Thunder-Spurs: When it was needed most, OKC's defense faltered

COMMENTARY — The Spurs’ dominating third quarter and near-flawless overtime came without San Antonio’s best player — Tony Parker — and against an Oklahoma City squad that couldn’t summon enough defense.
by Jenni Carlson Published: June 1, 2014

Tim Duncan dribbled the ball, slowly backing an undersized but feisty Reggie Jackson toward the basket.

When Duncan finally made a move, gathered the ball and turned toward the basket, Russell Westbrook swooped in from the perimeter. Jackson raised his hands, and Westbrook swiped at the shot. It didn’t affect Duncan or his shot.

Bucket.

Ball game.

On a night when the Spurs played much of the game shorthanded – Tony Parker sat after halftime with a sore left ankle — the Thunder didn’t get enough stops. Not in the game-changing third quarter. Not in the decisive overtime. Not in this series.

Spurs 112, Thunder 107.

This series swung on the Thunder’s defense. It was abysmal in all three of the games in San Antonio, and all three of them were Spur blowouts. The two wins in Oklahoma City? The Thunder was outstanding defensively, getting stops and creating easier baskets on the offensive end.

It only figured that Game 6 on Saturday night would come down to the Thunder’s defense as well.

It was stout in the first half, holding the Spurs to 20 and 22 points in the first two quarters. San Antonio shot only 36.8 percent from the floor, including 22.2 percent from three.

And then when the Spurs announced right before the start of the second half that Parker would not return, the Thunder seemed in prime position to take control.

Parker sprained his ankle earlier in the series but continue to play through the pain. But only a few minutes before the game, he was hurting so much that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went to super sub Manu Ginobili and told him to be ready to play point.

“Why?” Ginobili asked, confused.

Parker hadn’t even let on in shootaround or warmups that anything might be wrong. He gutted out the first half, playing 19 minutes, but when he went to the halftime locker room, the ankle tightened and he couldn’t play anymore.

Watching the third quarter, you’d have never guessed the Spurs were operating without their best player. They torched the Thunder defense. Thirty-seven points. Fifty-three percent shooting. Half of their 14 baskets were assisted. And they had just one turnover.

“I thought in the first half, we didn’t share the ball,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, adding that his team only had six assists at halftime. “But in the third quarter, I thought we had a better pace, better ball movement, better body movement.”

The Thunder fought back in the fourth quarter, of course and forced overtime, and not coincidentally, that was largely due to the defense. In the final two minutes, the results of the Spurs’ possessions were a Westbrook steal, a Kawhi Leonard miss, a Duncan miss on a Serge Ibaka block, a Manu Ginobili miss on an Ibaka block, a Ginobili three, a Ginobili free throw and a Ginobili miss.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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