How the Thunder got their groove back
By Homer D. Sayson
02 Jun 2012
THEY could have folded like an accordion, called it a series and come back to fight again another day, another season.
But no way, that ain't the Thunder way.
Down 2-0 in their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty San Antonio Spurs, a young Oklahoma City Thunder team showed poise and plenty of fight as they avoided going down the depths of a 3-0 deficit that no team in NBA history has ever climbed out of.
Playing in front of their home crowd at the Chesapeake Solutions Arena, the Thunder blew the Spurs out their building, using the speed of their high-octane offense to swoop a 102-82 Game 3 victory.
And just like that, the Thunder sliced their best-of-7 series deficit to 2-1 and ended the Spurs' historic streak.
The Spurs had been unbeaten in 20 games, a spark that began late in the regular season and razed through 10 postseason games. Somewhere along the way, San Antonio swept the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers in the first two rounds before jumping to a 2-0 lead in the West final.
In those 50 days of undefeated bliss, the Spurs' old reliables (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) conspired with their new stars (Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, etc) to create an offense-defense superpower of mass destruction.
But in a fleeting, one-sided 48 minute duel, the Spurs were ambushed by a bevy of very athletic and talented ballers along Thunder alley.
So how did the young inexperienced Thunder pierce San Antonio's seemingly impenetrable armor?
Well, the Thunder devised a plot to slow down the engine that drives the Spurs --- point guard Tony Parker. And they pulled it off by unleashing 6-foot-7 Tabo Sefolosha on the 6-foot 2 Parker.
THE PLOY paid off handsomely simply because Sefolosha, an ex-Bull with the tenacity of a lion, smothered Parker with his length and physicality.
In Games 1 and 2 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Parker exploded for a combined 52 points and 14 assists, but with Sefolosha shadowing him all over, Parker was held to a relatively pedestrian 16 points and four assists.
With Parker contained, the Spurs offense sputtered, shooting just 30 of 76 from the field (39.5 percent) and producing only 18 team assists.
OKC stuffed the lanes with frisky, fleet-flooted defenders, who came up with an impressive 14 steals and held the penetration-happy Spurs to 24 points in the paint area.
And oh, those Spurs didn't help their cause with the way they mishandled the ball.
The usually steady Spurs staggered through a maze of 21 turnovers. The uncharacteristic orgy of miscues helped fuel OKC's 18 fastbreak points.
And, man, when those hyperactive Thunder start running, they're difficult to catch. Both the Los Angeles Lakers and the dethroned champions Dallas Mavericks found that out the hard way as they combined for just one win against OKC in Rounds 1 and 2.
THANKS to a plethora of easy and uncontested baskets, the Thunder racked up points abundantly, 102 to be exact, which is rare against the notoriously stingy Spurs defense.
With their season flailing in the balance, the Thunder ignored the pressure, dismissed the odds, and stood up bravely against the San Antonio Spurs, heavy favorites who possess the pedigree of a 4-time champion.
Kevin Durant had 22 points. James Harden drilled 15 while Serge Ibaka added 14. Russell Westrook had a quiet but effective outing --- 10 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists.
Even Sefolosha, a defensive specialist for crying out loud, exploded for 19 points.
It was that kind of magical night for the Thunder. Explosive and full of surprises.
In the grand scheme things of things, though, the Spurs still control the series. They still have the luxury of homecourt advantage, with the Thunder needing to win three of the next four games to pull a monumental upset.
Still, it was beautiful to watch Kevin Durant and company rise to the challenge and play up to the level of a great San Antonio team.
Sure, I'm pulling for that Spurs to win this showdown and advance to the NBA Finals. But I'm also rooting for a fun, exciting series.
Thanks to the unwavering Thunder, it looks like I'm gonna have my cake and it it, too. (Homer D. Sayson)
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