For as fantastic as he was, and, boy, was he fantastic, Russell Westbrook turned in two straight sequences that ultimately summarized how the Thunder fell short in its championship pursuit and suffered a season-ending 112-107 overtime loss to San Antonio in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
They came inside the final four minutes of regulation, at a point when the Thunder was mounting a spirited rally from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit to threaten a winner-take-all Game 7.
Westbrook knocked the ball off Manu Ginobili’s leg as he curled to catch a pass. The ball trickled out to halfcourt as Ginobili and Boris Diaw gave chase. Neither could corral it, and the result was a backcourt violation. But at the other, Westbrook threw it away, his pass intercepted by Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
On the ensuing Spurs possession, Westbrook deflected a Ginobili pass out of bounds off the Spurs. But again, Westbrook gave it right back, as an errant pass landed in Ginobili’s hands.
Ginobili was fouled by Derek Fisher after scooping the loose ball, and with the Spurs in the bonus he stepped to the free-throw line where he buried a pair of big foul shots that stopped a 9-2 Thunder run. After a missed baseline jumper by Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan made two more free throws to push San Antonio’s lead to 97-91 with 2:28 remaining in regulation.
There was still 7 1/2 minutes of basketball to be played, but those two straight turnovers by Westbrook epitomized how the Thunder struggled to seize control of the contest and create some much-needed separation from these strong-minded Spurs.
“We turned the ball over too many times,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Oklahoma City finished with 20, which led to 33 Spurs points.
Westbrook and Durant combined for 14 of them, each giving it away seven times.
When turnovers weren’t the culprit, it was poor defensive rebounding, a severe lack of scoring balance or simply bad breaks.
Tim Duncan provided the biggest basket of the night when he got a friendly bounce on a baseline turnaround out of a post up against Reggie Jackson. It gave the Spurs a 110-107 lead with 19.4 seconds remaining.
Durant missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer despite getting a great look off an inbounds pass with 17 seconds left. Diaw then made two of four foul shots for the game’s final margin.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Brooks said. “I thought our guys competed throughout these playoffs. I thought they did a great job even in this series. We didn’t play well on the road, but we competed. We kept bouncing back and having great games at home…We just didn’t do a few things well enough to beat this team.”
San Antonio’s reserves outscored Oklahoma City’s 51-5, which told the story of how Durant and Westbrook received little help in this series. Brooks shortened his rotation, plying only seven players more than six minutes, but Fisher was the only Thunder reserve to chip in as a scorer.
Westbrook scored a game-high 34 points with seven rebounds, eight assists and six steals in 44 minutes. Durant added 31 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots. Reggie Jackson (21 points) and Serge Ibaka (16 points) were the only other Thunder players that scored.
Diaw paced the Spurs with 26 points off the bench, and San Antonio survived foot soreness to Tony Parker that kept the Spurs’ starting point guard out for the entire second half. Even without him, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 37-20 in the third period, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead entering the final period.
The Spurs gobbled up 16 offensive rebounds, which helped them outscore the Thunder 22-8 in second-chance points.
San Antonio now moves on to face Miami in a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals.
For the Thunder, it’s the second straight season that ended short of the NBA Finals after Oklahoma City made its Finals debut in 2012.
The disappointing finish led to questions about whether this season was a success.
“Absolutely,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to win a championship...There’s only one team that stands every year…We came up six games short.”