What a difference a week makes. Last week the San Antonio Spurs were on a historic roll, winning 20 in a row and were a perfect 10-0 in the postseason.
Seven days later the unbeatable Spurs are going fishing after dropping four consecutive games to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs’ season ended Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, as the young and hungry Thunder — led by three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant — overcame a 15-point halftime deficit in Game 6 and closed out the Western Conference finals series with a 107-99 victory.
The Thunder will get their first taste of the NBA Finals while the Spurs are left with a bitter taste in their mouths after dropping the ball on what seemed like a sure-fire championship. The Thunder showed remarkable composure for such a playoff novice, while the veteran-laden Spurs were the ones looking unsure and played out of character.
“As sad as disappointed as we are it’s almost like a Hollywood script for OKC in a sense,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They went through Dallas, last year’s NBA champion. They went through the Lakers and they went through us. Those three teams represent 10 of the last 13 championships.”
It’s not often Popovich gets outcoached in a playoff series but Scott Brooks pressed the right buttons for OKC. It started with the hack-a-Splitter in Game 2, staying with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins and deciding against small ball, and putting Thabo Sefolosha on Tony Parker in Game 3.
Brooks challenged his big men to switch every pick-and-roll and Ibaka and Perkins rewarded their coach with more energy and effort. There was a great moment in Game 3 in OKC when Perkins was caught in a switch with Parker and instead of backing up Perkins started clapping his hands as he moved forward on Parker, signaling to the Spurs point guard to “bring it!”
And instead of minimizing his role in the series Brooks increased Sefolosha’s minutes and although he didn’t completely shut down Parker he made it harder for the Spurs’ leading scorer to find open teammates because of his length.
Another adjustment Brooks made was the ball screens for Durant. He had Durant in high pick-and-rolls with Russell Westbrook and Perkins to create mismatches and forced Duncan and Parker in one-one-one situations against Durant and created better floor spacing for the OKC shooters.
After the Thunder tied the series at 2-2, Popovich gambled by starting Manu Ginobili in Game 5. It was an uncharacteristically desperate move by the four-time world champion coach. The move not only pushed Danny Green to the bench but it also junked up a rotation that had been so good all season.
In hindsight Popovich probably should have stayed the course and a former Spurs player was also critical of Pop’s decision to tinker with his lineup this late in the season.
Robert Horry, who won two titles with the Spurs, said on NBA TV’s “Game Time” what hurt the Spurs having Ginobili in the starting lineup is it zapped San Antonio’s scoring punch off the bench especially in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a tag team that him and Tony share,” Horry said. “First quarter Tony does his thing then Manu comes in the second quarter.
“They are both very ball dominant, and they get their plays off the pick-and-rolls,” Horry continued. “Now with the insertion of Manu it takes away that punch that you have and you need to keep that punch sometimes because it’s the rhythm you have and that’s what the team is used to and I just think it went helter-skelter kinda crazy with both those guys trying to handle the basketball.”
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.