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.
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.
That’s some great late-game defense. Seven possessions. Only four points.
But then came overtime. The Spurs scored nine points on their first eight possessions, capped by that Duncan turnaround with Jackson on him and Westbrook closing.
Duncan had hit a shot earlier in the overtime when he was one-on-one against Ibaka. The Spurs cleared out. The Thunder offered no help. It was a great battle, but Duncan executed one of those fundamental but effective back-down moves that he’s been doing for years and hit the basket.
Same for the big shot vs. the two Thunder guards with 19.4 seconds left.
“By the time I turned, I saw him coming,” Duncan said of Westbrook, “but I was already in the middle of my shot, so I just tried to get up as much as I could and finally got a roll.”
Durant got a good look at a three after that, but when it bounded off, the Thunder was forced to foul. Even though the Thunder didn’t hit enough shots late, the bigger issue was not quite getting enough stops. Not in the game. Not in the series.
Overall, the Spurs shot just 40.4 percent, but they scored 44 points in the paint and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds that led to 22 second-chance points, way too many for the Thunder.
The defense just wasn’t good enough.
“You could say that,” Westbrook said, “but … we left it on the floor. They made some plays at the end, and they won.”
No one is faulting the Thunder’s effort. That was plenty good Saturday night.
It was the defense that was at fault, not just in Game 6 but in every loss in these Western Conference Finals. For a franchise that prides itself on defense, that talks incessantly about how it’s defense first, this series should be a walk-up call.
It’s one thing to say all the time that you play good defense. It’s another thing to do it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.