This crazy series came to its logical end Saturday night.
A crazy one.
After the Thunder and the Spurs traded blowouts in the first five games of the Western Conference Finals, they locked in not just a close game but also an overtime thriller Saturday night at The Peake. It just didn’t end the way the home crowd wanted.
Spurs 112, Thunder 107.
“I thought our guys competed throughout the playoffs,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I thought they did a great job to even the series. Tonight’s game was another great effort by our guys.
“Just didn’t do a few things well enough to beat this team.”
The Spurs advance to the NBA Finals where they will face the Miami Heat, winner of the Eastern Conference Finals. And the Spurs moved on despite their best player being out of commission the entire second half and overtime.
As halftime ended, it was announced that Tony Parker had soreness in his left ankle and would not return to the game.
Not that you could tell by the way San Antonio played in the star point guard’s absence in the third quarter. The Spurs outscored the Thunder 37-20 in the frame, turning a halftime deficit into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
But the Thunder wasn’t dead yet. It slowly chipped away at the lead, powered by a heavy dose of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They scored all but eight points in the final quarter.
Finally, OKC tied the game with 58.6 seconds left on a pair of Durant free throws.
That was sandwiched between a pair of masterful defensive plays by Serge Ibaka, who blocked Tim Duncan, then blocked Manu Ginobili on the next possession.
But, in the end, the Thunder defense wasn’t quite good enough. Ginobili hit a three down the stretch, then in overtime, the Spurs scored on five of their first eight possessions to take a three-point lead with 19.4 seconds left.
Durant got a good look at a three-point shot off an inbounds pass but missed. The Spurs got the rebound, got fouled, and as they went to the other end of the court to shoot free throws, Durant stood planted to the spot where he missed. He stared at the basket, then he bent at the waist.
The game and the series were slipping away.
A few minutes later, the Spurs were celebrating on Thunder hardwood.
“This victory is sweet because we know we played one helluva team,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We take great satisfaction in that because they are so special.”
Brooks pulled his three stars, and as Durant and Westbrook walked by the Spurs bench, Popovich pulled each of them toward him. He had encouraging words for both.
“They’re class acts,” Popovich said. “They know how to lose and they know how to win. I say that in a complimentary way. Some people lose and don’t know how to handle it. They handle it with class.”
This Game 6 did not end the way that Game 6 ended in the Western Conference Finals two years ago. That night, the Thunder beat the Spurs, celebrated at midcourt and raised the Western Conference trophy.
As Durant, Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder left the court after the final horn Saturday night, only about half of the fans at The Peake remained. They gave the team a hearty ovation, but it wasn’t the wild standing ovation that greeted the Thunder after it lost its first playoff series in 2010.
Expectations have changed lots of things.
“We've worked every day since July to be in this position, to climb to the top, and we came up six games short,” Brooks said. “We have to keep our heads up and move on.”