play, a six-point swing and enough for Brooks to immediately bench Westbrook.
- A trendy thing on Twitter throughout the playoffs has been the hash tag #podiumgame. It means a player balled and deserved to take the podium to talk about it. The Thunder needs to get with the trend. Rather than bring Westbrook and Durant into the press conference room for every game, the team needs to base it on who the media and fans most want to hear from, as well as who most deserves it. Game 3 was clearly Thabo. Tonight, it clearly was Durant and Ibaka.
- I'm genuinely torn on the Lil Wayne saga. I don't think it had anything to do with race.
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