Thunder suffers season-ending OT loss in Game 6 to the Spurs, 112-107

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By Kevin Green

I was shaking.

With 32 seconds left in regulation, Kevin Durant, also known as the MVP, hit a critical layup to put the Oklahoma City Thunder in the lead, 99-97. All they had to do was make a stop, make some free throws, and they would be well on their way to a Game 7 in San Antonio.

With not much time remaining, the Spurs were in a pretty desperate position. Since giving Oklahoma City the last shot would have been practically suicidal, their most logical strategy was to go two-for-one, but they would have to make their first shot just a few seconds into the shot clock. With the crowd really getting loud and feeding the Thunder’s momentum, I figured that if San Antonio needed a three, it would be at that moment. Sure enough, the Spurs went to Manu Ginobili as they have so many times in the past, and they did not regret it. Tim Duncan set a beautiful screen on Derek Fisher to get Ginobili free at the top of the ark and the rest was history. The shot fell, giving the Spurs a 100-99 lead with 27 seconds left to play. On the next Thunder possession, Durant slipped and lost the ball, and it was picked up by none other than Ginobili. OKC had no choice but to foul, sending him to the line for a chance to make it a three-point game. Ginobili split the free throws, and you could just smell what was going to happen next. Russell Westbrook drove to the basket and got fouled, and he hit both of his shots to tie the game with nine seconds left on the game clock. San Antonio’s strategy to go for the three was working out well. They wanted the last shot and they got the last shot. Ginobili had a good look, but Westbrook was able to throw him off just enough, causing the ball to bounce off the back iron as time expired, and to overtime we went.

Once again, Oklahoma City started the overtime period strong, but tapered about halfway through. Westbrook made a driving layup to give the Thunder a 107-106 lead with 2:21 left in the game, but that would their last points scored. The Spurs outscored OKC 6-0 in the final 1:23 to secure the win and a second straight NBA Finals birth against the Miami Heat.

“We fought as hard as we could all night,” Durant said. “We left it all out there. They made plays down the stretch. We didn’t.”

When it was time for the Thunder stars to put up or shut up, they were overwhelmed by San Antonio’s stars. Durant and Westbrook went an atrocious 1-10 (KD 0-3, Russell 1-7) in overtime for four points, two of which were free throws. Duncan and Ginobili went 3-5 for nine of San Antonio’s 11 overtime points.

Looking back at this game, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who is the most to blame, but naturally, when the Thunder loses a game like this in overtime, everything comes back to Durant. He committed seven turnovers, five in the second half. Yes, he had 31 points on 12-25 shooting, 14 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a steal, but when it really mattered, he couldn’t get his team over the hump.

That’s what makes the difference between a king and his horse. I’m talking about their formidability and power. That’s what’s puzzling. If their formidability and power are both the same, then why is it that one becomes the king and leads them into battle, while the other becomes the horse and carries the king? What is characteristic that distinguishes these two beings? There’s only one answer, and that answer is instinct. In order for KD to get better and win championships, he needs to develop a killer instinct, and that instinct is mostly forged over time in big time games. He must develop an insatiable hunger to engage in gut-wrenching games like this one. He must live to defeat whichever team steps in his way. This thirst to win is not an unnatural desire, but Durant doesn’t have that yet. He hasn’t been able to tap into those pure base instincts that exists within his core, waiting to be released. Durant can win the MVP every year for the rest of his career for all I care, but until he gets that killer instinct that allows him to take over games, he will always be playing horse to the King, LeBron James.

Westbrook has a killer instinct, and we’ve seen it several times this postseason in big games, but he often counteracts that when he charges in without any thought as to strategy or strength, which sometimes proves to be reckless like it was in this game, as he also turned the ball over seven times.

“It’s difficult, but we always find a way to get through it. You know, it’s been a long season for myself and Kevin and the organization, and we still fought through it and got here. We’re definitely not going to give up. Come back next year, and be better and be stronger, be wiser, and we’re coming back.”

Let me guess what you are thinking right now. You are going through all of the “what ifs,” trying to find a way to make that feeling you have of your favorite team getting eliminated feel better. You are thinking that Oklahoma City made an error in judgment. If they wouldn’t have taken their foot off the gas pedal coming out of the locker room for the second half after learning of Tony Parker’s injury, they would have cruised to a win. If only Ginobili missed that three and Durant made his, it wouldn’t all be over. Tell me I’m wrong. The Thunder had to step on their throats in the third quarter and they knew that, but they didn’t do it. They were careless. It was, in fact, an error of judgment. The Spurs took OKC’s best shot in the fourth quarter, but it made no difference. They attacked and attacked, but their efforts were meaningless.

I’m not saying the Thunder’s stars were scared, and I’m definitely not saying that they were incapable of beating San Antonio. I’m saying that no matter what the Thunder did offensively, they could not defend the Spurs when they absolutely had to, and that is why they aren’t having a chance to touch a basketball in a game again this season.

The Spurs shot 11-35 from three, which is only 31.4 percent, but that’s still 11 threes that were sunk. That will get you beat every single time. What’s worse is that seven of those came in the second half on 41.1 percent shooting from beyond the ark. That was after OKC held them to 4-18, 22.2 percent, from that distance in the first half.

The Thunder made eight threes themselves, but they were missing a key three-point shooter in this game. For reasons unknown, Caron Butler did not play in Game 6. Now don’t get me wrong, Butler hadn’t played out of his mind in this series or anything, but he made at least one three in 14 of Oklahoma City’s 18 playoff games prior to this one. If he had a chance to hit one again in this game, the Thunder probably would have won the game, so why not play him for even just a few minutes? That move made absolutely no sense to me.

Another move that Brooks made that I didn’t understand was playing Steven Adams only 12 minutes. In the first five games of the series, Adams averaged nearly 25 minutes and six rebounds while shooting 13-18 from the floor as well. In Game 6, he only had the opportunity to grab two rebounds, scoring no points in the process. Coincidentally, the Thunder gave up 16 offensive rebounds and 22 second chance points, while only getting eight offensive rebounds and eight second chance points themselves. In addition, those points that he normally scores would have came in handy.

You might be wondering where all of those minutes for Adams and Butler went. They went to Derek Fisher. That’s right, you read right. Derek Fisher. He averaged 18 minutes in the first five games and Brooks suddenly put him in for 33 minutes in an elimination game. It just doesn’t make sense. I mean, it’s not like he’d been a machine during the series or anything like that. He averaged just below six points per game, and the only reason it’s that high is because he had a 16-point game in Game 1, the rest he scored five or less.

If you add all of these factors together, I believe the Thunder could have won this game by at least nine points, but they didn’t. The season is over.

You can blame Russell Westbrook. You can blame Scott Brooks. You can even blame Kevin Durant. Take you pick, but in the end, I just don’t think OKC quite knew what they were playing for. They did not play with a grudge. They made it to the NBA Finals back in 2012, but they have not played like they want to get back there. Sure, you can say they would’ve if Westbrook didn’t get hurt last season in the first round, but even if he didn’t get hurt, they still would’ve had to go through the Spurs, and if you ask me, the series this season showed exactly why that wouldn’t have happened last season either. The Thunder had no deep-seeded desire to win, they weren’t motivated enough to defeat San Antonio. A fighting spirit that lacks the desire to win is like an eagle without wings. They had the will, but they didn’t have the necessary mental tools to do the job.

In short, the Thunder has a lot to get done this offseason, team wise and organization wise. They need to lose some players that don’t help the team that much (Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet, possibly Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collison) and then gain some players in free agency and the draft that can perhaps make a difference. I guarantee they won’t fire Brooks, so they need to hire an offensive coach that can help fill the void that is the Brooks’ offensive playbook. It’s time to shake things up in Oklahoma City. It’s time to ditch the old veteran leadership mentality and realize that Durant and Westbrook have been around long enough to know how to lead; let them be the vets of this team.

Durant on what the team needs to do to reach their goals: “Just to be honest, I haven’t really thought about that right now. It’s hard to say. Just reflect on the season, a great season. You know, losing like this is definitely tough, but I really don’t know. Just get better individually, I guess. But it’s just tough losing like this, man. There’s not much more I can say.”

Scott Brooks: “They should [see the season as a success] … I know we still have a ways to go. We’re not where we want to be, and our guys know that. Kevin and Russell, they should be proud. They’ve led us to places that we want to get to, and I’m proud of what they’ve done. I’m proud of who they are, and I’m sure our fans feel the same way.”

NOTES:

Thunder was 1-4 this postseason in overtime.

Spurs bench: 51 points. Thunder bench: 5 points. Boris Diaw had 26 of the 51 on 8-14 shooting for San Antonio. All bench five points for Oklahoma City were scored by Fisher.

Reggie Jackson played a good game, scoring 21 points on 8-16 shooting.

Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Jackson scored 107 of the Thunder’s 112 points, taking 74 of the team’s 82 shots. In the first half, they scored all 49 of the Thunder’s points.

The Thunder committed 20 turnovers which led to 33 points for the Spurs. Durant and Westbrook were responsible for 14 of those turnovers.

The Thunder missed four free throws, three of them in the fourth quarter. Ballgame.

Ever felt like you just lost your job? That’s what I felt like last night.

My NBA Finals media credential request getting approved now means nothing.

Good news – the Thunder broke the three year curse of losing in five games.

The Dallas Mavericks created the blueprint for how to beat the Spurs, but it hasn’t been used since that first round series. Now it’s up to the Miami Heat to figure it out.

It was a good season for Oklahoma City. Next year will be interesting to watch, and I am thankful that I get to cover such an amazing team. Thank you all for reading my work this season.

Agree or disagree with my analysis? Email me your praises, criticisms or questions to kevingreenion@gmail.com and I will respond to every message.

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